Running the point, standing 6’8 and walking to the beat of his own Serato, Jalen Rose was a big guard like Magic Johnson, a style icon like Big L and a leader like Rakim Allah. These days? Well he’s just a damn good broadcaster that runs a free charter school.
Still outspoken, still outstanding, the fearless leader of the Fab 5 is two decades removed from Ann Arbor, but not an inch more distant from Detroit. Breaking bread in Bristol as part of ESPN’s NBA Countdown crew (which premieres this Wednesday at 7 PM ET) and one-half of Jalen & Jacoby, #5 still packs a 313 phone number and has raised nearly $6 Million in scholarship funds in 2017 alone for graduates of his Motown-based charter school.
Fresh fade and fresh takes, we caught up with Jalen on the cusp of the NBA season to hear his Association sleepers, insight on the roles brands play in college recruiting and what music he plays when he DJs parties for his uncles.
Nice Kicks: Let’s start with style. Fashion wise on and off the court, who did you look to growing up?
Jalen Rose: Great question. Initially it was Don Cornelius on Soul Train, he was super clean. I used to like George Jefferson’s fashion because if you think about it he was a business owner, married and about family and entrepreneurship. I appreciated that. In sports, Clyde Frazier was somebody whose fashion I looked up to. Then Ron O’Neal with the zoot suits and the long coats! That was the Detroit thing. There’s also a different style we got from New York City with the PUMA suits and the Suedes with the thick shoe strings, then later Run DMC with the leather bombers and adidas with no shoe strings. Boogie Down Productions had the bubble coats, then you had Slick Rick and Dana Dane with the suits and the Ballys. I put a gold cap on my tooth in high school to be like Slick Rick and Larry Johnson!
Nice Kicks: A lot’s made of the baggy shorts, shaved heads and black Nikes while at Michigan. You always seemed like the leader swag wise of the Fab 5. What influenced those fashion choices and what was it like seeing peers imitate?
Jalen Rose: Initially it was all about camaraderie and I think that’s a thing that gets lost with the Fab 5. It was a one-for-all mentality. If we were going to the student union for a party, we’re all going. If something was going down at Eastern Michigan, we were all going. If one us was going down to Freaknik, we were all going!
Based on that, the style choices were a way to signify that it was a time to turn it up and get serious. While the world recognized that we had five special freshman, we still appreciated our veterans and teammates who allowed us to be who we are. That was just a sign of solidarity. It wasn’t that a couple of us were gonna shave our head bald or wear black socks, we were all gonna do it.
With the shaved heads, at that time it was looked at as a sense of rebellion like sagging pants. At that time, rocking a baldie was considered rebellious. Then it was considered super handsome and fashionable if you were Michael Jordan! [Laughs] But if you were Onyx it was considered the opposite. Being influenced by EPMD and Naughty by Nature, I was the kid who would walk around campus in the middle of winter with a piece of tissue in his nose like Redman.
Nice Kicks: Michigan became THE Nike school during your tenure. How much did brands play a part in picking your school then and what do you think of all the conversation regarding their roles now?
Jalen Rose: Recruiting for me had a lot to do with familiarity, because you wanted to see people that you knew who were where you were from have success around the country. Fortunately for me, I appreciate my time with the Fab 5 but it might not even be the best team I ever played on! When you go to Detroit Southwestern, it wasn’t about me being a McDonald’s All-American, it was about the fact that Perry Watson had a successful program a decade before I even got there. I was able to see Anderson Hunt go to UNLV and win Final Four MVP. I never would’ve thought that when I was in the basement rockin’ my Michigan shorts to my knees as a high school senior watching UNLV lose to Duke in the Final Four, that I’d be playing against them in the Finals the next year. Then watching Derrick Coleman at Syracuse — he’s a Detroit native. So, those were my visits. They were Detroit players that I had love for and had success. Coincidentally at the time, just like Detroit Southwestern, they were all Nike schools.
The thing that gets overlooked for a young athlete is that you’re not only signing a letter of intent, you’re actually signing an endorsement deal with a shoe company — it’s just that you’re not getting paid. I don’t see it changing in the future. Do I think that the NCAA, a 501c3, is going to share some money with their players? I don’t think that’s going to happen. Remember, the shoe contracts aren’t with the players, they’re with the schools. So I’m not just signing to go to the University of Michigan, I’m also signing to wear Brand Jordan. I can’t go to campus and say, ‘I’m going to wear adidas.’ The school isn’t going to pay for gear ever, especially if they’re getting millions of dollars, so that business model works great for them and they’ll fight tooth and nail to do anything they can not to change it. It’s no coincidence that the shoe companies have branched off into summer camps, the trainers that work out multiple players, the high schools that are sponsored by brands, it’s no coincidence that the player now goes to a college that represents that same brand and then wears that brand when they get to the pros.
