THE GLORY DAYS for Malik Rose started to come to an end during the 2004-05 season, when, as one of the most beloved members of the star-studded San Antonio Spurs, he was traded to the New York Knicks for Nazr Mohammad and Jamison Brewer. Having already won two titles in San Antonio, and being traded in the middle of a season that also would end in a championship, Rose understandably was devastated by the trade-deadline move.
In his ninth season and 30 years old at the time, Rose, a second-round pick out of Drexel by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, started to turn his attention toward life after playing. Not life without basketball, but life without playing. He always envisioned being involved in the game he loved, which he honed in this city before becoming a star at Overbrook and then Drexel, but when the trade to the Knicks happened, his thinking became a bit more focused.
Twelve years later, he is now the manager of basketball operations with the Atlanta Hawks, continuing his dream of staying involved in the game. It's long hours, some grueling travel and nonstop learning. But it's not work to Rose, because the enjoyment level of it all won't allow him to believe so.
"It's fun. It's work with basketball, so I don't look at it as work," said Rose. "I have a great wife (Tiffany) because she's like a single mother in so many aspects. We have a 6-year-old and a 7-year-old. She allows me to chase this dream of mine, and sometimes I think she wants it more than I do. I'm fortunate in a lot of aspects, that being one of them. But it does take a lot of time, but it's so much fun, man. It really is.
"If I have to watch 12 games on four different players to learn them and watch what they do and see if their style of play can fit with our coach, it's like one colossal jigsaw puzzle where you're trying to put pieces together, and if you ever put the perfect puzzle together it's going to end up looking like a championship. That's what I try to do every day."
He is well accustomed to what championships look like, having been part of the construction of the Spurs dynasty. While there, Rose was guided by assistant coaches Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer, the latter now the Hawks' coach. He stays in contact with Spurs general manager R.C. Buford, the architect of San Antonio's success, drawing lessons from him whenever possible.
Rose was first steered toward life away from the court when Mike Breen, then the Knicks' television announcer, helped set up some demo tapes. That led to Rose getting a job as the color analyst for the Sixers for four seasons, before moving on to his current job with the Hawks and general manager Wes Wilcox.
"When I was traded to the Knicks, I wasn't getting a lot of playing time, so I had time to think about things," said Rose. "Like most guys in the NBA, you have a love for the game and love being around it. That's how I was, so I started thinking about ways how I could stay around it. So I worked on a couple of things and shot a couple of demo tapes with MSG. They were really helpful in me getting my start. I told Mike a couple of things I was thinking about, as far as management and front office. He told me that TV is a great way to stay in sight and mind. And it worked. People saw me and they knew where I was. They could hear me and I had a platform. It was almost like an audio resume for another job. The kicker was when someone I played for for eight years and known for about 15 years got a promotion in Atlanta in Mike Budenholzer. He always knew I wanted to do the front office and gave me an opportunity, and here I am."
He has always had an exceptional mind for the game, seeing it in a way that led to an undersized, 6-7 power forward staying in the league for 13 seasons. It is a knowledge that many see helping him now that he wears suits instead of a uniform.
"Role players, come-off-the-bench journeymen players, second-round draft-pick players, low-level Division I players, 13 or 14 years in the NBA, add it all up and you can get a pretty accurate snapshot to normally what that person is, how he ticks, what he did to survive," said Brown, the Sixers' coach. "That's Malik. It equals a work ethic, an acceptance of a role. It is both a reality compass to what the NBA is really about, all those things provide a foundation that give him a really strong chance to be an excellent front-office guy.
"He is very inquisitive, feel like streetwise, league-knowledgable. He's got an intellectual base that people respect. I feel like there are a lot of ingredients that he has that would make him a natural and a real chance to be extremely good in the front office."
Rose shared announcing duties with legendary Marc Zumoff for Comcast, catching the beginning of the Sixers rebuild. He is a huge fan of Brown's, friends with all his former colleagues, and still has a passion for the team he grew up watching.
"I'm really happy for the people I know here and the people I love here, like friends and family who will get to experience winning now," Rose said before his Hawks beat the Sixers on Wednesday. "For so many years, it was pretty bad, with 18 wins and whatever. For Brett, since I've known him since 1999 and my man Zoo and the whole Comcast crew, I'm rooting for them. It's nice for people to see the winning.
"They are at 28 (wins) right now. That's almost two seasons' worth since the rebuild. Seeing how it's come, not full circle, but the pendulum is swinging to the other side. So I get excited for the people I know here. I'm happy that it's better for them and more enjoyable for everyone."
Most enjoyable for Rose, still working in the NBA after all these years, even if it doesn't feel like work to him.