May 2015 — You may not be aware of this, but some people who are involved in basketball are also fans of hip-hop. 

Wild, right?

Jalen Rose is one of these people. The former Fab Five member / 13-year NBA veteran is now an analyst for ABC and ESPN, and also has a heavy hand in deciding which instrumental tracks get played in the background during his NBA Countdown and ESPN on ABC telecasts. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if they were generic looping rock songs orvague dance tracks that were bought from some studio musician for $40 and a turkey sandwich. But they’re not. The instrumentals chosen by Rose and the team at ABC are anything but generic and vague. They’re HITS.

Classic rap tracks, current hits, and memorable soul samples are what we now expect when we flip on a Jalen Rose-hosted roundball program. We spent some time talking to the Detroit-born host about how these songs are chosen, his new book, his NBA Finals picks, and which NBA personality has the wildest “off the record” stories.

Interview by Maurice Peebles (@tallmaurice).

First and foremost, do you have any input on the tracks that being played in the background? Because I hear Jadakiss instrumentals in the background, some soul stuff…you seem excited about it but I’m not sure whether or not you’re actually in on the meetings and picking those songs.
You got me, hands in the air. You tied me down. I am a contributor. But it is the team that oversees it so Amina, who’s the producer of our show, and Ty—I call him Fly Ty—our director. Us three, we coordinate how it’s going to go down. I’m the one on TV and I think for them—and this with all due respect—it gives them some flexibility that I can be an on-air talent but still be able to refer to songs. It becomes like a movie soundtrack, that’s what the production of a show is like. So it’s no accident when you see Kyrie coming in and we’re playing “Let’s Groove Tonight” or “Survival of the Fittest” when you see the Western Conference playoffs stats. There is a method to that madness.

I was hoping that was the case; would’ve hated to hear that you didn’t have any input or that it was random. But watching the show you can just see these aren’t random, that you’re definitely into each of the songs, so that’s kind of dope.
The great thing about the show is that everybody has a lane. I guess I kind of stick out like a sore thumb when I know 99 percent of the records or referencing them. And I know coach [Doug Collins] is probably looking at me like I’m half crazy most of the time because when I just throw out the word “manifest,” I’m pretty sure he don’t know if I’m using a big word from my dictionary or if I’m referring tothe Guru song.

It’s funny you say that, too, cause I was just looking at the YouTube clip of “What Happened To That Boy”…
[Laughs.] That was so organic, so happy that it went down like that!

It was a perfect moment for TV and it leads into the next question because you immediately went to looking at Sage [Steele] and saying, “You don’t know nothing about that!” So, in my head, Sage Steele knows less about hip-hop than Doug Collins does.
So, I’m glad you brought this up. Here’s the thing: My hobby is to DJ. I just love music so I can hear the beginning of a beat, the beginning of a melody and think of the words, think of the name of the song, think of the hook and just go there. So Sage—me and her are the same age, but she’s more mid-’90s hip-hop and beyond so she wouldn’t necessarily know the lyrics to “Step Into The Arena,” but she would know the words to Biggie “Hypnotize“.

So she has the staples down. She’s got the big ones.
Exactly! She’ll know the mainstream Outkast records but shouldn’t know if we did a Poor Righteous Teachers [record].

That’s forgivable; I’ll give her that.
That’s why I had to kind of give her that, because of the records I’m playing, like, she’s not going to necessarily know these album cuts. You know what I mean?

But the people on Twitter do!
And Doug Collins, people just underestimate him. So not only has he been around this league for 40 years but the league is 70 percent black…what do people think the players are listening to when the coach is coming in and out of practice and the locker room? Coach just has flavor.

[Laughs.] Go on.
He really does. He’s the ultimate professional and he’s a hall of fame technician when it comes to breaking down the game but he definitely loves music. All type of music. You know, I’ve seen him love his rock, his disco, and his mainstream…he definitely knows his rap and R&B.


That’s so good to hear. I’m actually a Sixers fan so I was happy to see our former coach Doug [Collins] pull that out of nowhere. When he called out Clipse that cracked me up to no end. 
And think about where he’s coached. He’s coached in Chicago, he’s coached in Detroit, he’s coached in Washington, he’s coached in Philly. It don’t get much more urban than in those four places. 