Nice Kicks: When you were coming up, Nike had their own camp, Converse had Five Star and adidas had ABCD Camp. Were those camps influential to players picking schools at that time?
Jalen Rose: Of course. It creates a relationship but a funnel is what it becomes. I was fortunate enough to be influenced by the godfather of all this, Sonny Vaccaro. As somebody that went to Nike Camp, I didn’t go to Five Star. I got the chance to play in the McDonald’s Game, but I also got to play in the Dapper Dan game in the final year because Sonny put it on.
Nice Kicks: Sonny Vaccaro is someone I’ve always admired and I feel like with the current dialogue regarding brands, schools and recruiting, he could be vilified with all that’s going on. To be clear, it seems like you still highly regard him and speak of him with reverence, correct?
Jalen Rose: No question! That’s why I call him the godfather. I’ve got nothing but respect for him, and his lovely wife, Pam.
Nice Kicks: As an unofficial endorser, you made the Air Force Max and the Flight Huarache famous. How does it feel to see them come back and how do you feel about new colorways?
Jalen Rose: Initially I felt bitter. I’m the founder of a tuition free charter high school and you would at least think I could get them to sponsor my school, ya know?
Here’s what happens, usually collegiate athletes aren’t fortunate enough to have the longevity that we’ve had. The documentary, Chris and I working in television, Juwan coaching for the Heat and Ray and Jimmy still coaching in high school. We’re still alive, breathing and active. Normally, the system gets the chance to take advantage of that once, we’ve allowed the system to take advantage of it twice.
So, when I see Nike bringing back the Huarache and when I see the Brand Jordan Fab 5 shoe with the logo that we came up with in South Quad dorm on the back of the shoe, I’ve gotta get on my grown man and get on the phone with these people now. We’re not 19, 21 year old kids anymore. We want to be viewed as endorsers, we want to be used as partners. Send us some boxes, I don’t wanna see this stuff online!
Nice Kicks: In regards to the Fab 5 Jordans, were you sent a pair?
Jalen Rose: I’ve been in contact with them and I now have a relationship with someone there who hopes to work with us. If I would’ve had this conversation three months ago, I would’ve been a lot more flagrant than I’m gonna be right now [laughs], but I will say it’s in motion. But again, think about what you said? One pair of shoes? It’s not a lot. I’m not a 19 year old college student in the dorms anymore, c’mon now! [Laughs]
Nice Kicks: So when celebs were getting the Fab 5 Jordans, the actual Fab 5 was not?
Jalen Rose: Initially, correct.
Nice Kicks: That’s messed up, but I’m glad it was rectified. Hopefully a free pair here and there leads to sponsorship of your school from a brand.
Jalen Rose: You know what I mean? Tuition free public charter high school. I entered that fingers crossed, but I did enter all that stuff with the Huarache remakes at the mall and the Fab 5 Jordan shoe with a level of frustration when you’re not treated like a partner or endorser. They get multiple bites of the apple and what allows them to do that is not only what we did 20 years ago, but that we’re still current right now.
Nice Kicks: Transitioning to the NBA, they just switched to a Nike deal and got new jerseys. Looking back at your pro career, was there a uniform that sticks out as the one you felt freshest in or conversely the most swagless?
Jalen Rose: Oh, pinstripe Pacers! Those were cold. The crazy thing for me is that my high school colors at Detroit Southwestern — blue and gold. Michigan — maize and blue. Pacers — blue and gold. So JRLA is blue and gold also.
Nice Kicks: I remember your Pacers team with Reggie Miller, Chris Mullin and Rik Smits rocking black shoes and black socks for the playoffs.
Jalen Rose: Yup! And bald heads, this stuff travels don’t it!
Nice Kicks: It’s hard to imagine in this day and age with all the swagged out haircuts and individual marketing that a team would ever shave their heads for a playoff run.
Jalen Rose: Right, and that’s a strong statement: I’m not able to give up me for we.
Nice Kicks: Much is made of the shoes you wore in college, but not always when you were in the league. For example, you were one of the select players to rock Jay Z’s Reebok S. Carter BBall shoe on court. How did that come about?
Jalen Rose: Basically you go through different periods as a player. There was a period where I was adidas, a period where I was rocking Nike and a period where I was rocking Reeboks. Usually, whatever I was rocking was what was comfortable for me and what I thought was fly. Hov came out with that kick when I was with Reebok. I was a fan, and they looked good so it was only right. If I’m out here getting buckets, it’s only right I do it in the S. Dots.
