Jalen Rose is an established and knowledgeable NBA analyst after a 13-year NBA career during which he won a Most Improved Player award and was a starter on a team that reached the NBA Finals.
Yet, Rose will always be linked and closely associated with the University of Michigan’s Fab Five, one of the most popular and influential teams in NCAA men’s basketball history.
Rose, in case you read this column to feel old, just turned 50 years old in January. And while his tenure at Michigan was filled with success — two consecutive trips to the NCAA championship game (1992, ‘93) – it was also clouded with controversy because of apparent illegal cash gifts given to prominent members of the Fab Five, including Rose, by Detroit businessman Ed Martin.
The program was eventually placed on probation and coach Steve Fisher was fired. That was nearly 30 years ago, when players were not allowed to earn money off their image or likeness. Those days are over, and Rose is bothered by the perception of those Fab Five teams and the revisionist history that has made them heroes and trail blazers without the financial benefit.
And Rose brought up the fascinating point that many former NBA players who did not enjoy storied or lucrative careers were denied opportunity to benefit off their name, image, or likeness.
“When you look back at the journey, it was disappointing how we were vilified,” Rose told the Globe. “I know where it came from. It came from a place where a majority of the people covering us didn’t look like us, didn’t relate to us, and aren’t where we’re from. As hip-hop turns 50, that’s my metric that reminds me how mainstream America has changed so much because in the early ‘90s when we were listening to rap in the locker room by the people that I just described. We were considered hoodlums and thugs.
“At that time, and it really didn’t start changing until the 2000s, multiple media members used those terms on TV and in print to describe players in the NBA and the NFL, in particular. And some of these personalities still exist in high-profile positions.”
Rose, along with teammates Chris Webber, a Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer, and Juwan Howard (Michigan’s current coach), Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King were part of the 1991 Michigan freshman class that eventually all became starters and led the Wolverines to the national title game. They were one of the first teams to wear baggy shorts — a trend NBA teams eventually adopted — and black socks, which became wildly popular in all levels of basketball. Yet, they were met with criticism and disdain from fans and some members of the media because of their non-traditional look and bond with the emerging hip-hop scene.
“Now, when you look at music and rap music and the people who were making it go double platinum were the same parents that didn’t want their kids wearing long shorts, black shoes, and black socks,” Rose said. “And did not appreciate at the time what the Fab Five was bringing to the table. That cultural dynamic played out via a person like Ed Martin.
“I want to make sure I say this to set the record straight because it’s actually sad. Ed Martin did nothing illegal. Chris Webber did nothing illegal. What he did was lie to the grand jury about his relationship with Ed. That’s what he did because I got interviewed also. I just told the truth.”
Rose has strongly defended Martin, who was considered the fall guy for the program’s issues and passed away in 2003.
“It’s not illegal for you to know somebody who actually wants to support you as a young person in your community,” Rose said. “That’s not illegal. He didn’t go to Michigan. He wasn’t a Michigan booster. He was a booster for young people in the community then just like I am now. So it wasn’t a Michigan thing. It was young people from all walks of life. And this was taking place 15, 20 years before he even met Jalen and Chris. That’s the first thing.
“The other thing is the way his name got slandered. I feel he died of a broken heart and his wife died shortly thereafter. For me, it’s clearly personal and I didn’t appreciate how our reputations along with his really got slandered when all we were trying to do was play ball and all he was trying to do was support young people.”
Rose was asked why there was such vitriol and disdain for the Fab Five and such harsh penalties for the program — probation and a disassociation with Webber.
“Because they wanted us to stay broke,” he said. “When I signed a letter of intent to go to Michigan, I’m getting Pell Grant money. I’m not sending my light bills home to my mother, she couldn’t pay the bills when I lived there. This now becomes a secondary home. I become a college student and, in theory, when you move out you have the responsibility of taking care of yourself.
“I got criticized for saying the truth, that’s why certain schools recruited a certain type of player that came from a certain type of home so they didn’t have to worry about the kids needing money when they got to school.”
Rose revealed that the Fab Five players got none of the benefits from the shoe money provided to Michigan by Nike.
“It’s one thing to talk about Chris, Juwan, and Jaylen,” Rose said. “They ended up being NBA players and getting big deals in the league. Anderson Hunt, who played at UNLV, along with Ray and Jimmy, imagine those guys in particular, that Vegas team that we idolized. That team set the table for us. Imagine if Anderson Hunt, Ray Jackson, and Jimmy King got to profit off of their likeness and benefited on what they contributed to the game? For guys that didn’t have long NBA careers, that money is a game-changer to their lifestyle today.
