Jalen Rose, whose many duties at ESPN include co-hosting NBA Countdown, working on his podcast Jalen & Jacoby and who will be co-hosting ESPN’s newest morning show Get Up, caught up with The Crossover about the most exciting thing in the NBA during this time of year: Christmas Day games.
Rose talked about his favorite Christmas Day memories, his favorite gifts, what John Skipper—who resigned as ESPN president in mid-December—meant to him, among other things.
(This article has been lightly condensed and edited for clarity.)
Kellen Becoats: What is your best memory about the Christmas Day games? I know you had 31 points against Orlando when you were with the Pacers and you got into a little altercation against Kurt Rambis and the Knicks.
Jalen Rose: I think you just acknowledged it. A better game I would say against my guy T-Mac (Tracey McGrady), my coworker right now, in Orlando because that was at a time when there was four total teams that played on Christmas Day. So you had the relevant West Coast team—not named the Lakers, probably, if they weren’t playing, obviously—it meant something to play as the East Coast representative as you saw Mike (Michael Jordan) come through the league. So it was a big thing. It was an exciting game. It’s awesome to wake up in the morning on Christmas Day and open up your presents and do all of that stuff and have the equivalent of Monday Night Football on steriods where literally the entire world is watching and enjoying the holiday season.
KB: What’s your best memory from when you were a kid on Christmas Day?
JR: My best memory as a kid on Christmas Day? Any time I got video games. So I went through the whole phase of Atari 2600. Playing NBA Jam and all the video games. So anytime I got a new system and/or a new video game it meant everything. And Donkey Kong and Pacman! I was definitely a gamer and a techie.
KB: What are your plans for NBA Countdown on Christmas Day? I know you all like to have fun with it and wear pajamas in the morning and talk about breakfast before the early games so what do you guys have planned for this year?
JR: No question about it. I’ve talked about this for the last couple of years and last year we kind of broke through on it. It was something to capture the flavor. The whole world understands we’re going to be on at 8 in the morning, 9 in the morning. So since it’s a five-game, 12-hour day it’s OK to have different shifts, whether it’s outfits, changes or personalities. We’re gonna do the pajamas, I wish we could put some bacon and eggs on the table and maybe some pancakes, especially during the morning portion. As the games get primetime, that’s when the outfits become a blazer, shirt and tie. That type of thing. So that’s gonna be fun to do that and really just looking forward to watching the games and seeing how all the matchups play out.
KB: My last question for you for the Christmas Day games and kind of leading into Jalen & Jacoby is, are you actually going to get a haircut at 5:30 in the morning on Christmas Day?
JR: [Laughs] Oh yeah, you definitely watch Jalen & Jacoby. Absolutely. I always try and have it about an hour before the meeting, not to give away any of my trade secrets. But yes, that is normally the game plan. So if I need to be there by 7, I’m getting in the chair at 5:30 so I can get it done and wrap it up by 6:30 to head on to the meeting.
KB: What initially got you involved at ESPN, what was the hardest part of the transition from athlete to on-air talent?
JR: What got me involved at ESPN was that I was fortunate enough to get involved in the media while I was still in the league. I got traded to the Bulls in 2002 and I was like ‘Ope, we’re not going to the playoffs.’ So I took a contact I had and that allowed me to cover the Finals against the Nets and the Lakers. Assisting the camera crew, I had some access and we cut it, we spliced it, we aired it and I turn around and we pitched the same idea the next year. Then I went to the Best Damn Sport Show. So between 2002 to 2007 while I was still in the league, I was working for those. I was doing TV, I was doing movie awards, top level boxing, ABC, you know with Snapper (Snapper Jones)—rest in peace—and Bill Walton. So I was just moonlighting with a bunch of networks. TNT, doing sideline, doing studio stuff. And when I retired in 2007 that’s when I pitched to exclusively join ESPN.
KB: What were those first few experiences like? Whether it was with the ‘Podfather’ Bill Simmons or eventually starting your own podcast with David Jacoby and then the premier of the Jalen vs. Everybody?
JR: Those are great opportunities that continue to manifest themselves off creative ideas and hard work and people believing in the idea. Pitching Bill the idea about Jalen & Jacoby when I saw that he was going to be the Editor-in-Chief of Grantland. Once I realized I actually wanted to do it with Jacoby and then it took off not just as a podcast but as a passion project it grew on track that eventually grew into a radio show and, in January, hopefully a television show and we were fortunate to make so much progress. And Jalen vs. Everybody was just Nahnatchka Khan and Melvin Mar, the top people in the industry at what they do. Got a chance to work with me on Fresh Off the Boat and they just noticed more of my story and what made me tick and got to know me on the phone about JRLA [Rose’s charter school, the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy] and they felt that was something they could get more opportunity from that also.
KB: How much did John Skipper mean to you and what doors did you see him open for you and others?
JR: I love and appreciate John Skipper. All that he’s done for me personally, professionally. The things that I thought he brought to the table, beyond being a forward thinker is being someone who has a background in content. Since he came from the magazine world, he paid attention to the landscape of sports that gave him a unique view and also he was a fair minded individual about trying new ideas that included minorities but also women and put people in positions of power and was a terrific forward thinker but until the other day when I heard that they had paid 52 billion dollars for the acquisition of Fox. Just terrific navigation and obviously wish him the best when in terms of him and his family. He had a big influence on my career and me personally.
KB: What has it been like seeing Jalen & Jacoby grow in popularity over the years and when you all were awarded a TV show, did that feel like validation for years of hard work?
JR: Absolutely, and also the ability to work hard but also be different. How we see podcasts and radio shows, like the athletes just saying something, having helmets in the studio to us having our own personalities, music, the guests and the topics and not just talking about the flavor of the moment topic but using sports as a way to talk about things in entertainment and pop culture and really push the envelope to be different and unique. It’s really a testament to some of the people you mentioned, including the Podfather [Simmons] who believed in us from the beginning.
KB: What’s your favorite piece of memorabilia in the J&J studio?
JR: Woah, well first and foremost anything Detroit, whether it be Aretha or whether it’s Tommy Hearns, anything Detroit I like the most. It hasn’t gotten there yet but I’m looking forward to putting the Jadakiss Hall of Fame bust up in there. It’ll be there.
KB: Is there anything you can tell us about what's happening next year? I know you guys aren’t going to have the radio show and you’re going to do a few new things so can you tell us what’s going to happen?
JR: I think that one of the worst kept secrets when you look at any guides at the start of these shows—ours is never mentioned—we’re going to be on Monday through Friday, whether some people realize it or not. So I think that will continue and I’m obviously excited about that. I’m still going to be on Countdown and try to exclusively do the college finals and NBA Finals. I’m doing the show Get Up with Mike Greenberg and Michelle Beadle and myself that debuts on April 2.
KB: That was actually going to be my final question, what should we expect from Get Up and what kind of energy are you guys going to bring to the morning?
JR: Oh terrific, that’s why you have that name right there. You want to get that caffeine in you, that espresso is the way you kickstart the day and is the lead domino to the news and the topics of the day and you get the first chance to discuss it. I guess our sports version on ESPN of Good Morning America.