Story by Jon Greenberg / a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
DEERFIELD, Ill. — Derrick Rose said it best. If money would have changed him, it would’ve done so by now. He’s already rich and famous. He’s the MVP of the National Basketball Association, a commercial star and the favorite son of his hometown.
He could be the biggest jerk this town has seen, but he’s just not. It’s not an act.
Derrick Rose became the NBA’s youngest MVP last season.
Ask his teammates, ask his coaches, ask his bosses at adidas. Ask the ballboys at the United Center. Last season, an assistant coach asked Rose if he could get the kids some of his signature shoes. Next thing he knew, every kid had two pair.
Now Rose is at least $95 million richer, after signing the maximum contract the new collective bargaining agreement allows. ”Coming from where I’m coming from, I can’t explain it,” he said Wednesday at the news conference announcing the deal. “I never would’ve thought, in a million years, that I’d be signing a contract like this. No one from Englewood, period, has ever been in my position. Sometimes it makes you think, ‘Why me?’”
Why him? Why the Chicago Bulls? Forget Tebow Time, the real story of divine intervention in sports was the Bulls and Rose finding each other through the vagaries of the NBA draft lottery in 2008.
Now Rose, just 23, is the NBA’s reigning most valuable player, the Bulls are again NBA title contenders, and he will be getting paid quite handsomely over the next five years to keep it rolling. If you want to talk about the good in sports, it’s Derrick Rose representing Chicago, thrilling the well-heeled patrons who sit courtside and inspiring the city’s youth. When I told a talented Simeon High School basketball player how much Rose was going to make, you could’ve lit the Loop with the kid’s smile.
Rose says over and over how he isn’t motivated by money, and that’s fine when you’re due $16 million next year, before endorsements. But there is a truth to it too. ”I don’t try to think about the money,” he said. “That’s the last thing I try to think about. I just try to go out there and play.” Now don’t get it wrong, Rose enjoys what money brings. He dresses nicely, he drives a souped-up truck, and this past offseason he took his mom, his girlfriend and her mother on vacation to Bora Bora, where he said his hot tub was big enough to do a workout in. He likes being the front-man for adidas basketball now, and he’s comfortable in the limelight, even if he’s not always looking for attention.
“I don’t even know how much I make right now, to tell you the truth,” Rose said. “I just know I get paid. I watch my accounts. They’re growing and I’m happy.
Rose said he’s thinking about ideas to use his new money to help his impoverished old neighborhood. Maybe build some gyms or after-school centers. He’s not in a hurry, he said. ”For sure,” he said. “That’s something I have been thinking about, especially in the future, starting with my neighborhood, Englewood, building it back up first, and try to expand from there.” Rose doesn’t make it back to his old stomping grounds too often, but he wants to represent Chicago. And it’s not just for public consumption.
“He wants to put his city on his back,” Bulls center Joakim Noah told me the other day. “He’s always talking about Chicago. I love that. It’s so cool.” No matter who you talk to, it’s clear that Rose hasn’t changed from high school to his brief, somewhat controversial career at Memphis to his quick ascendance in the NBA. He has matured, but he’s the same guy. And that’s just how it is. Luol Deng said often it’s not the athletes who change, it’s the people around them. Rose paid credence to that theory Wednesday when he thanked his friends, several of whom live with him in the suburbs “for not only being true friends, but not being yes men and telling me things I need to hear, and pushing me to be a better player.” Rose then looked at his mother, Brenda, and said, “I think I can finally say this now: Mom, we finally made it.” Oh, you should’ve seen Brenda Rose after that one. I thought she was going to faint. It was reminiscent of his heart-warming speech when he won the MVP.
“He’s a mama’s boy,” Noah said admiringly. “So am I.”
Derrick Rose has become a global superstar. But he hasn’t forgotten his humble beginnings. The fruitless pursuit of trying to figure out why Rose is so different than other people of his ilk — and trust me, he is — got me thinking about why we spend so much time analyzing athletes’ backgrounds as a means of excusing their behavior.
A few weeks ago I got into a conversation with an out-of-town writer about a Chicago athlete who is portrayed in a far different light with Rose and in doing so, I came up with my own dime-store psychological profile. He stopped me dead in my tracks. ”Why do we do this with athletes,” he asked. “If my wife asked me what you were like, and I said you were a jerk, I wouldn’t preface it by talking about how you were raised. I would just say you were a jerk.” And that’s kind of how I feel about Rose. When you talk about what a good guy he is, how nice he is, you have to give his mother and his three older brothers their due, but really he should get the credit.
Everyone has a choice to define their own personality, and Rose has chosen better than most. I don’t care about what happened at Memphis, no one really does. What I care about is how he performs and what he’s all about. It’s impossible to judge him poorly. ”You never hear anybody say anything bad about Pooh, you know,” Noah said the other day. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The NBA isn’t exactly spoiled with guys like Rose, and that’s good. He stands out for a reason. It feels good to root for him and to write about him.
Rose is the reigning MVP and he’s gunning for an NBA title. He’s got an approximation of Michael Jordan’s talent and seemingly none of his baggage. He really is the product that he’s selling. As the Bears fade into hibernation, it’s safe to say the Bulls are truly Chicago’s team, and the only one led by a true Chicagoan. We’re a city that recognizes the value of authenticity. Rose is the real deal, and he’s a good guy too. There is no shame in rooting for him and his story. ”Everything has been perfect,” Rose said of his time with the Bulls. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
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