“It was more than just jersey sales. Now the enrollment is up. Now you’re charging more for tickets. Now you’re charging that money for tuition, and now you have a shoe contract. We weren’t just wearing the shoes they gave us, we had a shoe, Huaraches, the Fab Five Nikes. And it’s been re-released three times since we went to college. Imagine if Ray and Jimmy could actually even get [Michigan] to send shoes to their basketball camps. Those guys should never have to worry about wearing free Nikes.”
BALANCING THE LOAD
Irving says messages are mixed
Kyrie Irving never has been about the 82-game-per-season life but he said he understands the demands on players to play a full schedule. The NBA Players Association is likely going to have to concede to the team governors to guarantee more star players play in more games.
The most games Irving has played in one season was 75 and that was in 2014-15. He played in 70 or more games in three of his first six seasons but hasn’t reached that mark since. One suggested solution is to shorten the regular season but that has been quickly rejected by the governors because of obvious financial reasons.
The season is going to stay at 82 games and the players understand they’re going to have to manage their expectations differently. Irving offered his opinion, realizing the demand from fans is for players to avoid rest days, but also calling out organizations and training staffs for their suggestions that players not play all games.
“I don’t know who created the term ‘load management’ or guys sitting out games or this narrative that continues to play on about star players or guys not being available,” Irving said. “I don’t know who started the narrative, but it’s completely run amok. I think it’s dehumanized some of us in terms of just the way we prepare ourselves day to day. This is a 24/7 job. We have cameras on us all the time. It’s a high-level, combative sport. It’s very aggressive. Nobody knows how anyone else’s body heals. The only person that knows is the person that is hurt or injured.”
Irving blamed several factors on the demand for players to play despite injury, including doctors who solicit journalists for interviews to discuss sports injuries.
“We try our best to tell you guys what is going on, but you have doctors online telling everybody that he needs to be back in two weeks,” Irving said. “You’ve got this person over here saying that he is not really hurt. He doesn’t want to play. So I think the narratives have run amok. But us, as players, we really take pride in preparing ourselves at a very high level and performing not only for our families, but for the fans that support us. We’re nothing without our fans.
“I just think the narrative needs to change in terms of load management. Eighty-two games is a long season. I’m not saying we can’t do it. We’re in 2023. We have all the technology necessary. We have to use it wisely, and we have to be very communicative about what the plan is for everybody individually. Everybody’s body is different. So you may see somebody heal in two weeks, but it may take someone else a month and a half to heal. It’s just different. That’s all.”
One of the main reasons Irving’s career was derailed with the Nets was his lack of availability. He missed most of his first season with a shoulder injury. The next season he missed two weeks to mentally recover after the Jan. 6 insurrection, and then last season missed games because he refused vaccination. He also served an eight-game suspension this season for posting a movie link on Twitter that contained antisemitic tropes.
Irving left the Celtics in 2019 for Brooklyn, claiming he would find happiness playing near his New Jersey roots. But the three-plus seasons with the Nets ended up being a disaster, to be kind.
“No regrets,” he said. “I had a plan in place where I wanted to stay in Brooklyn long term, be a Net. It was a dream come true for me. Obviously, I wish things could have worked out for the best of all of us in terms of winning a championship and etching our names into history of the NBA. Those are big aspirations. It sounds easier said than done. But I had an incredible four years. I’m grateful to all the people I met throughout the whole entire organization. But I have no regrets.
“Went through a lot of personal battles myself, had a unique journey. Now I get to speak on it truthfully and know that I’ve grown as a person, grown as a player. Now I can move forward and reflect on the rearview when it’s time, but move forward with Dallas and the teammates I have now. So I’m grateful.”
Blazing generation gap in Portland
The Trail Blazers looked listless and disheveled at times during their Wednesday loss to the Celtics. Portland has been wildly inconsistent this season with the only reliable asset being 32-year-old Damian Lillard, who is having a career season and recently scored a career-high 71 points in a win over the Rockets.
The Blazers responded from Wednesday’s drubbing by playing an inspiring game Friday at Philadelphia, led by the indispensable Lillard.
