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2006: Hemispheres – The Giving Game

June 23, 2008

September 2006 — When Black Enterprise magazine listed the nation’s
top African-American philanthropists in 2005, a high-powered list
topped by Oprah Winfrey, only one athlete’s name appeared. And it
wasn’t one of the usual stars: Neither Shaq, Tiger, nor Michael were on
the list.

Native Motowner and NBA veteran Jalen Rose of the New York Knicks was
the only athlete named. Through the nonprofit Jalen Rose Foundation and
its Giving Back Fund, the 33-year-old Rose has quietly donated almost
$1 million to a variety of charitable causes. Each year, for example,
he helps put five Michigan students through college.

Rose remembers his humble beginnings playing ball with childhood
friends in an arena of their own devising. Located under streetlights
in his Detroit neighborhood, the arena was made of bricks, scrap
lumber, and milk crates. Rose says he learned social responsibility
from his mother, Jeanne Rose, and grandmother Mary Hicks. "When you
understand what it’s like not to have and you’re put in a position
where you do have, you feel a responsibility, not just as an athlete,
but as a person," Rose says.

The 6-foot-8 Rose, who’s been dubbed "The Natural" for his ability to
compete at any position on the court, has played on five NBA teams in
the U.S. and Canada and has brought his various charity works with him
to each city.

Hemispheres talked with Rose about his scholarship program and what excites him about empowering the leaders of tomorrow.

Q: What did playing under the streetlights when you were a kid teach you about life?

A: A lot of times, failure is about not believing and not persevering,
whether on or off the court. Success is about always performing at a
high level, about practicing when others your age are hanging out. I’ve
always felt basketball was my calling, and I pursued it very hard. When
I walked across the stage on NBA draft day in 1994, my knees were
shaking, like Shaq’s shake at the free-throw line. But it meant that
I’d finally made it.

Q: What has the NBA given you?

A: Everything. Every place that I’ve gone, every dollar I’ve made is
strictly from being lucky and blessed to be able to pursue a dream. The
NBA has also taught me to appreciate the business of the game, the
sponsors, all the products that we endorse. You have to be just as
hard-working at being an astute businessman as you do at being a
player.

Q: You’ve been traded a lot, played in a lot of different cities. How has that affected you?

A: The one thing about being traded is that it allows me to appreciate
the community that embraces the team and me. I’ve never been a hermit.
I’ve always been someone who goes out to meet the people, whether at
the mall or wherever; I’ve always rubbed elbows with the community
through my foundation or just a normal day outside. I’ve gotten to
appreciate a lot of different cultures and situations.

Q: How did it feel to be recognized by Black Enterprise?

A: It was a tremendous honor to be mentioned, but also to be mentioned
with people like Black Entertainment Television’s Bob Johnson, Oprah
Winfrey, obviously powerful people. It’s about what they’ve done as
businesspeople, caring about the community, and their willingness to
give back.

Q: Why did you start the Jalen Rose Foundation?

A: It’s something I always wanted to do growing up because I understand
we’¯re all role models. People don’t realize that you don’t have to be
rich or famous to be a role model. I’ve always accepted and appreciated
the opportunity, and I wanted to take it a step further with the
platform that basketball has given me.

Q: How do you envision your foundation helping?

A: You’d be surprised what some men and women have to deal with. It
brings hope for them when they set out to accomplish a goal or a dream
and wake up the next day and find out there’s someone who’s going to
lend them a hand. Whether you can do that for one or hundreds, it means
just the same, trying to help others.

Q: How does the annual scholarship program work?

A: The students submit to their school counselors why they should be
scholarship recipients, and the counselors then turn submissions in to
my foundation. You’d be surprised at some of the trials students go
through just to get to school and still have aspirations to go on to
college and dreams of changing the world. Their submissions encourage
me to help others even more and make me realize that they’re the
leaders of tomorrow, and that’s exciting. Some of my kids are seniors
now, and I stay in contact with them via e-mail, follow their
achievements, etc.

Q: What kinds of trials do some of these students face?

