A Fabulous Five Minutes with Jalen Rose

April 1, 2012 – On March 29, I took a scenic drive through Connecticut to meet up with former NBA star Jalen Rose for lunch, and to interview him for a “Five Minutes with…” feature that will be published in the May issue of Yankees Magazine.

I met Rose at Cava, an Italian restaurant nestled in the rural town of Southington, which is a few miles from the ESPN Plaza in Bristol. Rose, who is a basketball analyst for ESPN, spends about 10 days a month in Bristol.

Over lunch, Rose and I discussed Derek Jeter, who the former Indiana Pacer played against in an AAU basketball game while the two were in high school.

“I don’t want to be too braggadocios,” Rose said while drinking a cup of tea. “But we beat Derek’s team by about 60 points. We won an AAU National Championship that season, and we were the best team in the state of Michigan for several years. Howard Eisley, who played in the NBA for more than a decade, was also on that team.

“Derek was a good shooter and a very cerebral basketball player,” Rose continued. “He has always been a great athlete.”

Rose, who has gotten to know Jeter since the two became professional athletes, also discussed the esteemed career of the Yankees captain with me.

“When I talk to members of the media, fans and fellow professional athletes about Derek, they all say the same things about him: He embodies class and professionalism, and he is the ultimate champion on the grandest stage. I feel the same way about Derek.

“The New York Yankees are the most storied franchise in professional sports, and Derek has been the rock for that team for 16 years,” Rose continued. “He has won five championships, and he has more than 3,000 hits to his name. Who gets their 3,000th hit on a home run? Only a guy like Derek could do that.”

Rose also shed light on the level of pride that fellow Michigan residents take in the fact that Jeter’s formative years were spent in the Wolverine state.

“Derek is from Kalamazoo, which is a blue-collar town,” Rose said. “Michigan is an industrial state, and we take pride in our own. We take pride in rolling up our sleeves and working hard, and Derek embodies that. When he dove into the stands and got bloodied up in that game in 2004, that showed the kind of character he has. Michigan is nothing but proud of Derek Jeter.”

Of course, we also talked about the University of Michigan’s Fab Five team from the early ’90s, which Rose played a major role on and which became a cultural phenomenon.

“When we played on the road, it wasn’t uncommon for there to be as many fans rooting for us as for the team whose campus we were on,” Rose said about the group of five freshman who led the Wolverines to the 1992 NCAA championship game and who made it back to the championship game in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. “People asked us for autographs in hotels, and when we played in Europe, we got a standing ovation every time we took the court.”

Rose, who is as kind and gracious as any interview subject I’ve sat down with, also shared his thoughts on the legacy of the Fab Five.

“As interested as people were in our play on the court, there was even more intrigue in the cultural impact we had on the game,” Rose said. “When I watch sporting events today, I realize that athletes have become living billboards. That really started with us. When we took the court wearing black socks and baggy shorts, business people became aware that the apparel athletes wear is marketable.

“Additionally, so many athletes, including Allen Iverson and Kevin Garnett, have told me that we influenced them and inspired them,” Rose continued. “That is something I take a great deal of pride in, and that feeling will never die.”

In addition to his work with ESPN, Rose also served as the executive producer of the recently released documentary, titled Fab Five. If you have are a fan of sports, have an interest in popular culture or simply want to learn about a compelling group of young men, I strongly suggest this documentary. I’ve seen watched it three times, and I plan to take it in on several more occasions.

–Alfred Santasiere III

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