By Sam Amick
December 30, 2011

When Randy Brown returned to Chicago a decade after playing his part in the Michael Jordan heyday, he made a decision about whether he'd share the old war stories with the franchise's newest star, Derrick Rose.

"I didn't want to talk about it unless he asked," said Brown, a reserve guard for the Bulls' three-peat teams from 1995-98 who is now the special assistant to general manager, Gar Forman.

But the questions came even quicker than one of Rose's darting dashes through the lane, as he showed a curiosity about Jordan and his winning ways that would soon force Brown to become the in-house almanac of all things MJ.

"He'd say, 'How did Michael handle double teams?' and I'd tell him, 'I don't know, because he was triple-teamed," Brown said. "We'll talk about how Michael practiced, his approach, everything."

Those conversations have continued this season, both before and after Rose recently signed a five-year, $94 million extension that secured his status as this generation's preeminent Bulls star. Rose is hardly content with the MVP trophy that had so much to do with his huge payday, his fierce focus on adding far more meaningful hardware to his collection with a championship trophy that slipped away when the Bulls fell to Miami in five games in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

But there remains a question as to what Rose's team will look like by the time the next playoff push comes around, with sources confirming that the Bulls have a strong interest in landing Orlando center Dwight Howard should the Magic ever pull the trigger on a deal for their franchise star. But Howard's well-publicized wish list of possible new teams ended with the Lakers, Mavericks and Nets, leaving plenty to wonder why he wouldn't want to pair with Rose.

There are reports that a shoe company is to blame, since Rose and Howard are the top NBA clients for Adidas and maximizing its merchandise is tougher if both are in the same market. Other industry sources say Howard is jealous of Rose's top billing, that he doesn't want to be overshadowed and see his dream of becoming a global icon dashed.

All of which makes Rose's style so refreshing. In an era where so many stars are more obsessed with their brand than the basketball matters, Rose is prioritizing winning above all else.

"You know, with me, basketball is first," he told on Thursday. "My biggest thing is to win a championship. I could care less about contracts. Of course they make my family life more comfortable, but it's just basketball.

"All the other things are perks. I don't take them for granted. I appreciate them, and my endorsements. But the reason I got them is because of basketball, and I'll never forget that."

The fourth-year player has an innate ability to minimize the distractions while maximizing his potential. His mother and three older brothers have earned well-deserved praise for raising such a level-headed young man, and those who work with him every day say nothing has changed now that his fame is reaching new heights far beyond the Windy City where he grew up.

"He hasn't changed a bit since the day he walked through the door," Forman said. "People hear about what a great kid he is and everything else, and ask, 'Is it true?' And it's hard to explain, because it is true. He's very grounded, very driven."

Said Fat Lever, the two-time All-Star point guard who played from 1982-94 and now works for the Kings: "He reminds me of Isiah Thomas. He puts fear in you just like Isiah did. His teammates will follow him like they followed Isiah, and he has that attitude of 'I'm not going to lose at any cost' and that tenacity. ... But off the court, he's one of the nicest, most polite young men that I've ever met."

The irony, of course, is that Rose's humble ways may be hurting his chances of keeping up with the super teams that are starting to surround him. This is the AAU age, where stars look to join forces either through free agency or by pushing for a trade. Yet Rose has made it clear he's just not the type to recruit his peers to come play with him.

When Miami's LeBron James was a free agent last summer and the Bulls were on his list of possible destinations, Rose only involved himself in the recruiting process in order to refute reports that he didn't want to play with the former Cleveland star.

"I'm just hitting you up to kill all the rumors that I don't want to play with you," his text message to James read according to an SI report by Lee Jenkins. "I'd like to play with you. I just want to win."

His stance hasn't changed in regards to Howard, either.

"With me, I don't go out and recruit people," he said when asked about Howard. "I always say that the city speaks for itself. It's a great marketing place. Living wise, it's great. There's always something to do. You can hide if you want to. It's a great place.

"I really don't know what he's going to do. I think he'll surprise everybody if he ends up leaving. You never know with Dwight."

The Bulls have plenty of uncertainty of their own, their formula seemingly flawed so long as Rose has to carry so much of the offensive load. Thursday night offered a worthy blueprint, with Rose (19 points), forward Carlos Boozer (16 points) and new addition Rip Hamilton (16 points) sharing the scoring duties in a win over Sacramento that made them 2-1.

What they don't have is the sort of chemistry quandary that is on display in Oklahoma City, where Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant had an altercation during Wednesday night's game against Memphis that was the latest sign they might not be able to co-exist long-term. It's the silver lining of Rose's undermanned existence in Chicago, where the identity of the Bulls' alpha dog is always clear.

"I've never been in a position where Russ is in right now, being on a team with a guy who I think for sure is going to be a future Hall of Famer [in Durant]," said Rose, who is close friends with Westbrook and trained with him in Los Angeles during the lockout. "I wouldn't know how it feels until I'm in his position. I feel like on my team of course I have great players, but for someone to put up the numbers that KD has been putting up consistently, that's something I've never played with my entire life."

As is always the case with Rose, he sees winning as the cure-all.

"Winning takes care of everything in this league," he said. "Until you lose, that's when you have something to worry about. You can put up with anything until you start losing."

The same goes for Rose's squad, of course, as he is looking to lead the Bulls to their first title since Jordan was ruling this roost. The MVP trophy and the contract are nice and all, but he wants a few championship stories of his own to tell.

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