‘Got to Give the People What They Want’ by Jalen Rose

November 3, 2015 in Basketball, Book Reviews, Indiana Pacers, NBA, Reviews, Sport

GTGTPWTW

Jalen Rose never fails to give the people what they want!

My second-favourite basketball player from the Pacers’ glory years (no prizes for guessing who is No. 1), Rose has since retirement turned himself into arguably the best and most successful pro-turned-analyst covering the NBA. His Jalen and Jacoby ‘Pop the Trunk’ podcast is responsible for getting me into podcasts in the first place, and I still get a little giddy whenever I see that a new episode is out.

And so when I heard he was finally releasing a biography, Got to Give the People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions from Center Court, I was naturally ecstatic. Anyone who has listened to Jalen on his podcasts or seen him on ESPN will know that he is a phenomenal storyteller who is never afraid to speak his mind and tell it like it is (notwithstanding the “don’t get fired” caveat he and Jacoby like to spew). Having been an affable dude throughout both his basketball and media careers, Jalen has maintained connections at every level throughout the entire league, and the insider sources and classic vignettes he has stored up are second to none.

Jalen & Jacoby

Jalen & Jacoby

Got to Give the People What They Want is a fantastic read. It’s filled with wonderful insights into basketball and life, great stories and laugh-out-loud moments. Those who are avid fans of Rose, like myself, might be a little disappointed because we may have heard a lot of the best parts before, probably on his podcast, but on the whole the vast majority of readers will be thoroughly satisfied by the fascinating experience this book offers. Importantly, you know he wrote this book himself and no through some ghostwriter, because his unique and familiar voice permeates every page.

GTGTPWTW is a surprisingly straightforward autobiography in a lot if ways. Following a delightful foreword from “The Podfather”, his good friend and now @HBO Bill Simmons, the book is split into four quarters, just like an NBA game. The first quarter details his tough childhood in Detroit, living with his single mother and never knowing his famous father, former No. 1 overall pick Jimmy Walker. This is the part of the book where we learn about his influences growing up and how he very well could have gone down the wrong path. It’s quite a cliched story by NBA standards, but it’s nonetheless captivating because Rose knows how to tell a story better than most.

The second quarter, the college years, was to me the most interesting because I didn’t follow Rose when he was tearing it up as a member of the legendary Fab Five at Michigan along with future NBA stars Chris Webber and Juwan Howard. The crazy thing is, even after all he did in his NBA and media career, most people probably still associate Rose most with the Fab Five, a group of brash, cocky freshmen who lit up the NCAA and set fashion trends while relishing the same bad boy image brandished on Rose’s heroes, the 80s Detroit Pistons.

The Fab Five

The Fab Five

Ever wanted to know what college recruiting visits are like? Ever wondered what it’s like being a college star athlete? Ever wondered what really happened with that fatal Chris Webber timeout against North Carolina in that championship game? Ever wondered why the legacy Fab Five was really erased from history? This is the part of the book with all the answers. Even if you think you know it all there are still interesting tidbits and surprises to be found.

I think it’s great that Jalen doesn’t hold back on his thoughts about the NCAA’s rules against student athletes seeing a dime of the billions of dollars being poured into colleges around the country, especially when it is the students generating all the revenue. And no, he doesn’t think it’s enough that they get free tuition through scholarships. A lot of compelling food for thought.

The third quarter of the book is Jalen’s NBA career, which amazingly never culminated in a single All-Star appearance despite being one of the two best players on a perennial Eastern Conference finalist and a once-off NBA Finals participant. As some of you might know, Jalen started off in Denver before heading to Indiana in a trade involving Mark Jackson (who returned later to the team) and spent a couple of years under Larry Brown. It’s well-known that the two did not see eye to eye, and Jalen has no problem spilling what he thinks of the Hall-of-Fame coach. It wasn’t until Larry Bird arrived that Jalen’s career began to blossom, and it’s no secret how much respect and gratitude he has toward the man they call The Legend.

Two legends

Two legends

The thing that sticks out most in this chapter, apart from his pearls of wisdom on trash talking and “champaigning and campaigning”, is the amount of politics that goes on in the NBA, from the locker room all the way to the front office and beyond. It’s on of the reasons why Jalen’s career turned out the way it did, and why he would go from star player to journeyman in the latter half of his career, bouncing from Indiana to Chicago to Toronto to Phoenix to New York.

