Few athletes in any sport have made a smoother transition from the playing field to being in front of a camera or behind a microphone than Jalen Rose.
The former NBA swingman and member of University of Michigan’s famed ‘Fab Five’ has built up a successful career as an analyst at ESPN, where he provides insight on the pregame TV show ‘NBA Countdown’, as well as talking about sports and pop culture on his radio show ‘Jalen and Jacoby’.
Sport360°’s Jay Asser got the chance to speak with Rose at ESPN headquarters as part of a roundtable discussion with international media, with topics including his role as an analyst, the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors and where the NBA is heading.
Q: What was it like to make the switch from the court to working in the media?
A: For me, it was always something I wanted to do. Radio, TV, film was actually my major at the University of Michigan. Even when I was growing up as a fan of sports, or even playing video games, I tried to institute house rules in a crowded room, where if you lose you don’t get to just go sit down on the sidelines, pick your nose or fall asleep – you have to commentate the next game. So I guess I started giving myself practice back then.
Playing in the NBA Finals in 2000 for Indiana, being traded to the Bulls for a couple seasons, they had nine wins in February 2002. So I was like ‘guess we’re not going to the playoffs this year’. I reached out to a contact of mine, pitched him an idea to allow me to cover the Lakers and New Jersey Nets NBA Finals. I would get on camera, get all-access, we would cut it and edit it, and it would be a good piece. They agreed, they ran it and they liked it. I turned around and pitched the same idea to FOX and the ‘Best Damn Sports Show Period’ in 2003. So while I was in the league, they actually had me corresponding, literally working for the network. From 2003 to 2007, I was actually playing in the league while working in the media at the exact same time for multiple outlets. So once I retired in 2007, it became an easy transition for me. And I’ve been at the ‘Worldwide Leader’ (ESPN) ever since.
Do you think former players make some of the best analysts?
No, not at all. The one thing I’ve learned about any industry is you still have to be prepared, work hard, be knowledgeable, credible, trustworthy and be able to articulate yourself, whether it’s writing, whether it’s working on television and analysing or being a host. There are people on both sides. Just because you play, I don’t believe that’s going to make you terrific at this job. There are those that did not play who are really good at the job.
Now, with all things equal, if a player is going to be good at television, as well as someone who didn’t play, and they have the same work ethic, all of a sudden now a player has a level of experience they can draw on that is untouched, which is playing experience. That usually gets overlooked in the dynamic that once you play sports for very long, you get a chance to be introduced to so many great minds in the game – coaches and mentors at different levels. That, in theory, becomes a level of experience that becomes untouched.
Have any players or former teammates reached out to you about critical comments you’ve made?
Absolutely. Here’s how that works. There was a period of time when I was a 20-point scorer in the NBA, but I was also working on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Like that actually happened in the early 2000s. And what I noticed is, players, coaches, family members, agents, managers… the list goes on and on of people who reach out and contact you about things you’re saying on television or on radio. Because everybody is watching. It’s ESPN, it’s whatever network at the time.
So what I learned to do when people were moaning and groaning about things I said about them on television, I realised I had to establish my credibility one way – by facts. So if somebody was upset about me saying they played terrible or their team looked like it quit, I would just take a picture of the box score and just email it to them or text it to them. So if you had eight turnovers and I said you were sloppy with the ball and were playing out of control, that’s actually accurate. You see how many turnovers, right? I’m not on your staff, I’m trying to analyse the game.
When people see you’re speaking facts, but you’re not making it personal… Because what ends up happening is different relationships span over a period of time. Just because I did or didn’t like a coach or a player or an opponent, I’m not going to allow that to affect how I speak about them working for the media. I think building that level of equity and credibility with my peers has allowed me to continue to flourish in this industry.
Your former team, the Toronto Raptors, are currently leading the Eastern Conference. Yet they still don’t seem to be favourites to make the NBA Finals. Why do you think they’re underrated?
For two reasons. They are underrated in a dynamic where you play in the Eastern Conference and LeBron James has won the conference seven straight years, something a player hasn’t done since the early 60s with the Boston Celtics. You have to see that guy and pay the respect to him, especially the way he still plays. You have to make him the favourite until you see someone beat him four out of seven games.
But also, Toronto’s core group has an history and that’s what happens in the NBA. And unfortunately for them, their recent history these last few years, they haven’t met expectations once the playoffs come. They’ve lost to higher (lower) seeds, they’ve gotten swept, Kyle Lowry has had mysterious meltdowns in a couple games and situations. So while they have improved and I applaud how they’ve taken a stranglehold of the Eastern Conference and are a better basketball team, I do have faith they will make it to the Conference Finals. If, if, if there is a team that can beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, I actually believe it will be the Toronto Raptors. So we just have to see how it plays out.
Who’s your favourite for winning the title and for MVP?
While I’m still enthusiastic about how well not only the Raptors in the East, but the Rockets in the West have improved to form legitimate competition for LeBron James in one conference and the defending champion Golden State Warriors in the other conference, the same theory applies. I still have to give the Golden State Warriors the edge to win it all and to repeat, but for MVP that’s James Harden.
For him to be top-two in points and assists again is terrific. The Rockets have consistently been one or two in the West the entire year. The numbers that he’s displayed and the consistently he’s displayed has been phenomenal leading that team. So he would get my vote if it happened today.
Where do you see the NBA going in the next 10 years?
