Jalen Rose (AP)
As rubber-soled shoes squeak through the maple floor of the Mall of Asia Arena, bodies were flying and a familiar call for defense could be heard reverberating through the cavernous venue.
Not far away from Indiana Pacers' closed-door practice, a 6-foot-8 guy in white shirt and pinstriped Pacers' shorts was watching intently, taking down notes and carefully studying the intricacies of the famous defensive pattern that nearly took down the powerful Miami Heat in last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
The guy was Jalen Rose.
"Can you sign this for me," a young journalist said, nervously thrusting a book entitled "The Fab Five," before the stunned former NBA journeyman.
But instead of spending a few seconds jotting down his name to shut up the young buck, Rose unleashed a deathly stare as if looking through the eyes of a murder suspect.
"Have you already read this?"
"Hmmm…. I have yet to finish the first chapter," the journalist said, trying his best to contain his racing heart and shaky knees.
"I will sign this for you, but please – don't read it. Just keep it. You're just wasting your time," Rose said before the nervous reporter disappeared into a crowd of working press.
To understand Rose's rough behavior towards the young man, we need to travel to as far as 20 years ago when Rose was still on top of the collegiate basketball circuit as the ring leader of the Fab Five, a group of freshman who took not only the University of Michigan – but the entire America – by storm.
Rose earned his spurs in Detroit, a tough neighborhood where men earn a living by working as laborers in motor companies and boys turn the playgrounds into their own basketball haven. In Mitch Albom's bestselling book, The Fab Five, Rose was portrayed as "a tough boy with a gap-tooth smile who talks a lot."
No wonder, he opted to enroll at a public institution, Southwestern High School, where he soared to stardom after battling poor black boys who see basketball as their ticket to success. His high school choice was contrary to Chris Webber – another highly-touted prospect – who opted to enroll at Detroit Country Day School, a private school where rich white kids are competing.
But fate has its own way of writing history.
Rose and Webber, despite their numerous on-court battles, decided to attend the same college that had already successfully recruited Chicago's finest big man in Juwan Howard and Texas standouts Jimmy King and Ray Jackson.
Together, in a dimly-lit Chrysler Arena of University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, the Fab Five – the greatest class ever recruited – was born. And Rose was hailed as the chief Wolverine.
The Fab Five didn't have immediate success, especially with the upper-class men seeing them as threats to their budding basketball careers. Their coach, Steve Fisher, vowed not to start all five freshmen, who made their debut in shorts so long that it almost fell off their butts. But later on, he caved in to pressure and inserted Jackson and King into the starting unit, giving his critics additional ammunitions to blast him.
Rose led the Wolverines in scoring with 19 points per game and set a freshman scoring record with 597 total points. With Rose at the helm, and Webber and Howard contributing significantly, Michigan advanced to the NCAA tournament, but suffered a heartbreaking loss to Duke in the national championship.
It was such a painful loss as the Blue Devils, led by Grant Hill, Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner, were the Wolverines' perfect contrary. Aside from racial issues as majority of them were whites, Hill, Hurley and Laettner came from well-off families, play disciplined basketball and were role models inside and outside the hard court.
In a documentary produced by Rose for ESPN, he claimed that he doesn't like the Blue Devils because he envied them for being such a perfect example of a student-athlete. And, of course, he hates Mike Krzyzewski, the stone-faced Blue Devils coach who flashed a sarcastic smile as he cut down the net amid a sea of tears from the Wolverines.
With their hearts still broken, the Wolverines promised to come back stronger the following season. They shaved their heads and wore black socks together with their ultra-long shorts and black sneakers. They played with an attitude that is both amusing and irritating. In a preseason build-up in Europe, Rose played the role of an ugly American, complaining almost everything from food to their room and transportation, even the dialect locals speak.
They were also invited at a charity event, but Rose and Webber acted like divas and even demanded more money from the poor organizer, claiming that they got tired from signing and posing for fans.
But it wasn't the lowest ebb for the Fab Five.
After losing to North Carolina in the finals of the 1993 NCAA tournament, the game made infamous by Webber's calling of a timeout they no longer have that led to technical free throws, the Fab Five was dissolved with Webber becoming the top overall pick of the NBA Draft.
Rose and Howard followed a year later. The biggest scandal that rocked collegiate basketball to its very foundation, however, would be unearthed four years later.
In an investigation made by the Michigan and the Big Ten, it revealed that a booster, Ed Martin, committed grave NCAA violations after he was found to have given a total of $280,000 to Webber between 1988 and 1993. Webber would confirm the result of the investigation, but claimed that he repaid $38,200 as soon as he turned pro.
Martin, whose schoolyard nickname was "Uncle Ed" for being so generous to star athletes like Webber, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money in 2002. Webber, on the other hand, was indicted on five charges, including obstruction of justice and lying to grand jury for misrepresenting his relationship with Martin, who died the following year.
Michigan, however, suffered all the consequences.
By the fall of 2002, Michigan decided to impose its own sanctions on the program, including a two-year probation and the removal of banners commemorating the 1992 and 1993 Final Four runs where Webber, Rose, Howard, King and Jackson were the stars of the show.
However, Howard and Rose continued to be recognized as 1994 All-Americans. But the scar of the scandal was so deep to be easily forgotten, at least for Rose, who thrash-talked his way to get the Wolverines deep into the Final Four.
That's why, in a closed-door arena with only Rose, the Indiana Pacers and a handful of journalists present, memories came flooding back as if it happened just yesterday. Memories of those unforgettable battles as a Wolverine – both inside and outside the hard court – were too much for him to bear.
And as the young reporter nervously tried to get out of his sight with the freshly signed Fab Five on his hand, Rose gave him a long glance as if saying, "only if you knew."