In his first book Got To Give The People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions From Center Court, former NBA player and current ESPN media personality Jalen Rose does three things well: He offers a rare perspective on a bygone era of growing up in Detroit, Michigan in its seemingly last days of vitality and vibrance, he provides a plausible, if not compelling argument for the tragic and often misunderstood nature of college basketball recruiting scandals, and he makes an impassioned call for social responsibility in an age of rampant narcism and isolation in American life.
Rose has fond memories of his upbringing in Mo-Town and he is a capable narrator of the culture of the neighborhoods, streets, and scenes. His family members worked in the car industry. His friends all played basketball and football and baseball. He grew up blue collar and African American in a world that was predominantly blue collar and African American. Therefore, he didn’t know any different reality until he matriculated to the University of Michigan, which was largely suburban and white in terms of its student body makeup.
How Jalen got to Michigan is as much a story of “it takes a village” as it is a story of “good genes” meets “hard work.” And, this upbringing was full of conjunctions. Although he was fathered by NBA all-star Jimmy Walker, Jalen was raised by his mother. Because he had two elder brothers and an older sister, his was the upbringing born out of the tried and true parenting practices of a battle-tested mom. Although did not grow up with a father, he did grow up with an Uncle Len, older brothers, and a community of male role models who helped him achieve his goals. One such role model was Ed Martin, the now disgraced booster who gave money to Michigan basketball players.
In Rose’s eyes, Martin was just a friendly man in the neighborhood who wanted to make sure that all the basketball playing kids had winter coats, food in their stomachs, and sneakers on their feet. It just so happened that 4 of Martin’s kids were college athletes. To that statistic, Rose goes all Socratic in his logical unpacking of the situation:
“Picture your favorite college basketball player. Now picture his mom or dad or uncle or godfather giving him some spending money, or a new Jeep. What’s the difference between that and Ed Martin? I didn’t have a father to help support me. Neither did most of the other players. We took whatever help we could get” (p. 134).
In Rose’s view, students may not have the same structure of resources (read “nuclear family unit”) but that doesn’t mean that other members of the community (read “willing male role models”) should be prevented from stepping in to help provide. The only issue in question involves the nature of Mr. Martin’s business in securing funds, which he did mostly through gambling. In Jalen’s estimation, however, this was an illegitimate way to help fund a legitimate cause. And it provided the basic template for how Jalen would spend the rest of his post-basketball life.
Having been helped by so many kind older male role models, Jalen has developed a passion for giving back to the community – especially one that is so disadvantaged relative to the rest of American life – Detroit. In 2011, he started the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in Detroit, Michigan with an ambitious goal of an 85% graduation rate for a class of students who are generally reading at a 5th grade level upon entering 9th grade.
With this vision in mind, Rose stops writing his autobiography for a moment and begins to preach to his peers in the sports and entertainment industry. The extended quote is worth the read:
“[Professional Athletes] today set up foundations and charities, and they give away a ton of money. But the truth is that way too few guys actually have their heart in it. They might write a check, but they don’t pay attention to where it actually goes and where it could have the most impact. (Which means it might be going to some sham foundation, or some place that doesn’t really know what it’s doing.) The players show up at charity events because they have to, and they leave as soon as they can. If they’re getting their minutes and their money, they don’t pay attention to anyone else—not the fifteenth man on the bench, and certainly not those who are impacted when the government shuts down or there’s a natural disaster.
We’ve got to be better than that—a lot better. So many players come from places that need help. Yes, change starts with money. If an athlete finds a cause, he’s going to pour money into it. But also if he cares, he’s going to bring attention to the issue, he’s going to get others involved, and that’s going to bring more money in, and round and round we go.
So how do we get there? We can’t force athletes to give money away or to adopt a cause. We need to go back a step and do something even simpler: we need to find a way to get players to pay attention more. They have to look up and listen to what’s going on around them, what’s happening to their family members, what’s happening to their friends back in the hood” (p. 247).
Ultimately, Rose wants his story to be a clarion call to others to give back. Thus, the title becomes a bit of a double entendre. Jalen gives people what they want in the form of inside information about the behind-the-scenes world of sports and entertainment. But the wealth and influence generated by his career allows him to do what he really loves – gives people what they need. And this makes for a fitting bookend to his life. By building upon the template of Ed Martin, Jalen has improved the process of community development. In contrast to his Mr. Martin, Jalen is now able to legitimately raise funds to help with a legitimate cause. And in the process he has provided a strategy for athletes and celebrities moving forward — giving the people what they want and what they need.