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Jalen Rose on NBA Countdown, Bill Simmons and the Fab Five

Jalen Rose shares what it's like to work on NBA Countdown, start a charter school and be a member of Michigan's Fab Five.

We are entering the part of the sports television season where you will be seeing a lot of Jalen Rose. The ESPN NBA analyst is now the longest tenured member (three years) of NBA Countdown, the ever-changing ABC and ESPN NBA pregame studio show. Rose will appear with host Sage Steele and analyst Doug Collins for Friday and Sunday shows and on a Wednesday edition with host Doris Burke and analyst Avery Johnson. ESPN’s regular-season game coverage tips off on Oct. 29. 

Rose will also be a regular part of The Grantland Basketball Hour, which premieres Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN. The show is the first Grantland-branded television series and features Rose and Grantland Editor-in-chief Bill Simmons. The inaugural show's first guests are Clippers coach Doc Rivers and Simmons Rat Pack pals Zach Lowe and Michelle Beadle. The Basketball Hour will air up to 18 times during the NBA regular season, including the playoffs and Finals. Re-airs will be seen regularly on ESPN2 and at times on ABC (Thursday’s premiere episode will re-air on ABC on Saturday at 2 p.m).

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated caught up with Rose for a wide-ranging Q&A on Countdown, his television future and his relationship with Chris Webber and the University of Michigan, his alma mater:

You are 41 years old. What should your broadcasting career look like by the time you are 50?

I love what I am doing now, all the different multimedia, whether it is my podcast with [David] Jacoby or Countdown or Grantland. I'm someone that played in the 2000 Finals and then covered the 2002 Finals for BET. I worked for the Best Damn Sports [Show Period] from 2003 to 2007. I did everything from studio to sideline. I worked for Turner and worked with Charles [Barkley] and Kenny [Smith]. I worked with [Steve] Snapper [Jones] and Bill Walton at ABC. I worked for Top Rank and covered boxing. I appreciate my opportunities in sports, but there is another social relevant side to me and a show that I really like is what Bill Maher has with HBO. 

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I'd love to do something like that once a month, hitting on hard-hitting topics. That's something I hope to see myself doing or participating in. I consider myself one of the hardest workers at what I do, but I still pay attention to CNN, MSNBC and Fox. I pay attention to what goes on beyond sports.

So you want to be part of a show involving politics, race relations, economics, things like that?

Absolutely. I used to love watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. I remember the first time he brought on Rachel Maddow. I was thinking, "They are going to give her her own show. She is a clone of him." I pay attention to that landscape. I see shows like that and I would like to participate. 

Do you have a specific cable news channel you watch?

I pay attention to Fox and I pay attention to MSNBC to get the spin from both sides. I call CNN the balance of the two. 

You are now the longest-tenured staffer on NBA Countdown. How remarkable do you find that? 

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It's been a lot of hard work. I think it's the ability to work with multiple people, continuing to hone my craft and being knowledgeable about what is happening. I'm fortunate that I get to work with Avery and Doris and Doug and Sage, and still work with Bill at Grantland, plus working with Jacoby on the podcast. Media is just like sports. There are a lot of changes with talent, people go to different networks, people sometimes don't make the cut, people sometimes don't have the chemistry. So I am not surprised with the turnover, but I am happy that this is my 12th straight year covering the NBA Finals. 

I want to ask you about Countdown, knowing some of these answers will be tricky for you given it involves colleagues and friends. Why has the show not been able to have a consistent cast?

I don't know about the cast part because you continue to turnover cast, but what has happened with the overall fan and public perception of our show is that it should compete with [Turner's] Inside The NBA. But the reality of it is they are very different shows. You are talking about a pregame show that is a precursor to an event, a path to a destination. It has to be a vehicle for breaking news and a lead-in to an actual game. A lot of times our pregame show is on ABC, which is Disney, which comes on at noon on Sunday and therefore you have moms, grandmothers and grandkids watching the show.

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Inside the NBA is late-night television, sometimes airing at 1:00 a.m. Charles has his foot up on the desk. That's the sports equivalent of a Jimmy Kimmel. It should be compared to late-night TV because that's what it is. So because of that, I think we need to own who we are. Countdown is a pregame show and we have to own our lane as a pregame show. That's the focus and direction we are heading in.

How would you describe the relationship last year between you, Sage, Bill and Doug?

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We all got along really well. There are some times I guess when creatively you may be in a production meeting and someone has a strong point one way or another about a topic. But for me, personally, I am fortunate that I did not have any issues in any way shape or form with anyone. I personally felt the dynamic was just fine. The Countdown dynamic was good for me personally because I have known Sage since Indiana when she was a reporter.

The first time I saw her in Bristol she reminded me of a time guys were kind of horsing around because a girl was in the locker room and she said I had her back. I appreciated that when I saw her many years later. Me and her have always been awesome. [Writers' note: Steele was covering the NBA in the mid-90s and recalled some players saying suggestive, obnoxious things to her. She later found out that Rose told those players who were being obnoxious to pipe down and not be clowns. They stood down.]