What a lot of people may or may not realize is that the NBA was truly the first league to embrace hip-hop. A lot of people don’t remember when it happened, but it truly happened with MC Hammer and “U Can’t Touch This” with the Pistons.
When the Pistons were winning championships in ’89 and ’90, MC Hammer was the #1 artist in the world. He did his “They Put Me in the Mix” video at Joe Louis arena in downtown Detroit. That created a kinship that Detroit and Oakland still have to this day, though it initially started in the ’60s and the ’70s with the Civil Rights Movement and a lot of outspoken inviduals that were passionate about change in our country that happened to be from Detroit and the Bay Area. So, when you transfer and remix that relationship to the ’90s, the tagline for the Pistons became ‘U Can’t Touch This’ and if you look back at those Bad Boy Pistons shirts that’s what they say.
Even back then when Too Short was saying Detroit was just like Oakland, that’s because we were out there at KKBT Summer Jam in the ’90s! Hanging out with him, Mark Curry, Spice-1, all of those cats. The great thing is I really got lucky because that was the hottest concert and I went back-to-back years and all my favorite artists — EPMD, Naughty by Nature, The D.O.C. — all were there.
Nice Kicks: Getting into broadcasting, you’re working now with Chauncey, Paul and previously T-Mac, who you all would’ve checked during your pro career. How’s it been working with them as teammates now and as a trash talker turned broadcaster, whose on-court demeanor is the most different from their TV tone?
Jalen Rose: First off, wow, I’m the oldest one of all them, oh man! I consider all of them brothers. I’ve been working at ESPN now ten years and each of them have made a really nice transition to television and I’m really happy with all the progress they’ve made. One thing about the league is you have a kinship with all of them and you never know how it’s going to transform. When Paul got drafted, I was staying in LA and had a spot, so we were working out everyday back when he got drafted to the Celtics. So, we’ve been homies for that long. With Chauncey, when I got drafted to the Nuggets he was in college at Colorado, so we had friends and then he played for the Pistons. With T-Mac, he got drafted by Isiah and you know how I feel about him and he does a good job trying to keep everybody together. We were always connected.
I think each of them does a good job of resembling what they do on TV. Because as players, especially T Mac and Chauncey, they weren’t much of talkers they were more about business. I’m happy for T Mac because he got signed to be a special assistant for the Magic. Paul signed with ESPN and he’ll be not only doing Countdown but also The Jump. I think each of them have done a good job of staying true to who they are and to me that’s how they could have long careers in TV if they choose to.
Nice Kicks: In a sport like football, preseason or Week 1 doesn’t mean a thing but I feel like in basketball it can be a bit more telling. Who’s impressed you or surprised you so far?
Jalen Rose: I think a surprise to the casual fan will be Minnesota. People sleep on the fact that Karl Anthony Towns averaged 25 and 12 last year and they still have Wiggins who averaged over 20 and they brought in Jimmy Bulter. A real sleeper as a player is Nikola Jokic from Denver. He’s only 22 and a lot of people don’t realize that he was fourth in triple-doubles behind Russ, Harden and LeBron as a center!
I love seeing what OKC did this offseason, I like CP3 with James in Houston, I like Kryie and Gordon Hayward in Boston, I like the super teams in Cleveland and Golden State and the Greek Freak is gonna go off again this year.
Nice Kicks: You were about twenty years ahead of your time in regards to being a big guard/hybrid player and bringing your love of hip-hop to your style on the court. In an evolved game and a 360 marketing space, how do you think you’d fair in the game and the endorsement space today?
Jalen Rose: You look at all the major sports in America: their colors are red, white and blue. But the NFL is a flag, a shield, and the NBA is a player in Jerry West. The NBA has done a better job of marketing its players and individuals as the encouragement of building the game which has now allowed what you say has happened. The Forbes list is hoopers. The most followed on social media are, too. The new Madden commercial has James Harden and CP3 on it…no NFL players were available? We’re talking about storylines going into the NBA season and the breaking news for the NFL is the protest, Ezekiel Elliot and what happened to Cam recently.
I hope, that as I talked about for years and I talked about it on First Take, that the game has evolved to positionless basketball. Positions were truly created so that a novice could follow the game. It use to be point guard, now it’s lead guard or as I say ‘primary ball handlers.’ These guys like John Wall, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas are now giving you 25 points. Just because you’re a power forward doesn’t mean you’re a physical presence playing in the paint the entire game. That guy now is Draymond Green spreading the floor.