“It’s incredible, it really is,” Portland coach Chauncey Billups said. “We were happy for him because it was a really, really tough year for him last year being hurt, having to have surgery, sit out the season. But he took full advantage of it, did as much possible rehab as he could do. In summer time, he was working out as hard as he could. He felt like a rookie again because he hadn’t had any time off his entire career and he has always been a [high-intensity] guy and he don’t take days off, games off. He’s that dude. We’re now seeing the benefits of it.”
Billups said he is coaching Lillard differently because of his superstar status. Lillard is the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer and a seven-time All-Star.
“Dame has reached a level that most of us have never reached,” Billups said. “But I did feel like there were things I could help him with in his game, from a standout of Dame is a scoring machine but he is also a point guard. He sees the game. And I feel like I can help him with that, where most people can’t.”
Billups, 46, also coaches a slew of young players with the Blazers. Portland has seven players on its roster born in 2000 or later and three born in 1999. Kentucky rookie Shaedon Sharpe is one of the younger players in the league at age 19. Billups said it’s a different challenge to coach players who don’t remember his playing career, having to rely on YouTube videos or NBA TV throwback games to see their coach in action.
“It’s not easy man, it’s not easy,” Billups said. “Most of my guys haven’t seen me play. They probably play with me on the video game.
“It’s difficult but it’s helped me become a better coach. Here’s an example of that: the way I see the game, I’ve always kind of took pride in being two or three steps ahead of my competition. I think it made me the player that I became. So I’m really high level with my thinking. I come into this coaching thing and I am coaching teenagers, literally.”
Billups has had to be patient with the development of players such as Sharpe, Anfernee Simons, Nassir Little, Keon Johnson, and Jabari Walker.
“I really kind of had to, for lack of a better term, dumb down my information,” Billups said. “And it’s made me better though. It’s made me teach better, be more patient. But it is difficult when we are in a [in-game situation] out there and I think we should have seen that and they’ve probably never even heard of it.
“It’s a tough battle at times and I’m almost certain that Dame probably feels the same way as a player playing with teenagers. It’s not easy man, it’s not easy.
“It’s more generation than anything. Our generation is so different. I got two kids older than probably eight of my guys on my team. I’ve got a 25-year-old daughter and a 22-year-old daughter. So I know the generation by the way just being a father. But it’s just different. . . . I always say, ‘I’m from the oven generation and they’re from the microwave generation.’ ”
The Celtics can’t be particularly happy with the Nets. While Boston attempts to catch Milwaukee for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, Brooklyn rested four starters Thursday against the Bucks — Spencer Dinwiddie, Cameron Johnson, Royce O’Neale, and Nic Claxton — and then played that night’s starters, including Mikal Bridges, fewer than 20 minutes each. The backup Nets took the Bucks, without Giannis Antetokounmpo, to the final minute before Milwaukee won, with Brook Lopez blocking a career-high nine shots. The Nets then announced that all four players who rested were available Friday against the Timberwolves. What’s interesting is O’Neale, Johnson, and Claxton were all declared out Thursday with injury but Dinwiddie was simply for rest. One of the primary issues for NBA governors regarding load management is players such as the 29-year-old Dinwiddie getting a rest day in a game that could decide playoff seeding. Did the Nets figure they had little chance of beating the Bucks, assuming they were going to play Antetokounmpo, and target the Timberwolves game to play at full strength? And should key players take rest days in the middle of a playoff race? These issues are being discussed for the next collective bargaining agreement … Fred VanVleet was fined $30,000 for criticizing official Ben Taylor after VanVleet’s Raptors lost Wednesday to the Clippers. Three of VanVleet’s technical fouls this season have been called by Taylor, including one Wednesday. VanVleet said the call was personal and had no issue with his fine or publicly calling out Taylor. The Globe asked the Celtics’ Marcus Smart about officiating after he fouled out in the recent loss to the Knicks and then picked up four fouls in Wednesday’s win over the Trail Blazers. “I don’t know if you guys have seen Fred VanVleet’s interview,” Smart said. “That’s all I’m going to say. That lets you know I’m not speaking out of my butt. I’m going to let Fred do all the talking.” … Speaking of technical fouls, Memphis guard Dillon Brooks recently served a one-game suspension for receiving his 16th technical foul. Golden State’s Draymond Green, a chief adversary of Brooks, is one technical away from a one-game suspension as is Dallas superstar Luka Doncic. Jayson Tatum, who promised to reduce his technical fouls this season, has eight. Smart has six.
Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.