With the NBA season about to begin, ESPN and ABC unveiled their new studio team last week.

Former Laker great Magic Johnson and longtime analyst Mike Wilbon will return alongside popular Bill Simmons. Despite Simmons’ reputation as a zealous fan and critic, the group still lacked something.

In order to compete with TNT’s crew of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley, ESPN needed a superstar — someone who could command attention just by opening his mouth. Someone like Stephen A. Smith, Terry Bradshaw or Dick Vitale.

Enter Jalen Rose. Most famous for his role in Michigan basketball’s “Fab Five,” Rose is a 13-year NBA veteran, dedicated philanthropist and owner of a Los Angeles-based production company. His career highlights include over 13,000 total points and three consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals.

All of that was an easy task, however, compared to the crucial role Rose will have to play if ESPN is to compete with TNT’s high-wattage cast. Wilbon and Ernie Johnson, respectively, play the role of host. Magic and Shaq cancel out each other’s rhetorical incompetence. Simmons will likely rival Kenny Smith, leaving Rose with large shoes — size 16, to be exact — to fill in measuring up to “Sir Charles” Barkley.

Rose, if anyone, is the man for the job, having already garnered widespread public eminence.

Rose relates his gripping life story in a segment of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series. Born in Detroit, his biological father — whom he never once saw or spoke to — was Jimmy Walker, the No. 1 pick in the 1967 NBA Draft.

Recruited by Michigan, Rose led a basketball revolution that defined the early part of the 1990s. Although he played second fiddle to Reggie Miller in Indiana for many years, Rose was known around the league as one of the game’s smoothest talents. A self-proclaimed trash-talker, he retired as one of the league’s more outspoken characters, alongside the likes of Dennis Rodman and cable rival Barkley.

Underneath the street baller facade is a true renaissance man. Since playing his final game in 2007, Rose has dabbled in the film, music and television industries. He’s started his own public charter school — the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy — in Detroit and contributes to his hometown through a variety of community projects.

He co-produced “The Fab 5,” ESPN’s enthralling account of his college years at Michigan. And Rose has already worked with Simmons through Grantland, telling stories of his NBA days and some of the all-time greats with whom he played.

Barkley, like Rose, has a personality that has transcended the sporting world. A published author, he’s expressed interest in running for governor of Alabama and has become a weight loss spokesperson for Men’s Health. Basketball-wise, they’re cut from the same cloth. Barkley’s tenacious on-court demeanor mirrors the hard-nosed, in-your-face play exhibited by Rose. Both men experienced great personal and team success as well.

In 1993, Barkley made it to the NBA Finals and lost to Michael Jordan. Seven years later, Rose made it to the Finals and lost to Kobe Bryant. The parallels are significant.

The biggest similarity shared by Rose and Barkley is their authenticity. Basketball fans are tired of hearing the same cliched analysis of every issue. Neither Rose nor Barkley would shy away from a $50,000 fine if it meant speaking candidly in front of the camera.

In fact, Rose has been harshly criticized for his verbal degradations of the Duke and Ohio State basketball programs. Barkley has taken controversial comments a step further, stating in a 1993 interview, “I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.”

The lights are on, the stage is set and the 2012-13 NBA season is upon us. It promises to be one of epic proportions, with perhaps three of the greatest teams ever assembled taking the court in Miami, Los Angeles and Oklahoma City. But with the additions of Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose, the shows that bracket the games will be far more than time-filling side acts. They will be performances all their own.
Matt Bell is a freshman in the McDonough School of Business. FRESH OUT OF PHILLY appears every Friday.

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