When you guys pick the songs—you, Amina, and Ty—do you ever get any pushback from Disney or any other higher-ups in terms of what tracks are being played or rights to the songs? How does that actually play out?
So I’m glad you brought that up. The thing that makes our ABC show more unique than any show on television is that we have the Disney umbrella. And because Disney is just not sports but it’s entertainment, they provide us with a jukebox of records that we can use on their network. So we just go by that and we narrow it down to songs like “We Gonna Make It“. Like, you just don’t get to that by [accident]. “So Fresh, So Clean” when you’re going to see Russell [Westbrook] or James Harden or Dwyane Wade…guys that’s about their fashion. It definitely has a theme. I’m old enough to remember when soundtracks mirrored the records and the movie so that’s the approach. 

The show has a feel that not many other pregame shows have for that reason.  Knowing Disney owns the company I’m thinking, “Dag, I’m amazed that Disney is okay with all this” because it all seems too urban for them.
Well, two things. One, because basketball and football apply to an urban demo because majority of the players represent such—how do you [connect]? So Turner, I see them as a late night show because it’s going to be one in the morning so it’s like watching Kimmel, watching whatever. So they can have certain late night [segments] that not only keep it corporate but also also appeal to a hip-hop audience. How can you do that for Disney when you have six-year olds and 95-year olds watching at 12 in the afternoon? Disney: It’s eight to 80, like Big Daddy Kane would say. So how do you still keep that same integrity? You do it through instrumentals.

That’s such a great idea. I mean, if you follow anyone from black Twitter or just basketball Twitter, you’ll see the mentions fly if you search “Jadakiss” at that moment. Everybody’s talking about it.
Oh yeah! Oh yeah! There’s definitely a method to it and I’ll give you a nugget: For the conference finals, we got an exclusive track from a group from Queensbridge. You know who it is, I just can’t tell you. 

I’ll dance around that. 
I’ll say the group from Queensbridge, if it ain’t Nas and it ain’t Run-D.M.C. then you already know who it is. And one of their favorite terms was ‘Dunn Dunn’.

We getting a “Shook Ones” remix? Actually—I’ll just look forward to hearing it.
Exactly. Appreciate that.

Image via USA TODAY Sports / Brian Spurlock

Bill Simmons, does he have a favorite rapper?
Bill Simmons’ favorite rapper, I would say, is Snoop Dogg. 

Ah, okay. I love Snoop Dogg but you know…
Yeah, like so this is one of those “The older I get, the longer I walk to school” moments. When people talk about great artists from like the ’80s or ’90s, it’s not just hype. I’m looking at Ice T, LL, Queen Latifah, Snoop, Dre. I’m looking at these dudes become moguls, 50 Cent, these dudes ain’t just making a record, making an album. These dudes are still here. So it ain’t like they were just some products of some system. A guy like Snoop not only has been a transcendent artist but is now somebody who is doing a show on ESPN with his son.

It’s funny because Snoop really is in his own lane. I mean, it’s not too many—I don’t want to say musicians—not too many human beings period who can play both sides as well as he has and maintain that respect from both sides, too. 
That’s longevity. And [Ice] Cube challenged me to do that and I follow behind him on that. He challenged me from the N.W.A to Are We There Yet? He was like, “That’s you from Fab Five to now. I need you to own it.”

Image via Grantland

And don’t run away from it.
What he said is that the dudes that think you’re looking too clean to talk so street, they’re going to call you corny. And then the people that think you’re being too street but you’re on Disney, they’re going to call you ghetto. 

So it’s a lose/lose from a public perspective at some points but it’s a win/win for your wallet, I hope.
Well you just got to be yourself, that’s what people respect more than anything. So forget what the whole world has to say, if I walk into a building and Bill Russell comes up to me or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar comes up to me and they like, “You’re doing a hell of a job analyzing basketball. Keep it up!” That’s all I need to hear. I mean, I don’t care. Like Royce [Da 5’9″] said it in PRhyme. He said, “If it doesn’t come from my peers, it’s not a diss.” 

I’m sure you really care what some Twitter troll has to say.
Right! Flop.

Is there a rapper out today that makes you feel old? Like is there a rapper you’re just like, “I can’t even get with that.”
Makes me feel old…uhhh, no. I’ll get in trouble. Jimmy Kimmel had me read a mean tweet one day and one of the Twitter people said I try to act like the gym teacher who thinks he’s cool because he sits with his chair backwards. And I actually loved that because how would you be if you don’t know how old you were? Those cats don’t make me feel old just yet. 

That’s a good thing. You’re staying up with the culture. I mean, you’re around the players all the time. You’re around the music all the time, too.
The only thing that makes me feel old is when I can see your ankles and you have on pants.

