NEW YORK – It’s 6:45 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in mid-April. The sun is slowly creeping its way above Pier 17, situated in Manhattan’s Seaport District overlooking the East River. There, outside ESPN’s 19,000-square-foot waterfront facility, it’s quiet; a sleepy blue haze illuminates the surprisingly unperturbed scene. Perhaps the present setting is unbecoming of a place dubbed the City That Never Sleeps, but inside the building, the day is already in full swing. And one could argue that no one is working harder than Jalen Rose, whose duties these days include serving as a co-host of ESPN's Get Up!, NBA Countdown analyst, and co-host of Jalen & Jacoby.
Upon meeting Rose in the lobby of ESPN’s facility, there’s hardly any time to take in his magnetic 6'8" presence. Before you can even admire Rose’s impeccably crisp hair-do and deep-blue-colored suit, you’re following him into the studio where he co-hosts his podcast-turned-talk show, Jalen & Jacoby.
Once inside, Rose goes back to prepping for Get Up!, his first gig of the day, which starts in about an hour, but is determined to acknowledge your presence simultaneously. Kayla Johnson, a talent producer, is already here with Rose going over his “Superlatives” segment, which he’ll later share on his Instagram story. Shortly after, Talaya Wilkins, a segment producer, walks in and begins conversing with Rose about what he’s going to talk about across four different blocks during Get Up!
The clock reads only 6:52 a.m. when Rose is peppered with a series of quizzical inquiries. But, despite having been awake since 4:30 a.m., running on little sleep, Rose is zoned in. He stayed up through the end of TNT’s broadcast of the Clippers-Warriors thriller that was played the night before. Los Angeles pulled off a historic 31-point comeback to win the game, and Golden State had lost DeMarcus Cousins to a quad injury. That wrapped around 1 a.m. ET; the last thing Rose recalled seeing on the TV before shutting his eyes was TNT’s Inside the NBA crew chattering about their collegiate careers. But waking up at such an early time is typical for Rose, who lives roughly “55 minutes to an hour” away from ESPN’s Pier 17 studio. “Being on the east coast, when you leave matters,” he heeds. “So I need to be in the car by 5:45.” That ensures his commute an hour long. If he were to leave at 6 a.m. or any later, that journey would become at least an hour and a half.
So, here is Rose, despite limited rest, poring over the block scheduling and jotting down notes while David Axelrod’s “The Edge” (the song sampled in Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “The Next Episode”) plays aloud on his phone, placed near the edge of the table. He takes a sip from one of his two cups of Bigelow’s Pomegranate Pizzazz tea when another producer, Nick Tuths—whom Rose warmly greets as “King Tuth”—strolls inside to discuss what Rose will talk about during the show.
Get Up!, ESPN’s morning talk show which is now nearly a year old, airs for three hours. With the NBA playoffs in full swing, it’s the perfect opportunity to get Rose on camera doing what Tuth thinks he’s best at. “It sounds, it feels like being on a basketball court,” Tuth says of Rose’s presence. “It sounds like people talking about it who have been around it their whole life. Instead of just trying to analyze it for TV. That’s a huge focus for us, that Jalen is not just presented as a basketball personality, but a guy who’s breaking down the game and kind of makes the audience feel like they’re on the court with him.”
However, Rose insists that he’s versatile enough to expound on topics other than basketball. Still, he knows that it’s his expertise of what’s happening on the hardwood that helped grant his voice authority throughout his television career.
Rose, 46, has been working at ESPN since 2007. The former Michigan “Fab Five” member joined the Worldwide Leader shortly after playing 13 years in the NBA. But his broadcast career, he explains, started well before. At Michigan, Rose majored in mass communications and studied television and film. His first broadcasting gig was with BET’s Madd Sports in 2002, while he was playing for the Chicago Bulls. Rose pitched an idea to the show, resulting in him providing coverage of the NBA Finals between the then-New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Lakers.
