(This interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Q: Jalen, tell me about [Detroit Titans player] Terry Duerod, who, like you, grew up in Detroit and played in the gym at St. Cecilia's, a Catholic parish. Why was he never an NBA star?
A: You know about Terry Duerod? Oh, man. When I was a young buck playing street ball at St. Cecilia’s, Terry Duerod was done playing in the NBA, and he was a fireman. But he would come to the gym and would still get buckets averaging 40. And every time he shot, it had range. He played with Larry Bird. He played with the Celtics. And though he didn’t, you know, play 15 years, coming from his background and where we come from, if you get a chance to step on the NBA court even once, that’s a successful life. That’s a dream come true.
Q: You announced this New York Post deal to do a column and podcast today. You've had Chuck D on Instagram Live.
A: So let me tell you a Chuck D story. I can tell you five hundred million of them. One of the things people don’t know about him is that he’s actually an artist as well, along with his love of sports. One of his favorite athletes when he was a child was my biological father, Jimmy Walker, the No. 1 pick [for the Detroit Pistons] in the 1967 NBA draft. Around eight or 10 years ago, I get a package from Chuck D. It’s a picture that he drew when he was a youngster — of my father. I never met my biological father. Rest in peace. He died in . But imagine growing up loving Public Enemy and Chuck D, him knowing my name and my story to the point where he cared enough to get that to me. So I want to fast-forward the story.
Q: Let's talk about the NBA bubble. Are you finding these games legitimate? I personally actually like those creepy electronic people. Baseball, to me, is almost unwatchable. Basketball, there's something going on.
A: The NBA has done a terrific job of creating the fan experience to be enjoyed on television. The audio while the players are performing is as loud as it would be if they were in an actual arena playing the game. So when you’re watching the Lakers play, it sounds just like it does in the Staples Center. And basketball isn’t a gentlemen’s sport like tennis or like golf, where you have to be quiet at different points. Imagine being able to be a person who is really good at basketball. And every time you go to work you have 25,000 people screaming stuff at you. You’ve got to shake hands and kiss babies. You’re trying to make a shot from the corner. People yelling at you, people talking bad about things you did in high school, talking about your parents, talking about whatever to try to make you miss the shot. So now imagine being at work and they’re not there. There’s a term that we used — “Shoot like you’re in an empty gym” — because that’s what it is.
So when guys like Damian Lillard get going, he shoots the ball from 30 feet. James Harden is stepping back, going between the legs four and five times from 35 feet with a defender hanging all over him and making the shot. The skill of these players is outstanding. And so the bubble has been terrific for the sport. We will get to a champion. Other sports, the NFL in particular and as you mentioned Major League Baseball, who didn’t put their players in a bubble or quarantine. It’s going to be a lot tougher for them to get toward a championship game.
Q: My friend David, he's a very big sports fan and we were talking about the Fab Five, which is the nickname given to your incredible teams at Michigan in the early '90s. And we talked about how you guys were sort of revolutionary in talking about the need to compensate college athletes and that the system is messed up.
A: I remember being a player standing on the table saying, “Everybody, do you guys know how much the NCAA makes off collegiate sports and how much coaches make off shoe deals and television deals and speaking engagements and all of these things?” And yet I was happy to have my scholarship. My mother couldn’t pay for me to go to Michigan. But guess what? I have to play basketball to get it. Oh, and by the way, they changed coaches. He can come in and say that I don’t fit and take my scholarship.
So now there’s the whole farce about student athletes, which was a term created just to continue to suffocate the players with amateurism. Just think about right now, there are colleges basically not even telling the players the exact information they need to know as it relates to covid-19. Of the big five conferences, two have opted out not to play. Three are still trying to play like they don’t all have the same information, number one. And then number two, you’re asking the student athletes to come to campus, practice and play football to make money for the university. But you don’t think it’s safe enough for the other students to even be on campus? So we can do that, but just pay us. That’s all. This is where the levee breaks. That gig is up, and I will continue to applaud the players as they continue to mobilize and get stronger. And with that mobilization, I eventually believe the Fab Five banners will be back up.