Long before my amazing father died in November 2009, one recurring complaint had caused his fandom to wane: that out-of-touch athletes were too self-consumed to care enough about the things that mattered most.
The golden era that he grew up in was gone, and the modern-day stars of the 1980s and early '90s were -- as he saw it -- more concerned with the money and fame than they were the games. So he pulled back from those San Francisco Bay Area teams that once captured his attention, his loyalties never to return.
It's a familiar refrain among today's consuming public, too, this idea that the pedestal on which players are put doesn't allow them to connect with the very people who help make their enormous paychecks possible. Which is why it's worth slowing down to highlight what Bulls point guard Derrick Rose did in Chicago last week.
At an event to launch his Adidas shoe and clothing line, the former MVP showed the kind of humanity and humility that even the most disenchanted of sports fans would have to find endearing. Rose, who isn't expected to return from his May 12 ACL surgery until late this season, broke down in tears after a video of his long rehabilitation process was shown to the attending crowd. Adidas vice president Lawrence Norman had handed Rose the floor during the presentation, and the words were supposed to keep flowing. Instead, Rose sat silent -- wiping his eyes, staring at the floor -- for nearly 30 seconds before sharing the root of all this unfiltered emotion.
The Chicago native spoke of his appreciation for his blessed life, for the support shown to him by so many on his path from the unforgiving streets of his neighborhood to global stardom. And as if that wasn't enough, Rose even took a moment to discuss his story in a context that went way beyond himself. A seven-day teacher strike plagued Chicago's public schools before ending this week, and Rose -- who shared for the first time that he will be a father soon -- discussed how it made him feel to see all those kids walking around town when they should be in school.
"My initial reaction was that this was one of the greatest displays of human emotion that I've seen, because it was real, it was authentic and that's who he really is," said B.J. Armstrong, Rose's agent and a former Bulls point guard. "It wasn't in the script. What he was able to express, and what you were able to see, everyone has had that moment of, 'I don't know how I got here.' Everyone can relate to that.
"I was like, 'Wow, that's pretty cool for the fans. That's pretty cool for people, because it's a reminder that people are human.' We get caught up in all these figures and saying, 'He's the greatest this or that,' but you know what? He's a kid who's just human.
"I'm sure we all have experienced it in the privacy of our own homes, in the privacy of places where millions of people don't get a chance to see it. I'm just very thankful that he shared that moment with us."
Rose, who was raised by his mother, Brenda, and three older brothers and attended the public Simeon Career Academy on the South Side, had to be thrilled to hear that hundreds of thousands of students returned to school on Wednesday.
"He knows the problems in Chicago, through and through," Armstrong said of Rose. "He grew up in the public school system, grew up as one of those kids. He is Chicago, and he understands the city, understands the culture, understands the problems, understands the beauty of this place. He gets it.
"He'll come back [from his injury]. Life goes on, so he's able to put it in its proper perspective and realize that there are things out there besides himself. It's an amazing quality that he has at a young age."
This is hardly the first time Rose has shown his human side. There was the touching speech given to his mother while receiving the 2011 MVP award, the countless times reporters like myself were shocked by his willingness to be so respectful and giving of his time before and after games, and the way he has always gone about his career with a total absence of airs. He's the exception as opposed to the rule, to be sure, which is all the more reason to take notice.
When the NBA lockout was finally lifted last December, anyone who spent all those months covering the "mutant pizza" madness would have been happy if Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher never shared a sentence again.
But here we are almost 10 months later, and the two men at the helm of the National Basketball Players Association are still embroiled in a bitter battle that began during the six-month work stoppage. To review, there was the aggressive attempt of Hunter and his backers to oust Fisher as NBPA president in April, followed by Fisher's salvo in the form of an investigation into the union and its business practices that has gone way beyond the initial accusations of Hunter nepotism.
Fisher (a current free agent) remains in his position and sources said the respective probes of the NBPA -- from the U.S. Attorney's office investigation to the Department of Labor's review to the internal audit being conducted by the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison -- have yet to conclude. While the last inquiry was expected to be complete by now, resolution or clarity of any kind isn't likely to come by the time the NBPA holds a conference call with all participating players on Thursday.
According to a memo obtained by SI.com, the "Summer Meeting" was initially scheduled as an in-person affair at a hotel at Chicago's O'Hare airport. A follow-up memo was sent indicating that a conference call was preferable to most players and it detailed a fairly innocuous to-do list for the session.