From 2002-07, Rose worked in various media roles during the offseasons of his NBA career. He had his own segment on FOX Sports’ Best Damn Sports Show Period, and also worked with ESPN’s Cold Pizza (the original iteration of First Take), Top Rank Boxing, NFL Network, and even appeared during a broadcast led by the pairing of the late Stephen “Snapper” Jones and Bill Walton. When it came to the pro athletes transitioning from sports career to media member, Rose was ahead of the curve. Most enter the realm following their careers, but Rose wanted to follow both dreams of playing in the NBA and working in multimedia simultaneously. In 2007, ESPN hired Rose, who started as an NBA analyst on SportsCenter. He began working as a host on NBA Countdown in 2012—a role he’s maintained since—and from 2013-14 he served as an analyst with College GameDay. He also made appearances on Numbers Never Lie.
He was traveling constantly with a jam-packed schedule, at one point appearing on Number Never Lie Monday through Friday in Bristol, Conn., before appearing on-location for College Gameday Friday and Saturday, and then NBA Countdown Saturday and/or Sunday from Los Angeles. “I looked up and realized,” says Rose, “I’m happily the only person in the industry scheduled to do television shows Monday through Sunday on a national platform. And you come full circle, that’s what I’m doing now.”
Rose credits his time with Grantland, formerly Bill Simmons’s hit ESPN-affiliated site, for being monumental in forwarding his post-basketball career. Starting in 2011, Rose hosted The Jalen Rose Report for the Grantland Network. Once he brought his producer David Jacoby into the fold on-air and launched Jalen & Jacoby, it became clear that the duo had a success on their hands, and it eventually grew from a weekly podcast to a daily radio show. J&J transformed into a TV show, first airing in a late-night slot before being moved to the afternoon. Rose describes the show’s inception was a labor of love.
When one considers ESPN’s talent pool—which is, notably, very talented—Rose is a rarity. He’s one of the few, if not the only one, to work not one, but two shows which air Monday through Friday. To that point, he’s the only NBA player who does so; a welcomed variation from the roles that typically feature football players, such as Marcellus Wily, Shannon Sharpe, Mike Golic, Michael Strahan and Cris Carter.
“I’m trying to kick down the door for basketball players,” Rose says.
ESPN has faith in Rose to carry the mantle for NBA representatives, which means everything to him. He understands that there are people who assume what he does is easy. But he notes that it’s about catering to those same members of the consumption crowd that sets him, and perhaps just about any other sports analyst, apart from what’s considered to be drab analysis. He takes pride in what he says. Like other former athletes in media, he’s competitive with himself, pushing to be better everyday.
“When people see you do it, the Monday morning quarterback sits back and says, ‘I could be doing that, too,’” Rose says. “Until you realize, first off, the versatility that has to come with doing these jobs. There’s an etiquette and a decorum that I need to have on ABC at 12 in the afternoon on a Sunday talking about basketball on Countdown. The audience is different; blazer, shirt and tie; it’s primetime, notable NBA show. You work Christmas Day, we do the Finals—it’s the biggest stage in basketball. And I’m an award-holder as well, so I take pride in that.”
As the clock blinks 8 a.m., Brandon Phillips, an ESPN stage manager, calls for silence across the Get Up! set. Behind the desk, the East River shimmers while the sun, now risen, beams through a window as small vessels float by and cars scurry along the Brooklyn Bridge like ants in a row. Rose is seated alongside host Mike Greenberg and former NBA player Richard Jefferson, who’s making a guest appearance. Greenberg opens by welcoming Rose back from a brief hiatus, calling his showing a “triumphant return.”
This is the first sprint of the day in a series full of intensive heats. Rose, in action, iterates the points he’s already gone over, this time expanding on thoughts instead of delivering bite-sized snippets.
At 8:20 a.m., there’s a break in the show before entering the next segment. Rose will break down a sequence from the Warriors-Clippers game the night before in front of a touchscreen. But a few minutes in, the screen malfunctions. Smoothly, Rose improvises, smiling as he calmly acknowledges the miscue while still assessing the play. He’s not at all overwhelmed. “It’s like playing in a game,” he later explains. “A turnover or something happens on a play, but they still haven’t scored yet.”
