Losing Rose's ticket was the real crime

March 10, 1993|By Mitch Albom | Mitch Albom,Detroit Free Press

DETROIT -- Maybe you are lucky enough not to live in the lo end of the city, and so the idea of being someplace where drugs are used, or sold, or both, still seems shocking. It isn't. It happens all the time in Detroit.

So it is really no jolt that Jalen Rose, a city kid, a Detroit kid, was in a house where drugs were found last October. This does not make him an addict. Or a user. Or a dealer. He is none of those. He is a city kid who has friends, old friends, from way before he wore that maize and blue uniform, and some of those friends are involved with drugs. Maybe Jalen should lose these guys. But you can't tell him that, and you can't make him.

"My boys back home will always be my true friends," Rose says. So there he was, with some of his true friends, in that house on Cloverlawn Avenue, on Oct. 4, and the police break in with a warrant and they find lots of marijuana and one guy with cocaine and some kids hanging around. And they find Jalen Rose, Michigan basketball star, playing video games on the TV set. They write him a ticket. Loitering. Nothing comes of it.

The story surfaces five months later, and 26 reporters show up on Michigan's campus. A crowd of photographers chases Rose from his car like he was Dillinger. They snap. They click. Everyone gets very excited. But they are chasing the wrong story.

The real story isn't Jalen's bad choice in video game locations or his mini-news conference, in which he apologized "to my lTC teammates and family." The real story isn't Michigan coach Steve Fisher's rather soft attempts at damage control, which amount mostly to him saying Jalen is "a good kid, a quality kid."

Nuh-uh. The real story here is that the ticket that was issued to Rose somehow disappeared. Vanished. And no one said anything?

Tom Moss, a civilian deputy chief in the Detroit Police Department, "assured us that the matter was handled within standard procedures," said Jack Weidenbach, the Michigan athletic director.

Standard procedure? The ticket disappears? Whoa. I want this guy Moss next time I get tagged for speeding.

Tickets don't just disappear, not for loitering in a place where drug deals are suspected, a misdemeanor punishable by up to $500 and 90 days in jail. Did the tickets disappear for the others who were bopped that day? No. Two of them got the same charge as Rose. And you can bet they'll have to go to court, maybe see a judge. Rose? Someone says, "Don't worry," and he goes back to jump shooting.

This is the real crime. Someone in the police department thinks he's doing a favor by losing Rose's ticket. But that's no favor. That's spreading the myth that as long as an athlete puts the ball in the hoop, he's OK, all the lights will turn green for him. Moss, a guy who obviously likes athletes -- his office wall is covered with their photographs, and he hired Rose for a summer job last year -- comes off the worst here. On Monday, he claimed he knew nothing of the incident. Yesterday, we heard otherwise:

"Who told you about this incident back in October?" Fisher was asked.

"Tom Moss told me."

Rose appeared to face the media yesterday with his friend and teammate Chris Webber. Rose had spent the night at Webber's house, like they did when they were kids. City kids. After Rose made his brief statement, and claimed that he was only in that house "to help a friend" -- a cryptic statement on which he did not elaborate -- Webber hugged him and said, "You did all right."

Inside, Fisher, his voice hoarse from the long day, was asked why Rose had initially denied ever being in that house. "My guess is he was scared," Fisher said.

"What about this 'help a friend' story?"

Fisher shrugged. "I don't know."

So for the record, let us say: Jalen Rose is guilty of just one thing. Bad judgment. A dope fiend? A criminal? No way.

Just the same, he should face the music for the misdemeanor he was accused of, and whoever buried his ticket should be history. All men equal. Those are the rules. We lose this, we don't have a police department in Detroit; we have cheerleaders.

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