The final quarter of the book details life after basketball and Jalen’s new career as an analyst for ESPN. He actually started it when he was still a player in the league and it’s inspirational to see how hard to works at this job as well. He definitely isn’t one of those athletes who fell into the job because of his fame — he went out there and earned the respect and proved the doubters wrong.

Like I said earlier, plenty of wild stories and serious opinions grace the pages of this book. A good chunk of them, however, you would have heard before on “Story Time with Jalen Rose” and/or on the podcast, such as the time he was shot at in LA, or the time he stole Patrick Ewing’s TV. The time he tried to “Jalen Rose” Kobe Bryant in the Finals by sticking his foot under the Mamba after a jumpshot and the ultimate payback in the 81-point game years later are of course also covered.

One of the most prominent aspects of the book — it’s referred to repeatedly throughout — is the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a successful charter school he founded in Detroit. He’s actually actively running it and not just sticking his name in for publicity, and it’s impressive to see how much he believes in giving back to the community.

It’s also clear that the rift with Chris Webber continues to bug him. I’ve followed this feud for years and honestly it doesn’t reflect too well on Webber, to put it nicely. Still, despite Webber being the one who called the time out and lied to the grand jury and stuffed everything up for the Fab Five, Jalen is the one who wants to let bygones be bygones, and it’s CWebb who can’t man up about his mistakes to move on.

Truth be told, I wish this book, at 288 pages, could have been at least twice as long. I know how hard it is to write a book and how much harder it is to remember stuff from your past that happened 10, 20, 30 years ago, but I wanted even more juicy details. Some parts of the book just felt too brief and glossed over — the basic structure was there but I wanted more meat on the bones. And I’m sure there was probably more he wanted to say but he may have gotten a few “don’t get fired” warnings from his publisher or his agent. What a shame.

Nevertheless, for most non-hardcore fans, GTGTPWTW is an instant classic of the basketball bio genre. An inspirational story, a remarkable life, and loads of awesome stories and anecdotes about basketball from the youth leagues to the pros. This is a book that will entertain, educate, make you laugh, and make you think and challenge our understanding of not just basketball but the wider world around us.

4/5

PS: And yes! He does reveal why he carries that bat around. But you have to read the book for yourself to find out!

PPS: After seeing Jalen Rose in person a  few years ago when he accompanied the Pacers to Taiwan for an exhibition against the Rockets, I decided to join the wave and name my yet-to-be-born second son after him. My hope is that, apart from being a kick-ass basketball player, he can grow up to be like his namesake, an observant and articulate leader, someone who gives back to his community, doesn’t hold grudges and has a grateful attitude towards life. So thanks for the shout out in the book, Jalen.

Game Review: Fight Night Champion (PS3)

May 11, 2011 in Best Of, Game Reviews, Reviews

Let me be upfront. You’re going to be reading a lot of complaining in this review.

Fight Night Champion, EA’s follow-up to the popular Fight Night Round 4 (my multi-part review of that game starts here), is a game that can be viewed in two ways. For those who have not played FNR4, the game will probably be the best boxing game you have ever played, whether it’s in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay, game modes or online play. On the other hand, if you already own FNR4, you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. The truth is, while FNC is an undoubted upgrade over FNR4, the improvements are so uninspiring and minor that it makes you wonder why they bothered with it in the first place. Well, apart from the obvious — make more money out of a successful franchise.

FNC Overview

FNC is basically a suped up version of FNR4. The ‘supposed’ improvements included:

  • blood, bruising and swearing;
  • improved gameplay and controls;
  • a new ‘Champion Mode’; and
  • an improved Legacy Mode.

There are still apparently over 50 licensed boxers (I didn’t count, but most of the ones from FNR4 are there, including add-on boxers from puchased updates, plus a couple more, including Tim Bradley and David Haye). Still no Floyd Mayweather Jr, no Juan Manuel Marquez, no Sergio Martinez. Heck, not even Naseem Hamed or Kostya Tszyu. At least you can still create your own or upload ones others have made.

The graphics and sound are, I suppose, also improved. So is the presentation. But they are, by and large, so similar to FNR4 that you won’t really notice them unless you care about minor aesthetic changes or study the game closely.

Let’s take a look at the supposed changes and improvements.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

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DVD Review: More Than a Game (2009)

July 8, 2010 in Basketball, Movie Reviews

The question on everybody’s lips right now is which team free agent and the NBA’s reigning 2-time MVP Lebron James will sign with.  Will the King stay with his hometown Cavs, or will he go join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami?  Will he join forces with Amare Stoudemire in New York, or will he team up with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer in Chicago?  It has become such big news that ESPN is televising Lebron’s announcement live on Thursday night (US time).

