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A Rose by any other name

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'Got to Give the People What They Want'

There are few literary genres that are more hit-or-miss than sports autobiographies. While it's true that the stories of athletes are often compelling ones, the fact remains that too often, these books are little more than hagiography, churned out to a great extent by a ghostwriter. They are self-celebratory and generally unengaging, offering no real insight into the subject.

However, there are some that rise above the rest, clearing the admittedly low-set bar with ease. One such offering is Jalen Rose's 'Got to Give the People What They Want: True Stories and Flagrant Opinions from Center Court' (Crown Archetype; $28). Rose, a 13-year NBA veteran and current multi-platform sports media pundit, is one of the more intelligent and engaging personalities to emerge from his era in the NBA.

It's autobiography in the truest sense of the word. Rose takes us through his childhood growing up with a single mother in Detroit, where he came to love basketball and discovered that his mysterious father was actually a former NBA All-Star. From there, he excelled both athletically and academically in high school before heading off to the University of Michigan as 20 percent of what is still considered to be one of the greatest NCAA recruiting classes of all time.

Rose's time as one of the fabled 'Fab Five' alongside Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King is recounted in detail. The highs and lows (particularly the lows) are presented unflinchingly. This is the stretch that most readers are likely to be most interested in, and Rose does not disappoint.

After college, we follow Rose to the NBA, where he initially struggled to carve out a niche for himself before finding his stride on his way to becoming a respected veteran and, ultimately, one of the better ex-players to make his way into the media realm. His forward-thinking attitude regarding alternative platforms his work with ESPN's Grantland in particular has made him one of the more engaging and interesting pundits out there.

'Got to Give the People What They Want' isn't anything groundbreaking. Rose doesn't reinvent the wheel here; it's the sort of book that you've probably read before. However and this is a big 'however' it is a particularly engaging and well-written version of that book. Rose's story is compelling and he largely resists the tendency toward self-aggrandizement and myth-making so prevalent in these sorts of autobiographies.

There's no denying the honesty that Rose puts forth here. The stories that he tells paint a picture of a driven young man who never had any doubt about his own eventual success. However, he also is unafraid to address mistakes and missteps both those made by him and by those around him. Still, there's little value judgment taking place; Rose and his family/friends/teammates/what have you are all presented as people first. It's a small detail, but one that elevates this book beyond the basic.

Jalen Rose is a gifted storyteller who has led an undeniably interesting life. 'Got to Give the People What They Want' revels in its rarity; while it isn't necessarily the kind of book that will engage non-fans, those with fond memories of the Fab Five or love for the NBA will likely find plenty to enjoy.


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