O’Neil: Surprise Jalen Rose interview proves why he’s one of sports’ coolest personalities
I can’t tell you the moment that I decided Jalen Rose was one of the coolest guys in sports, but it happened at some point after he stopped playing.
I mean, I loved watching his college career at Michigan, but I wasn’t a Wolverines fan. And of all the teams he played for in his NBA career, he was never on the one that I’ve cheered for since I was 10 (the Warriors) or the one that I covered (the Sonics).
But I saw him in Seattle the second time I visited the city: March 1993 when I was a high-school senior and I timed my trip to see the University of Washington to coincide with the NCAA Tournament, whose West Regional was held at the Kingdome. Matter of fact, my friend Jeff Wieland and I saw Rose and four other members of that Michigan team walking back from a McDonald’s that weekend, wearing their warmups.
Rose and the Fab Five weren’t a basketball team so much as a phenomenon. Five freshmen prospects who committed to the same school and played with a style and attitude that changed everything. Bald heads, baggy shorts and a group of freshman who weren’t going to take anything from anyone. They didn’t win titles like John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas, but they did establish a precedent for athletes exercising control over their circumstances in a way that was pretty darn revolutionary. They were bigger than the program they played for.
Rose was the heart of that team. Chris Webber was the best basketball prospect, and Juwan Howard had the clout that comes with being a bona fide big man, but Rose was the one whose personality made the whole thing work. You could tell that guys looked to him.
This is all a very long way of trying to explain why I was so excited to interview him Tuesday on Danny and Gallant. It was a surprise arranged by Jessamyn McIntyre, our station’s executive producer. She not only arranged the interview but set up a series of ruses to keep me unaware, and when I finally found out who we were talking to I quickly began to sound like a 13-year-old kid hope, hope, hoping for an autograph.
I got something better than that. I got to hear him tell the story about how he commandeered Patrick Ewing’s TV, which had a built-in VCR, from an Indiana airport after a playoff game. I also got to tell him that when he teased Sonics coach Nate McMillan about his outdated haircut during a game, Nate went home and told his wife he was going to cut his hair. She was incredulous: “You’re going to change your hair because of something Jalen Rose said?”
Rose has resonated with me, and it’s not just because of his success or his style or his NBA career. I mean, I loved watching him play. He’s long like a small forward but had the vision of a point guard. I even liked that left-handed jump shot of his though that may have been a few chapters short of being textbook caliber.
There’s an authenticity that Jalen Rose has, which is difficult to describe but impossible to fake. The guy loves the game of basketball and the players who practice that art, but he’s also got a willingness to give honest opinions about subjects that aren’t easy.
He’s also got a knack for storytelling, whether it was Vince Carter body-slamming Sam Mitchell – who happened to be the Raptors coach at the time – or the circumstances surrounding Kobe Bryant’s 81-point performance in which Rose said, “I got a healthy 19.”
I’m so happy he stopped by to tell us a few of those stories today, and thankful to my teammates for setting it up!