Of course, Lebron James is no stranger to publicity, having been anointed “The Chosen One” since his high school days, as documented in the film More Than a Game.  I had heard about this documentary directed by Kris Belman last year when it was first released, but had forgotten all about it until I came across the DVD last week.

So was it any good?

I’d say it’s a “must” for Lebron fans, a “worth watching” for NBA/basketball fans in general, and a “can skip” for Lebron haters.

More Than a Game follows Lebron and his four best friends, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee (the “Fab Five”) through their trials and tribulations as their team, Saint Vincent-Saint Mary (from previously little known Akron, Ohio), played their way to national stardom.

It’s a coming-of-age story, a rags-to-riches story, and a perseverance-pays-off story full of excellent basketball footage from the time when the friends were just a bunch of poor but talented pre-teen kids having fun in an old gym.

The best part about the film is that it’s NOT a promotional vehicle for Lebron (not that he needed one).  While Lebron does get more attention towards the end when his name took off on a national scale and he struggled with eligibility issues, the film divides time equally between all members of the Fab Five and their coach, Dru Joyce II (father of one of the players).  At various times throughout the 105-minute running time, we received wonderful insights into each of the six central characters, including their difficult backgrounds, their strengths, their flaws and their motivations.  As one of the kids said, they were all stars of a rock band — Lebron was just the lead singer.

The "Fab Five"

Thanks to the ubiquity of the hand held cam and the team’s relatively early rise to stardom, the film also had some ripping footage — not just on the basketball court but off it too.  Whether it’s Lebron dunking as an eighth grader (I think) or him goofing around with his buddies at school, this film had it all.

However, to be honest, More Than a Game should have been a much better documentary.  All the elements were there.  You had a future NBA superstar in the making, already heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition from the first pieces of grainy footage.  You had a team full of African American players from broken families who were considered traitors by their community because they joined a school with predominantly white students.  You had plenty of ups and downs, setbacks and glory.  You couldn’t write a more inspirational story than this one.

And yet, More Than a Game doesn’t quite get there in my opinion.  There is no narrator as the story is told entirely through archived footage, interviews and recorded monologues.  While this was effective in its own way (such as let us make up our own minds about the characters), the story does suffer as a result when it came to exposition and transition.

There were times when it felt as though pieces of the narrative were missing.  For instance, you got the feeling that all these kids did was play, sleep and breathe basketball, but then all of a sudden we find out that some of them actually played other sports too at an elite level and had to make a choice.  In another sequence we were led to believe that the kids hated a particular player on their team, and then shortly thereafter he apparently became one of their best friends without much of an explanation!  And for those who don’t understand it, the system of competitive youth basketball in American is rather confusing.  I found myself asking questions such as why are these kids playing in Division II if they were “the best”, or why they would be “national champions” if they won the “state championship”.  These are easily answered with a bit of self research, but it made me wish things were made clearer when I watched the film.

Overall, not a bad way to watch some highlights of young Lebron in action, and the background stories of all the central characters were inspiring to watch — but as a documentary, More Than a Game was not much more than average.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: Having watched this I sure hope Lebron stays in Cleveland and doesn’t go for the seemingly perfect situation in Miami.  I don’t think he’s guaranteeing himself any rings by choosing the Heat and it could backfire terribly.  He seems like a loyal guy, I think he would be best served creating his own legacy in the city that picked him.]

Book Review: ‘The Book of Basketball’ by Bill Simmons

February 27, 2010 in Basketball, Best Of, Book Reviews, NBA

[Update: If you want to know what Simmons says about Indiana Pacers legend Reggie Miller, click here to find out!]

At first blush, Bill Simmons seems like a sportswriter with a massive ego (and dick vibe).  I mean, you’d have to, to call yourself “The Sports Guy” and to name your book (or “Pulitzer”, as Simmons likes to call it) The Book of Basketball.

Yes, Simmons does have a bit of an ego, and he is as opinionated as hell, but there are two things you can’t deny about him.

One, love him or hate him, the man knows basketball.  He grew up watching basketball (he grew up in Boston so naturally loved the Celtics), idolizing basketball players (mostly Russell and Bird and other Celtics players), writing about basketball and breathing basketball.  How else would he be able to fill up a 700+ page book about the sport?

And two, hands down, Bill Simmons (or Jabaal Abdul-Simmons, as he used to call himself as a kid) is the most creative and utterly hilarious sportswriter today.