"We will provide an update of current union business and cover matters including the distribution of 2011-12 group license funds, implementation of the new annuity program, and proposed rules changes from the competition committee," the memo read.
While Fisher has two seasons left in his term as NBPA president, Hunter, who earns $2.6 million annually as the executive director, has a contract that runs through 2016. The lack of answers about what lies ahead for the two union heads is sure to frustrate players like Phoenix forward Jared Dudley who aren't sure what to make of the saga.
"A lot of players don't have the information, like 'What's going on?' " Dudley, the Suns' team representative, told SI.com recently. "Derek Fisher wanted an audit. He wanted to know what's going on with the money and all of that. From the inside -- and I'm on the inside with the players -- it sounds fishy after the lockout that you want our president to leave, a president who's auditing the head chairman.
"So that right there smells wrong. I'm not up to speed 100 percent with what went on. And the reason that I'm not 100 percent up to speed is because I feel like there's been no information [given out]. I think that's a plan for the NBPA and how they want to handle it internally, and that's fine."
Where to start with the league's most talked-about team. Well, for starters, the company that owns the Staples Center and 30 percent of the Lakers, AEG, is up for sale. It didn't take long for possible suitors to surface. The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the richest man in the city, local billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, may be a bidder.
You'd think Lakers legend Magic Johnson would jump at the chance to own a piece of his former team, but he might be feeling the pinch lately. As Johnson revealed to HBO recently, the price tag on his minority share of the Dodgers was a whopping $50 million -- or, to put it in Lakers-centric terms, $20 million more than Kobe Bryant's league-high salary for next season.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard finally opened up in a big way about his ugly end in Orlando and his new beginning with the Lakers.
Howard's teammate Metta World Peace is continuing his foray into the comedy world on Thursday night, doing a show at the famed Laugh Factory in Los Angeles. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to his nonprofit, Xcel University, and The Metta Center for Nonviolence.
In related news, new Lakers point guard Steve Nash joined Jay Leno on the Tonight Show on Tuesday and managed to deliver a few jokes of his own. After sharing his excitement over joining the Lakers, he was asked which team was the biggest obstacle to a title.
"Obviously the Miami Heat are the champs, and I know you and Dwyane Wade are really tight," Nash said sarcastically. "He's on the show, what, twice a week?"
The comedic claws, as Leno noted, were out.
"Steve Nash, pithy," he shot back.
• Jeremy Lin worked out for the first time in front of the Houston media on Tuesday, then proceeded to make it clear that he doesn't see himself as the face of the Rockets' franchise. It's not what Lin wants to hear, but he is indeed the closest thing the Rockets have to a centerpiece. Veteran shooting guard Kevin Martin is easily the best talent, but he has also been on the trading block for quite a while now as Houston has tried to land a superstar. Lin is the globally known 24-year-old who came to town by way of that three-year, $25.1 million deal the Knicks didn't match, so the brightest spotlight will be his whether he wants it or not.
Hierarchy discussions aside, Lin -- who lost 10 pounds in the offseason -- reported that he is fully recovered from the season-ending arthroscopic surgery he had in late March to repair a small meniscus tear in his left knee.
• Rose wasn't the only one to bare his soul recently. Knicks guard Iman Shumpert used the power of poetry to pay tribute to his late aunt at the Village Underground in New York.
• There was a regrettable omission from my reporting on Matt Barnes' deal with the Clippers: the Blake Griffin factor. While I was told Chris Paul definitely had a say in the Barnes addition (and Paul surely has a say on everything Clippers-related these days), the Los Angeles Times reported that Griffin gave his blessing on the Barnes move as well. This only matters, of course, because Barnes went out of his way to criticize Griffin at length last season for, among other things, his flopping. Funny how bygones can be bygones when the jerseys look the same.
Meanwhile, there is still no deal for the player Barnes is replacing. Veteran power forward Kenyon Martin is determined not to take the veteran's minimum and thus remains unemployed.
• Anyone tracking the never-ending saga of the Kings and their uncertain status in Sacramento remembers AEG as the high-powered and heavily invested third party in a downtown arena deal between the team's owners, the Maloofs, and the city that appeared to be agreed on in February. But even though that project was already widely considered dead after the Maloofs backed out in mid-April, SI.com checked in with a source close to the situation to see if the looming AEG sale was yet another nail in the coffin of that deal.
"Not sure how many nails that baby will hold," the source quipped.
• Dudley was his entertaining and insightful self in our interview for SI.com's "Tweet Week," which is still going strong. There are even a few previously untold lockout tales in there for those of you who like reliving nightmares.