I think the NBA is thriving and flourishing and continues to grow at a rate as fast as the speed of light. It’s going to continue, in particular in the United States, catapult in popularity over other popular counterparts like the NFL and Major League Baseball. Not only has the NBA continued to breed stars that transcend the game… For example, if you were to look at how many people follow LeBron James and Kevin Durant on Twitter, you could probably take 25 of the most popular NFL players and it won’t add up to that. That’s how the NBA has truly catapulted itself and I think it’s going to continue to grow.
As it relates to changes in the game, while it still is a guard-driven league because your primary ball-handler is the creator and has the ball all the time, it’s being understated how the big man has actually made a comeback. If you look only at the Western Conference, I know DeMarcus Cousins is injured right now, but you mention him and Anthony Davis. Then you start looking at productive teams. Clint Capela and Steven Adams in a different way, they don’t post-up and give you offence but they’ll run, jump, dunk and play defence. But then you have Nikola Jokic who is flirting with a triple-double on a nightly basis. So the game is going to continue to possess five players that can dribble, pass and shoot at almost all times. I’ve talked a lot for years about positionless basketball and that’s where it continues to go. There are always going to be unique talents in the game.
A couple rule changes I know must happen. One, the NBA must get rid of the one-and-done immediately. I imagine LeBron James is probably going to play until his younger son is fortunate enough to make the league. One-through-16 playoff seeding, that’s going to happen. This year is the perfect example for that. If you had 1-16 seeding, the Rockets and Warriors could meet in the Finals instead of the Conference Finals. Those are pretty much the ones stand out for me, but the game is going to continue to thrive and endure.
The Bucks’ young phenom finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and five assists on a night that would have normally grabbed headlines on its own.
But James was even better with 40 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to record his 16th triple-double of the season, making him the third-oldest player in NBA history to tally a triple-double while scoring at least 40 points. Only Larry Bird (35) and Elgin Baylor (34) have achieved the feat at an older age than James (33).
“I was talking to myself when I was taking a shower. And I was like, ‘OK, what did I do wrong today guarding LeBron?'” Antetokounmpo said. “Because he’s the first player ever to score 40 on me that easy.
“It’s hard; [LeBron’s] a guy that can drive the ball, shoot the ball, especially late in his career now he’s been shooting the ball amazing. He’s getting his teammates in the right spot.
“He’s the best player in the world. That simple.”
James is nearly averaging a triple-double since the start of February, notching 29.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game, with hyper-efficient shooting splits of 54.5 per cent from the field and 41.3 per cent on 3-pointers.
Antetokounmpo, meanwhile, has taken his play to another level this season by averaging 27.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 4.8 assists to be in the MVP discussion.
The 23-year-old may have lost the battle against James on Monday, but Cavaliers coach Larry Drew, who was Antetokounmpo’s coach in his rookie season, believes the Bucks forward is on his way to becoming a transcendent player.
“When you watch both Giannis and you watch Bron on the floor, I tell you, you can’t [look away] – you have to be focused at all times because Bron is a special, special player. I mean, as special as probably you’ll ever see,” Drew said. “And Giannis is blooming into that.”
LeBron James has 16 triple-doubles this season, extending his career-high. No other player in NBA history has more than 3 triple-doubles in their 15th season or later, according to @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/kWOahYaKhp— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 20, 2018
Though Monday’s contest was the final regular season meeting between Cleveland and Milwaukee, there is a chance the two superstars will clash in the playoffs, depending on seeding.
Cleveland are currently third in the Eastern Conference, while Milwaukee sit eighth, but there’s only four games in the loss column separating them, with four teams in-between.
Antetokounmpo said of a potential playoff series with James: “It would be a great experience. I think LeBron brings the best out of me. It should be a fun playoff series to watch.”
The forward had 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the Cavaliers’ 124-117 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday after returning from a broken left hand that kept him out 20 games.
Love was limited to 25 minutes but still finished as Cleveland’s second-highest scorer behind LeBron James, shooting 5-of-13 from the field and 4-of-9 from long range.
“I felt pretty good,” Love said. “Initially, that first wind is always tough, but even after that I felt like my legs were underneath me and that I could’ve played a little bit more.”
Before suffering the hand injury on January 30, Love was averaging 17.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and shooting 40.4 per cent on 3-pointers.
In his absence, the Cavaliers managed an 11-9 record and blew up the roster with multiple deals at the trade deadline to reshape their team.
Not only has Love’s talent and versatility been missed, but so has his presence as a veteran for a side that has gotten much younger since the start of the season.
“First of all just having another body is great for our team,” James said. “Then just his basketball IQ, his familiarity with our system, he fits right back in. And his ability to stretch the floor allows opposing bigs not to just sit and clog up the paint. It’s great to have him back.”
Love, who revealed earlier this month that he suffers from anxiety, let loose at one point against the Bucks when he missed a corner 3-pointer. After falling on his back in front of Milwaukee’s bench, Love appeared to slither backwards up the court.
Win or lose it is now every Cavs reporter’s responsibility to ask Kevin Love after game what exactly he was doing here pic.twitter.com/DRDmx6auQL— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) March 20, 2018
The move caught the attention of social media and Love couldn’t come up with much of an explanation after the game.
“I don’t know what the hell that was,” he said, via Cleveland.com. “I was just having fun.”
With Love back in the lineup for the stretch run, the Cavaliers as a whole may start having more fun.