Rose returns to the desk and the segment continues until 8:55 a.m. At exactly 9 a.m., a woman named Laura quickly touches up his makeup before he returns for another 25-minute segment, again discussing the Warriors-Clippers matchup. Into the second hour, Rose maintains his energy, always offering a different angle while trying to keep his analysis entertaining.
At 9:26 a.m., Phillips announces that Get Up! is entering its C-block. Rose departs at this point, walking back through the hallways to return to the set of Jalen & Jacoby. Two minutes later, he’s sitting with Jacoby. Rose has exactly five minutes before he needs to return to the set of Get Up! He and Jacoby look over their rundown. As if the on-air chemistry wasn’t clear, their camaraderie in preparation is just as apparent. They don’t need to spend long determining what parts of the show will work and what angles each will take. It’s seemingly for the better. At 9:30 a.m., a woman named Dominique hands Rose a rundown for First Take—he and Greenberg will be needed to join the debate desk later in the morning. Rose quickly gets a briefing on the topics for the spot when at a minute later, at approximately 9:31 a.m., he fields a call from a Jalen & Jacoby producer. The conversation is short. Three minutes after, Rose heads back to the Get Up! desk. He passes a coworker near a lounge area, dapping him up as he passes.
“Fast and furious!” Rose calls out as he strides away.
After a final sprint through Get Up!’s D-block—which features Rose’s “Deeper Than the Box Score” segment, something he’s swears he’s pushed to have featured on the show for months—he walks back out through the hallway to the Jalen & Jacoby set. For about 15 minutes, the two reconvene, expounding on points.
Presently, there’s a sense of calm. There is something relaxing about looking around at the walls and seeing the artwork and photos of numerous celebrities and influential figures. It’s a sort of marked individuality that Rose particularly takes pride in.
When the show first start, Rose was allowed to determine the setup. So, Rose obliged, decorating the walls with what he felt represented who he was and what the show was meant to traverse. He mentions the freedom he felt showing up to work on the show garbed in a Wu-Tang Clan hoodie to not only talk about sports, but talk about entertainment and crack light-hearted jokes. The current product doesn’t stray far from the premise.
Behind Rose, is his “Wall of Immortals” commemorating several iconic figures in entertainment, politics and sports. Detroit is, intentionally, prominently represented. Olympic medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos holding up Black Power fists during the national anthem at the 1968 Summer Games are among the most eye-catching snapshots. Actress Pam Grier, Harriet Tubman, and Magic Johnson also feature. There’s even a statue of the rapper, Jadakiss, whom Rose refers to as being a top-10 MC, “top-10 dead or alive.”
The range of subjects reflects Rose’s goal of reaching varied types of viewers. “These platforms give me the opportunity to touch every audience,” he says.
At 10:22 a.m., Rose and Jacoby begin their show, opening with their usual back-and-forth, call-and-answer introduction before delving into topics. In a small booth outside the set is John Curtis, an associate director of transmissions operations.
Curtis, known as “JC”, has been working at ESPN since 2004. His Carolina accent is charming, but he’ll argue that his temperament pales in comparison to the generosity of Rose.
The first time Curtis saw Rose, he didn’t know who he was.
“I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’” Curtis recalls. “Then the coach for the Lakers came out and gave him a hug and shook his hand. And then Kobe came out and gave him a hug, and you’re like, ‘Damn, this is somebody.’ So I introduced myself and we’ve been family ever since.”
But what impresses Curtis most about Rose is his humility. Curtis knows Rose’s story, one of a Detroit native who overcame great odds and an uncommon upbringing to reach the heights he has. Curtis admires Rose not only for enduring a tough upbringing, but for making the most of his opportunities and pushing himself beyond limit. For years, Curtis has watched Rose make cross-country treks from ESPN’s Bristol set to the Los Angeles facility.
Then there’s a matter of Rose’s generosity. Curtis’s eyes light up as he says that Rose orders food for everyone at ESPN out of pocket, an anecdote that Jacoby later confirms.
Every two weeks, Rose will have food, such as barbecue, catered to the office around lunchtime. Jacoby estimates it can feed around 40 people. “I actually went to somebody that works here in operation,” Jacoby says, “and I was like, ‘Does Jalen really pay for this or does the company?’ And they were like, ‘No, no. Jalen really pays for it.’ Sometimes he does it when he’s not even here. That’s just an example of the kind of person that he is.”
