A popular phrasing for authenticity in hip-hop is to “keep it real” — to maintain your identity, no matter how much your surroundings change. For ESPN’s Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, “keeping it real” is the foundation of how they’ve built their ESPN2 show, Jalen and Jacoby, over the past seven years.
In a show of support from the Worldwide Leader in Sports, the duo is taking their talents from the 1 a.m. ET time slot to 2 p.m. ET. The duo, however, has very few concerns about what’s coming next.
“It’s a natural organic evolution of the show,” Jacoby told Uproxx Sports. “When we started the show, it was just an idea. I used to be in a control room pushing buttons. Me and Jalen would record and I would edit ourselves, and that was five years ago. It was very much a ‘pop-the-trunk’ production, we were just doing whatever we could and not even knowing what it’d result to.”
That “pop-the-trunk” mentality is fundamental in everything about the show. For example, the duo rarely has guests on, and partake in even fewer pre-show meetings in order to prep for a given episode. Making sure the show has spontaneity and improv comedy ensure the show remains true to its origins.
“We consider ourselves the boutique,” Rose says. “Almost like in music, when you go get a chance to hear somebody [perform] their album. We’re not necessarily going to consider ourselves mainstream, so I think our audience appreciated us to the point to where they’re part of the family. So they call in and get mad at me when I have too many topics on my line, they get on Jacoby about how he sits down when he uses the bathroom, he should be standing up. They’re a part of the family.”
The family origins of Jalen and Jacoby come from Grantland’s YouTube series Storytime with Jalen, in which Rose would tell stories of his encounters during his 13-year tenure in the NBA. The stories would range from sublime to utterly ridiculous. Show producer Harlan Endelman, a man who’s been with the duo since the beginning, says that Rose’s storytelling was the key.
“We just went through all these stories,” Endelman says. “He just has all this personality, and so much interesting insight into everything. He just talks like people I’m interested in talking to. I could just really relate to him. He’s lived a unique life that I will never experience myself.”
The ability to relate to their audience is key for the show. Jacoby interacts with fans via different social media platforms like Twitter. The show also maintains a dialogue with its fans via the show’s own Reddit page, where topics are broached and fan-suggested talking points are sometimes brought on air. The show treats its audience as if they are the featured guests, not someone going through the Bristol car wash.
This was a decision intentionally made by both Rose and Jacoby.
“We want people to feel like they’re in a room with us,” Rose says. “That’s truly what we want them to feel. To me, the people who are really good at what they do are who they are, [whether] the cameras are on [or] off, and we try to toe that line as much as possible on the show, because I think that’s what the people have grown to love about us. I don’t think a lot of people truly realize that makes us unique. We didn’t have guests, and we didn’t have meetings. That’s unheard of in this climate.”
“We’ve made a conscious decision not to rely on guests,” Jacoby adds. Because you know who’s really easy to book for Jalen and Jacoby? Jalen and Jacoby.”
With a move to the 2 p.m. time slot, a show that prides itself on being as being more Empire Records than Wal-Mart might feel the need to adopt more brick and mortar tendencies. However, the crew promises to remain true to its roots, going with what brought them to the dance.
“You’ve got to evolve with your audience and give the people what they want,” Rose says. “When we’re coming on at 2 a.m., that audience wants to see Jalen and Jacoby, because that’s what we’ve been for the last seven years, now that we’re going to be on at 2 in the afternoon, I think that we have to serve that audience as well.”
“Jalen’s very protective of our authenticity,” Jacoby elaborates. “Whenever we get a sponsor, or whenever we pitch a new topic, he goes ‘We can’t lose the show, we gotta remember where we are. Stay in the trunk.’ Jalen’s in charge of making sure we stay within our foundation. Because sometimes we get in meetings and we get ideas and we have ideas about how we can get bigger or better and Jalen makes sure that we maintain our soul that we started with.”
Both Rose and Jacoby have been on a whirlwind journey since the inception of their show, evolving with the ever-changing landscape yet maintaining their souls in the process. Yet as they traverse down this path together, the duo wants their legacy to be one of consistency and endurance.
“Jalen always says this,” Jacoby says. “You just want to be called a veteran. You just want to be called a veteran in the league, you could have a couple of hot years when you’re an NBA player. But ultimately, you want to be called a veteran, you want to have a long career. And that’s what I want the legacy of Jalen and Jacoby to be. To say that show has been on the air for years and years and years, it’s always been good, and i feel like they’re having a natural conversation that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in sports media.”
“Ditto,” adds Rose. “Couldn’t have said it any better.”