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I spent time with Doug in Detroit and I even worked with him when Sacramento was in the playoffs against San Antonio in the 2000s. I was doing sideline for a game he was calling. While I was still a player, he was one of the people that always told me that he appreciated that not only was I a current player, but I was pursuing a job in media. 

Would you say there was creative tension between Bill and Sage?


Same question between any of the cast and Doug?


You are close professionally and personally with Bill. What characteristics best define him?

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I think his title at Grantland is the best way to describe him -- Editor-in-Chief. That's a great way to describe him. He's hard-working, he's forward-thinking, he loves sports, obviously. He is passionate about what is happening on a minute-by-minute basis in sports. He's an accomplished writer, a father, a husband. I think he has done an amazing job becoming a television personality which is not an easy thing to do.

Why does the chemistry work on the Grantland podcasts between you and Bill?

We are brutally honest with each other. There's a term we joke about but we are serious: Don't get fired. A lot of people who don't work intimately in this industry probably see that and laugh and think that is cute. But, there is a line there when you want to give a strong opinion and have a unique take about a topic. You want to be passionate about it and we both feel like we know what we are talking about. You can not like me or my point, but you can't dispute the facts I am trying to spew and I think we both have that in common. When I was player he got on my case but I did not take it personally.

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The best way to describe our relationship is recently we were doing the NBA Preview show and there was a clip of the movie Rudy. The clip ended and he said, "Jalen, you are looking like you've never seen that before?" I said, "Because I haven't." He said, "That's like one of the greatest sports movies of all-time. How is that possible?" I said, "Well, while you watching Rudy, I was watching Above The Rim."

In your opinion, was ESPN fair in suspending Simmons?

I'll quote a good friend of mine and multimedia legend, Keith Olbermann. He said, it's not my day to run the network. 

Ha. Olbermann said that in this space three weeks ago.

Oh, that was you? (laughs). I told you I follow you.

There were a couple of places that reported Simmons was responsible for Magic Johnson leaving Countdown. Simmons emphatically denied that to me. What kind of light can you shine on that either way?

I'll say it this way and people know how much I love Magic: He was my childhood idol. Magic Johnson is on his way to being a billionaire with a B. Nobody is getting that guy fired. When he decides he does not want to do something, it's because it is his choice first, second and third. 

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How long are you contractually connected to ESPN?

I have this season and next season left.

How interested are you in staying with ESPN after your contact is up?

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I want to be with ESPN heading forward 110 percent. I have found a multimedia home here. It sounds cliché to say you love the people you work for and the people you work with, but I am fortunate enough where I found that situation. I don't see any reason where I would not be part of the ESPN/ABC family. The thing I would want to do next is what we talked about earlier but it doesn't fit under the sports realm and that is a Bill Maher-type of show. I do think you can do a version of that with sports. I also took a lot of pride in being the executive producer of The Fab Five documentary. That's the other thing I would love to do more of with the network -- to be in a position to do more 30 for 30s or shorts. I want to continue to evolve and grow and ESPN gives me a great chance to do that. That's another reason why me, Bill and Jacoby get along well. I'm not just a talent guy that is going to show up at 1:59 for a show that starts at 2 pm. I'm one of those people who thinks about what to do in a segment or animations or the whole thought process. I am getting involved on the production side, slowly but surely. 

The Jalen Rose Leadership Academy is a tuition-free, open enrollment public charter high school in Detroit. The school opened in 2011 and is home to about 400 students in grades 9-12. How did this come about for you?

Michigan is still my home base. I am the ultimate snowbird that loves his job. During the winter, I am 70 percent in LA. After the NBA Finals, I am in Michigan until this time of year. When you first say Detroit, the connotation for those that have never been there or have just heard something about it is negative. Some of those descriptions we have earned and have to own and fix. It's considered a volatile city, high crime rate, high dropout rate, low graduation rate. It really frustrated me. It seems we are opening jails and closing schools. The dynamic of urban education is that so many schools just become dropout factories. You go to the local school because your mom or dad may not have a car or job prospects and all of a sudden you find yourself catching the bus or walking to this poor performance school that has been poorly performing for the last 20 years.

So, I wanted to be in a position to help try to bridge the educational gap. As a parent I am fortunate enough to put my children in a private school that costs $30,000 a year. How does that student compete with a student from JRLA that is getting the equivalent of $7,100 per year. That is a $23,000 educational difference. That plays out with technology, staff and administrators. Being a kid that was a product of the Detroit public school system and was fortunate to go to the University of Michigan on scholarship, I remember questions being asked about me.

"Sure, the Fab Five is great but can Jalen cut it academically?" So I never wanted to be considered a dumb jock and I took pride in making the honor role in high school and making the Dean's List in college. It doesn't get the headlines of being a McDonald's All-America or being a member of the Fab Five does but I still took pride in it. I also have a scholarship endowment at Michigan that has graduated two students and right now we have a senior there as well. So opening the school was a graduation of that mission.

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How often are you at the school?

Really, frequently. If you were having this conversation with our superintendent, Joseph Tenbusch, or our principal, Tanya Bowman, or any of our students or teachers, it is not "Oh, my God, it is Jalen Rose." I am sending emails to JRLA constantly to push the envelope for us to be great every single day. We do not cherry-pick students. Our students are chosen via lottery. We have a melting pot of kids and in our first year we had 40 middle schools represented out of our 110 students.