Rose’s philanthropy extends beyond the workplace. In 2011, he founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a tuition-free charter high school located in his hometown of Detroit. He visits the campus regularly, fitting time in the midst of an already-busy itinerary. He speaks of the students glowingly. A varsity jacket bearing the academy’s mascot name, “Jaguars”, in a familiar blue and yellow font on its back is even draped over his chair.
It’s acts of selflessness like these that have led many within the ESPN campus to bear a genuine respect for Rose.
“On television, [Rose] comes off as so happy and likable and jovial,” Jacoby later says. “Is he really like that? Yes. Yes, he’s like that and more. He’s the most well-liked person in the office.”
“He’s the best,” Curtis adds. “He could call me at 3:00 in the morning, and I’m going to go help him. No question.”
At 10:50 a.m., Curtis leans into a mic to warn Rose through an earpiece that he has two-and-a-half minutes left before he’s needed on the set for First Take. Soon, Rose strides back down the hallway, this time zipping past the turn he had made to get to the Get Up! set. He veers left, and for the first time, passes his wife, Molly Qerim, who hosts and moderates First Take. In an even rarer turn of events, after greeting Qerim, Rose takes a bathroom break at 10:54 a.m., then steps out by 10:55 a.m.
Finally, at 11 a.m., First Take begins. Hosts Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman are courteous of the visiting Rose and Greenberg, and the conversation, mostly surrounding the play of Kevin Durant and the Warriors, carries for 15 minutes before a break. They reconvene for at least 10 more minutes, exchanging opinions over the state of the Lakers, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant, when at 11:28 a.m., Rose and Greenberg are allowed to leave the desk.
Rose is animated as he walks away. The long morning has not weathered him. Boxer Terence Howard, making a guest appearance on the show alongside Amir Khan ahead of their highly-anticipated bout, sees Rose as he exits the set and daps him up.
“It don’t stop!” says Rose, turning the corner heading back to the lobby.
For Rose, a 4:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. schedule—on the days he’s at ESPN’s New York facility—is as demanding as he anticipated.
“The idea for so many people is, ‘I wanna talk about sports on television.’ They don’t understand the work that comes with it,” Rose says, brushing his hair. “All of the information that you have to consume, all of the time, the energy. And then you have entertain, you still have to be knowledgeable, you still have to be credible, believable, non-biased. The audience can see through that.”
In addition to mornings at New York’s set, Rose is asked to travel to be on-set for NBA Countdown, which often is recorded from Los Angeles. That means a cross-country flight, or at one of great distance, taking place almost weekly. Still, he not only expected it, but also hoped it would be as daunting as it is.
“Took a lot of effort and time and sacrifice for it to actually happen,” he says. “I believed it. I hoped it. I wished it.”
Rose is appreciative of the opportunities he’s been given while at ESPN. Though admittedly cliché, he says that he’s never felt muzzled by ESPN, ABC or their parent company, Disney. Nobody has told him how to dress, nor has anyone tried to suppress his opinions.
“I appreciate that,” Rose says. “It’s fun to me. It doesn’t feel like a job. You see how we all interact with one another. It’s not like we show up at work and it’s any tension. Bomani [Jones] and Pablo [Torre], I’ve got love for them. Stephen A. and Max, those are my brothers. I get a chance to work with my wife. Jacoby is my brother. This is home.”
Today, Rose’s work has finished. (Until he has to go home and tune into the playoff slate scheduled later that evening, that is.) So, for at least a few hours, he’ll finally get some peace. But as one steps outside of ESPN’s building and back onto the pier, they’ll find the customary, bustling scene of New York City.
There are crowds of people everywhere—J-walkers timing their moves through streets as cars rumble past, a child squealing at her mother about an ice cream cone. Somehow, amidst this chaos, there’s some sense of normalcy, one almost as regular as the whirlwind Rose will tackle again tomorrow inside the ESPN building by the time things have simmered down once more.