There's always a certain level of hype whenever one of the league's biggest stars reveals his latest signature shoe design, but circumstances have conspired to make Adidas's unveiling of the "D Rose 4" even more anticipated than usual.
The unveiling, set for Sunday in Chicago, comes a little more than 16 months after Bulls guard Derrick Rose went down with a knee injury that cost him the 2012 playoffs and the entire 2012-13 season. The unveiling comes after the apparel company ran a popular, albeit somewhat polarizing, advertising campaign centered around Rose's rehabilitation. The unveiling comes after Rose ultimately decided against returning to the court down the stretch of last season, despite reports that he had been medically cleared. Finally, the unveiling comes one year after Rose broke down crying on stage during the unveiling of the "D Rose 3."
The Rose who ducked his head and wiped away tears last year has disappeared in recent months, giving way to the confident personality everyone remembers from his 2011 MVP campaign. Rose told CNN that he believes he's the best player in the NBA and he's thrown his name into the hat for USA Basketball's 2014 World Cup team. Rose has gone through rigorous private workouts with trainer Rob McClanaghan (as documented by Sports Illustrated), and he's revealed to Slam Magazine that he's "gained 10 pounds of muscle" during his rehabilitation. After what seemed like an endless series of non-updates on his health last year, we've now entered a feverish countdown to the opening night of the 2013-14 season. In a sign of the immense anticipation surrounding Rose's long-awaited return, the NBA's schedule-makers placed the Bulls on center stage for opening night, when they travel to Miami to face the two-time defending champion Heat.
For Lawrence Norman, Adidas's VP of Global Basketball, the message this fall is simple: embrace Rose's positive momentum, and don't pump the brakes. Norman came to those conclusions after spending time with Rose and his family as they visited Germany, Japan and a number of other countries on a promotional tour this summer. He watched Rose interact with his mother and brothers, he watched Rose play on the court -- including one exhibition game that included a sumo wrestler and ninjas -- and he watched as Rose's body changed. "He looks different," Norman says, estimating that Rose has added "10 to 15 pounds" while also improving his quickness. Add up all of those observations, and Norman believes Rose's "best player in the NBA" self-assessment is just a starting point.
"When [Derrick] says something like this, we nod our heads along with him," Norman told SI.com on Saturday. "He was MVP of the league, which would certainly qualify him for being the best player in the world. Our goal is to make him the No. 1 icon in all of sports. We certainly believe that's going to be the case. There was a bump in the road over the past year, but he's the right player, with the right personality, at the right position, in the right city, on the right team. There's nothing stopping him from being the No. 1 icon in all of sports."
It's at this point that you remember that Rose won't turn 25 until October, and that the Bulls went 94-28 (.770) during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 season and when he was in the lineup. Even without playing in a game last season, Rose ranked No. 12 in The Point Forward's ranking of the Top 100 Players of 2014, and he's a strong candidate to reclaim a top-five spot next year, assuming he bounces back as expected.
Although footage of Rose's summer activity has been limited, Norman made it clear that he -- and others close to Rose -- expect the three-time All-Star to hit the ground running this fall.
"His brother Reggie, who is obviously very important in his life and very important in his return to the court, came up to me smiling," Norman said, recounting a conversation from one recent international tour stop. "He said that Derrick had done some moves that were reminiscent of the MVP year, but they looked even stronger."
As the man sitting next to Rose during last year's emotional unveiling, Norman also understands how Rose's rehabilitation has been as much mental as physical. He describes seeing a Rose that was "at ease" and "having a great time" with crowds this summer.
"The first thing that came to mind [when Rose was on stage crying] was to acknowledge that this is exactly why [Derrick resonates with people]," Norman recalled. "We always talk about athletes as they mature and get older, and accumulate more fame and accolades. Even on this tour, in Europe and Asia, Derrick hasn't changed at all. He's still the same humble guy from Englewood. He still has those very close ties to his family. He's still completely dedicated to his city of Chicago, and he only has one focus, and that's championships. ... When it got emotional, I understood why, there was a lot going on his life."
The questions about Rose's mind state really picked up this past spring, when week after week passed without his return to the court. Video of Rose dunking and participating in practice sessions with the Bulls surfaced. Word of his medical clearance leaked out, forcing Rose to dance around the questions about why he wasn't playing. When Chicago surprisingly advanced to the second round of the playoffs without Rose, losing to Miami in five games, Rose became even more of a target. Angry fans and critics suggested that Rose left his teammates hanging, that he was soft, and even that Adidas might be pressuring him to take it slow so that he would avoid re-injury. Some wondered whether this injury would be career-altering, despite Rose's youth and countless cases of players coming back from ACL injuries to enjoy productive careers.
In an Adidas video spot released Saturday, Rose addresses some of those doubts, and pledged his allegiance to his hometown of Chicago.
"Do I deserve my name on a shoe?" Rose asks in the ad. "Did I deserve the world lifting me up when I was down? Will I be able to give my city the ultimate thank you? Can I do what it takes to be remembered? It's time to prove to my fans that I'm still focused. It's time to show the world that I can still do this. I'm all in for Chicago."
The extended rehabilitation time that came with Rose sitting-- and a full summer to get 100 percent healthy without daily speculation following his every move -- will soon provide answers to all of those questions.
"I think he may have been out of mind for the last year or so," Norman concedes, "but I think that he'll be top of mind very soon when he steps on the court during the preseason."
Rose's latest shoe -- the "D Rose 4" -- is debuting in two colors: a gray/black home version and an all-black road version. Six additional colorways will follow, including red and blue versions that will be released in October. The shoes will retail for $140. The slideshow below has photos of both debut colorways from a number of angles.
The most distinct style point of the sneaker -- one that's particularly visible on the home colorway -- is a sharp vertical line that separates the shoe's front and back. The concept behind the break, the company says, is to highlight the contrast between Rose's low-key off-court personality (the front) and his aggressive on-court play (the back).
"We look at it as an unapologetic way of expressing his personality, something strong that had a very striking appearance to it," Adidas designer Rob Lee told SI.com. "We felt like, with the idea of what we were trying to achieve from a performance and lifestyle standpoint, that we wanted a kind of fierce break in the shoe to acknowledge that. We wanted something striking, it's something that people really have a reaction to."
Other design elements include new outsole traction trechnology, a mesh bootie for better fit, a molded ankle collar, and a synthetic leather tongue.
Lee explained that Rose was personally involved in all aspects of the shoe's design -- as in past years -- and that his personal style is "evolving" as he gets older. What hasn't changed over the years is Rose's key requirement: that his shoe function as both a basketball shoe and a shoe that kids and teenagers can wear to school.
"[Rose] wanted a product that you can wear on the court and wear in the hallways and to the mall," Norman said. "He grew up in Englewood and didn't have a lot of money. If a kid only wants to wear one shoe for those two purposes, it would be great."
Lee added: "[The "D Rose 4"] has all the characteristics that will help [Derrick] be strong on the court, but it's got the ability to transcend to the street as well. That's one of the big things we wanted to try to achieve with the shoe." Top video via YouTube user theassociation | Bottom video via YouTube user adidasbasketball