Where is the school located?

The same neighborhood I grew up in literally. 48235 is the zip code I grew up in and the school is located at 15000 Trojan Street in Detroit.

What person would you say knows you the best?

God. The Lord above.

Why do you say that?

I am not what they consider a Bible thumper and I don't outwardly discuss my relationship with Church and God, but I am one of those people who goes to church 90 percent of the time. 

Every Sunday?

Yes. When we do our Sunday ABC show, I have a church in LA I go to.

You were a big part of Michigan's athletic history. Where does the movement stand right now with members of the Fab Five teams making amends with the school? How would you define your relationship with the school at the moment?

The great thing about my relationship with Michigan is as a Detroit-area kid, I love the University of Michigan beyond anything, beyond knowing I would one day be an All-America player there, beyond being a donor and having a scholarship endowment there. I love the University of Michigan. That will not change based on anything that takes place, or an acknowledgement [of the teams he played on] or not. But what I will say is the relationship is moving in a positive direction to the point where -- and this may sound like breaking news and I have not physically seen it -- a good friend of mine on the coaching staff, Bacari Alexander, told me that in the new arena, heading into the locker room there is picture of the Fab Five. That is a first since we left.

Can that be the start of something bigger?

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I hope it means a little bit of everything. But here is why it is important to me: I take pride in being a good teammate. I took pride at Detroit Southwestern playing with Howard Eisely and Voshon Lenard who both went on to play in the NBA. I took pride in being a member of the Fab Five and though I was basically a small forward, Steve Fisher trusted me enough to play me at point guard. So for me, Chris [Webber] and Juwan [Howard] who still work on TV and still sit on the Miami Heat bench, we have things that continue to make us proud. For the Fab Five legacy, I stand on the table for Jimmy King and Ray Jackson and Steve Fisher because you walk on that campus and you would think those three people did not exist. And that is not fair.

How is the relationship right now with the members of that team?

Well, the relationship as a whole is not splintered. If you have watched The Fab Five documentary, the only person who was not in it was Chris. When you look at the Final Four this year, we were all sitting at the game together watching Michigan, unfortunately, lose to Louisville. 

Chris was at the arena but not with you, right?

Yes, he had the Obama treatment (laughs).

How would you define your relationship right now with Chris Webber?


Is there anything that can move the relationship from silent to even moderate or occasional talking?

I have zero issue with him personally. That is more of a question for Chris. But that is my brother. I love him. We’ve done a lot together and his obituary and mine, his funeral and mine, along with the other members of the Fab Five, will be linked forever. I appreciate the positive influence he has had on me. But sometimes I guess people grow out of situations and maybe in his head right now he feels like he outgrew the other members of the Fab Five and outgrew the relationship he had with me since he was 13. I completely have no problem with that if that is how he feels.

Do you miss him?

Yeah, I miss him, because that is my brother. He may not say this but he knows that if he gets in a foxhole and he has to go through a Rolodex of people to call, he knows I am one. 

You follow the Michigan athletic program closely. Where do you stand on Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon?

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First, I love Dave Brandon and I don't think there will be any change at his position. I think the one thing that happened with Dave is when you come into a scenario like he did, and you are really successful at business and you have shown you can be a terrific leader, sometimes there is the little guy who feels like he has been pushed over and in Ann Arbor, those are the students. They are upset about their seats being moved. Protesting in front of the President's house is never good. I think he deserves the opportunity to keep his job and I hope he continues to have his job, but things [mistakes] have to be acknowledged. For Brady Hoke, I can't remember in my lifetime where the fans of the University of Michigan's football team have been so down on the product they are seeing every Saturday. Because of that, I don't see how he can be able to keep his job after this year. If there is a change -- and I never root for any person to get fired -- Les Miles. While the people in Baton Rouge appreciate everything he has done, they don't seem like they have that new car smell with him anymore. 

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How realistic is it for the Cavs to win a title in LeBron's first year back in Cleveland and why?

I'm a big fan of the learning curve and staying true to my values. When I started watching basketball and fell in love with the sport, I had to watch my Pistons wait their turn while the Celtics and Lakers duked it out. Then the Bulls had to wait their turn while the Pistons won their championships. I am big on that process. So if I had to pick my favorite in the East today, I would pick the Bulls. Here's why: People underestimate teamwork and cohesion in basketball. The Bulls have been together a long time. They play playoff-style basketball and they also look to win with their defense. While Kevin Love is a top-10 player and obviously LeBron is a four-time MVP and Kyrie Irving is an All-Star guard, Love and Kyrie still have to show they can be competitive defensively. For Kevin Love, throwing Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson at him is going to be a load.

Who is the most famous person in your cell phone?

Magic Johnson and Denzel Washington. 

If Sage Steele was a current NBA basketball player, who would she be and why?

I'm trying to think of someone with Indiana ties. She'd be Gordon Hayward.

Same question for Bill Simmons?

He would be Patrick Beverley -- an agitator.