Combine the two and that’ll give you a fair idea of what The Book of Basketball is like.

Big call, but I rank The Book of Basketball right up there with Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries as the funniest basketball-related book ever (and borrowing from a Simmons-style analogy, both books were about basketball, both books were about race, both involved sex and getting blown, and both dabbled in drugs and homosexuality).

(Click on ‘more’ to read the full review and rating!)

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Hilarious Floyd Mayweather Jr interviews

May 22, 2009 in Boxing

Floyd Mayweather Jr has been doing the rounds promoting his upcoming fight with Juan Manuel Marquez.

Here are some hilarious interviews with Floyd at his best on ESPN.  The first is the most recent, a jawing session with Brian Kenny (in 2 parts).  Bear in mind, this is not the first time they have squabbled.  You can check out an earlier session between the two in 2006 on YouTube when Kenny was questioning why Floyd was dodging certain fighters.  It seems nothing has changed…

The second one is another ESPN interview which took place earlier with some douche who absolutely embarrassed himself by not having a clue that Pacquiao had lost before.

My theory on why the fight may never happen

Now, despite what I said in my earlier post, I can’t believe I am going to defend Floyd a little.  As expected (and as I predicted), in both interviews Floyd starts rambling on about his undefeated record, the fact that Pacquiao has lost before, and that he did better in his PPVs than Pacquiao against both De La Hoya and Hatton, that Pacquiao needs him and he doesn’t need Pacquiao.

However, he brought these up not as reasons why he will beat Pacquiao WHEN they fight, he’s using it as an excuse to avoid fighting him altogether – or at least that’s how it looks.  Frankly, I don’t think he intended for it to come out that way.  It just seems that when Floyd gets nervous, he starts rambling and contradicting himself and not making sense.

Reports are that Mayweather is asking for a 60-40 split in his favour against Pacquiao.  However, I found out that both Freddie Roach (Pacquiao’s trainer) and Bob Arum (Pacquiao’s promoter) are ALSO insisting on a 60-40 split, but in Pacquiao’s favour.  Neither side appears willing to budge, and that’s why we might never see the two best Pound-for-Pound fighters take each other on.  Arum used to promote Mayweather, and now they absolutely loath each other, to the point that Mayweather said he’d never do business with Arum again.  Of course, the reason for their break-up was, as it always is, money.

Now, a fight between Mayweather and Pacquiao with a 50-50 split is what everyone thinks is fair (regardless of what Mayweather, Roach or Arum say).  Both sides will still make a truckload of money, certainly more than what could be earned in any other fight.  But ultimately I think the reason why we might not see them fight comes down to ego.  Mayweather wants to stick it to Arum by getting the bigger purse split, because to him that equates to Arum conceding that Floyd is still the biggest draw, the one he was stupid enough to lose by disrespecting.  Likewise, Arum wants to stick it to Mayweather by getting the lion’s share, because in his twisted little mind, that equates to Floyd still ‘needing’ him to be successful. Both sides are bragging that they have ‘other exciting options’ (which I think are no more than bluffs).  Plus I don’t think either side will be willing to strike a deal where the ‘winner’ takes the larger share of the purse because the risks to both their bank balances and egos will be too much for them to accept.

In short, I don’t think it’s all Floyd’s fault anymore – both sides are being childish and pricing themselves out of the fight that fans want to see.  They need to wake up and realise that fans want to see them fight, and both sides will miss out on insanely huge paychecks if they can’t put their differences aside and be reasonable.  Now, if Floyd could just come out and be honest about it rather than ramble on incoherently when asked, then perhaps people will stop pinning it all on him.

[Update: I’m very excited; I hear Mayweather Jr has signed with Golden Boy Promotions for 5 fights, which means he’s back for good, and with De La Hoya having made up with Arum, the Pacquiao fight is a genuine possibility now; or at least a fight with fellow Golden Boy fighter Shane Mosley.  Further, Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions who is working with Golden Boy says that Mayweather will take all the ‘so-called’ best fighters one by one, and that obviously includes the likes of Pacquiao and Cotto.  Let’s hope he’s not just making shit up to drum up publicity, but if what he says is true then we have a very exciting time ahead.]

[Update (July): In the latest interview with Brian Kenny, Mayweather Jr (who has postponed his fight with Marquez until September because of a rib injury) divulged that Bob Arum has proposed a 50-50 split for a gith between Mayweather and Pacquiao, but Mayweather flat out dismissed it.  So forget about what I said when I tried to defend Mayweather.  He’s dodging Pacquiao.]