A: There’s one youngster who doesn’t have parents but has other
siblings he’s helping to look after. He’s still finding a way to get to
school, still participating in all kinds of community activity, trying
to play sports while maintaining a 3.9 GPA. It’s really and truly
amazing and humbling.

Q: Your personal monetary donations are closing in on $1 million, but
can you estimate the dollar value of all the charitable programs you’ve
sponsored?

A: It’s not about numbers. It should come from the heart. A lot of
situations, whether it’s Hurricane Katrina or a scholarship, when
you’re doing it, you don’t add the money up, though I suppose Uncle Sam
does. It’s about the opportunities that hopefully are presented for
others to pursue dreams, to open doors that would probably be closed to
them.

Q: You have said you believe in karma’s laws of cause and effect; how has this affected your life?

A: When I hold basketball camps, I talk to kids about working on their
skills, but I also talk to them about being good citizens and being
respectful, because when you live your life that way, it allows you to
live at peace. When you don’t live that way, it blocks your blessings.
My beliefs also come from being raised by my mom and grandmother, who
always tell me that the older you get, the closer your mouth is to
God’s ear.

Q: What did they instill in you?

A: Motivation, confidence, pride, love, and the realization that a lot
of times you don’t get everything on your Christmas list. But we always
found a way to be happy, to aspire and dream, never taking anyone or
anything for granted.

Q: You have the spiritual song "Jesus Walks" by Kanye West playing on your Web site. Why?

A: Why did I choose him? He’s innova- tive, not only as an artist but
as a producer. He has an ear for good music, and being around other
artists allows him to dig deep into his musical crate and take his art
places where others haven’t been.

Q: With dropout rates rising, how do you feel about education? You left college to join the NBA.

A: Education is everything in life, whether you’re talking about
reading a newspaper or understanding a scenario for making a better
life for yourself. Knowledge is power and understanding. It doesn’t
guarantee success, but it guarantees that you understand the goals you
set out to accomplish. Even though I left school when I was drafted, I
never lost sight of being a college graduate. I went back to pursue
that opportunity, and I was excited to graduate. After basketball,
that’s going to open doors that I can’t even imagine.

Q: What are some of the other charities you work with?

A: I have the Rose Garden, through the local Boys and Girls Clubs, for
25 kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to come to an NBA
game. I take photos with them. They see the warm-up and get a feel for
the whole NBA atmosphere. I’ve done this in all the cities I’ve played
in. I also donate $50 for every assist I make. I played in the Boys and
Girls Clubs as a kid, so that’s one of the organizations I’m fond of.

Then there’s the NBA All-Star Reading Team. This encourages kids to
read and understand that it’s fun. You don’t want them just trying to
get a grade in school; you want them to learn through all kinds of
reading outlets.

Q: What about when you go to children’s hospitals? What’s been the impact?

A: Now, that’s humbling. One of the things about being a kid is having
fun and being able to run and play with your friends. You can’t imagine
the issues that some of these children have to deal with, that they
were born with. Obviously, situations they didn’t ask for but have to
live through. To go there and see the strength and enthusiasm they have
even though they’re in a sad-looking state, it kind of gives you the
strength and the love to spend time with them. Those are scenarios you
don’t wish for anyone, let alone kids.

Q: How did you get involved with relief funds for Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami?

A: Most of us think we’re having a bad day when we stub our toe in the
morning. But when you’re displaced and lose your home, when you lose
family and neighbors, when you have to relocate, those are human
disasters. What I’ve done is only a small part of the total picture,
but at the same time, I wanted to show support and compassion.

Q: What do you still want to accomplish in your career?

A: It’s still about aspiring to be a champion, but it’s also about
being the best that I can be. And I’m making guest appearances on
various sports programs. I see myself continuing as a broadcaster or
having my own show. My major was mass communications, and like my
friends tell me, I’m a man who never sleeps.

Q: How do you see yourself?

A: I’m what the game made me, not what the fame made me. When you play
a sport for a living, you approach life as a game as well.

Ashley Jude Collie’s work, including a recent interview with Robert F.
Kennedy Jr., has appeared in Playboy, Spin, and Performance magazines.