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.
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.
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.
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.
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.