I would think that at my size, playing multiple positions, but drafted as a point guard, I would hope to flourish. I’m happy to see big guards back in the game like Lonzo Ball.
Nice Kicks: When watching today’s game, whether it’s swag or playing style, is there anybody particular you watch and say, Man, he reminds me of me?
Jalen Rose: I used to feel like that with players that played three positions. And by no means do I think I am a trendsetting player, but normally there aren’t guys that play point guard and also small forward. There are point forwards like Paul Pressey, Grant Hill or LeBron James and then there are tall point guards like Magic Johnson, Steve Smith and Penny Hardaway. But, it still in theory doesn’t exist today where a guy is running the 1 and guarding the 3. That again goes towards positionless basketball. I like that KD can play the 4 or the 5, Melo is gonna start at the 4, Kevin Love is gonna play the 5 and Porzingis might play the 5.
Nice Kicks: Sticking with the youth, you do a lot to help kids in Detroit with your school. Could you tell us about how that started and what you and the kids have gotten out of it?
Jalen Rose: Anybody that’s followed my trek as an athlete or a public figure: I’m just like you. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d mature to the point where I’m the founder of a charter high school — I didn’t see that either. It wasn’t my goal, it wasn’t my plan, I didn’t need protesting in the NFL to happen or things to transpire for me to give back to my community. JRLA was really just a graduation of a mission to give scholarships to local kids through charitable donations. We were giving five students scholarships for about eight or nine years. I sat back from my seat and noticed that we were closing public schools but opening prisons. I wanted to do something more to motivate young people and truly give back and make change and I felt no better way was through education.
We’re open enrollment, we’re tuition free, we’re a public charter and we’re a 9 through 16 model. So our goal is not only to graduate our young people from high school but also graduate them from college as well. This is our first year where we have both high school seniors and college seniors and I’m really proud of it. We’re looking to bridge the education gap and make our students successful in college and the workplace and make their dreams come true. As an adult you don’t get as far with a high school diploma as you used to, so we have a board that monitors our students and makes sure they’re going to schools that are not just high school but four-year universities, trade school and the military, just putting themselves in the position to have a secondary opportunity after high school.
And we get zero state funding for our facilities, how about that? Please go to http://www.jrladetroit.com/ for more information about what we’re doing. These are the type of outcomes that are really game changing in our community and I’m really proud of our parents, our students, our staff, our deans and our board. Now for us to have the progress from being an expansion team in 2011 to now a contending team in 2017, I’m really proud of that progress.
Nice Kicks: Moving to music, we know back in ’92 it was EPMD, Naughty by Nature and others blowing up your headphones. What’s in heavy rotation for you today?
Jalen Rose: One of my hobbies in my spare time is DJing. I could go with my favorite break beats…man lemme hit my Google Play. I could go old school with Mantronix, Sam Cooke, Kraftwerk… Then I could go to R&B Soul with Rod Stewart “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” people sleep on that! I’ve got my Bill Withers, I’ve got my Kano “I’m Ready,” then we could fast forward to KRS-One, Rakim, Public Enemy, NWA, that whole era, Outkast… then you could graduate even further to of course my Detroit homies! Marshall, Nickel Nine, Sean Don, my guy Tee Grizzley, and then obviously I’m a huge fan of bars so Kendrick, J Cole, Pusha T, I could go a lot of different ways from R&B to pop. That’s one thing being from the Midwest as you know: we weren’t married to one sound. So I got exposed to everything from P-Funk to Hall & Oates to MoTown. I didn’t get a strong techno influence being from Detroit, but it was more just the songs like “Egyptian Lover” or “Tour de France.”
I’ve done DJing as a job and for fun. When you’re a DJ you play what the audience wants to hear. If I’m playing for my uncles I’m gonna play Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye, if I’m playing for a more universal crowd I’ll play Michael Jackson and Prince. It all depends on the audience really. As for records at the moment, I like Cardi B.
Nice Kicks: Just the same, it was black Nikes on the feet back then. To close it out, which kicks get the most burn from you in 2017?
Jalen Rose: On my feet, man it’s hard to find some PUMAs in a size 15! For me, as I got older I wanted to buy a lot of things that I couldn’t afford growing up. I catch myself wearing Gucci Lace Ups, Cartiers, Cazals, adidas Top Tens and Forums… the motivation!
Catch Jalen on ESPN NBA Countdown this Wednesday at 7 PM ET and for more on Jalen’s charter school visit http://www.jrladetroit.com/