Let’s get a little bit into your book Got to Give the People What They Want. How does your book actually give the people what they want? I was a blogger now I’m an editor; I write headlines for a career. Normally what the people want is sex and scandal. How are you giving people what the want from this book?
I’m going to give them insight to a lot of things as a public figure that I’ve never discussed. So a lot of times you may see me on different platforms or you see me on NBA Countdown on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday; you might see me on my Grantland podcast or the Grantland TV show, but those aren’t necessarily my platforms to talk about my personal journey. Those are current event platforms to talk about what’s happening with other people. As an athlete that was born in the ’70s and [whose] journey began before social media, before computers, before cell phones, [it’s special] to be able to tell a lot of stories that people don’t realize took place. Sports stories that directly or indirectly affected me. 


A lot of people I’m guessing got back into the Jalen Rose “brand” through those Grantland stories like the old Ewing or Mutombo stories. So I’m hoping the book has a couple of those for us.
Oh yeah, I got some crazy ones. To be honest, initially I actually had to get permission to do a book so that let me know that people are going to be excited about it. 

Who’s winning it all this year?
My picks in a vacuum are the Warriors and Cavs. I think the Warriors are going to come out of the West. I think the Clippers are going to beat the Spurs [Editor’s note: nice call, Jalen]. And the Western Conference Finals are going to the Warriors and Clippers. In the Eastern Conference Finals, it should be the Hawks. It should be Bulls and Cavs but they have to play in the second round. I picked the Bulls coming into this year so you know what, I have to own that. So I’m going to say Golden State. By the way, even my job didn’t nail me down like you did, so this is good. I’ll say Golden State and the Bulls in the Finals. 

I won’t even make you go beyond that. Best talent in this draft? Who do you see as becoming the best player out of this class?
I’m going to give you somebody that you may not know his name: Emmanuel Mudiay.

Image via USA TODAY Sports / Mike Dinovo

Oh, I know Mudiay. Told you I’m a Sixers fan—I’ve been dreaming all year.
[Laughs.] Oh yeah, so you ain’t have no choice but to watch the draft wire the last three to four years. 

What do you like about Mudiay? Is it that his ceiling is high because I know he’s supposed to be like a Derrick Rose-type really physically gifted point guard. Is that right?
Yeah, and I hate to project players because it’s hard to compare with what’s on the left side of the chest. I have a unique perspective in this media thing because I’m the only guy that does the McDonald’s [All American] game, does the Finals, and does the draft. 

So you’re seeing top to bottom what these guys look like.
No doubt. I’m seeing them through each step, intimately. So I think [Mudiay’s] size, his competitive spirit on both ends of the floor, the ability to finish at the hoop, his body type, and his tenacity are things that are going to translate.

It’s hard to measure that kind of stuff. Like you said, you can’t measure somebody’s heart—especially a player that’s been overseas all year and sort of been forgotten about a little bit. 
Exactly. I’m going to give you a little jewel. I’m not just going to be on Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor because that’s popular. I’m going to tell you who they remind me of. Jahlil Okafor—good, bad, or indifferent—that’s Brook Lopez. That’s who he is.

Image via USA TODAY Sports / Bob Donnan / Noah K. Murray

Has a good offensive game but not taking over the league necessarily.
Not going to lead the league in rebounds or blocks.

Yeah, not on the defensive end. 
Going to get you buckets facing. Going to hit the open jumper. Going to dribble drive around their man. Going to have a soft touch. Going to be really effective scoring around the bucket.

But he’s not about to win Defensive Player of the Year in any of these seasons coming up.
Oh nah, and not necessarily the nastiness of Al Jefferson who’s also a similar type post-up big—but he can’t do that stuff facing that Jahlil and Lopez do. Both of those guys are really talented and the thing that stinks is nowadays I can compare somebody to Brook Lopez—who’s getting $15 million [a year] to play basketball, has been an All-Star, and is going to play 15-20 years—and some people take that as a diss.

To me it’s not a diss.
I mean, he’s an offensive center. He can score.

Last one. You don’t have to tell us any details but the sports personality that you’ve met with the best off-the-record stories. 
Best off-the-record personality with the best stories? Oh—Charles. 

That was quick and I’m not surprised.
Nope, you know what. I take that back. I got a legendary one. I take that back, it ain’t him. That ain’t the answer. Magic. 

Those Magic ’80s stories, I can only imagine. 
I got a one-word answer. Magic. I’ll keep it at that.