Early Bloomer

Ten years after the departure of Michael Jordan, the Bulls finally have a player they can build around in No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose, a native son who quickly has become the face of the franchise
November 24, 2008

WATCHING A ChicagoBulls game with Dwayne Rose was an agonizing experience. In the final momentsof the most crucial playoff games, Dwayne would become overwhelmed withanxiety, unable to stand the suspense. The oldest of the four Rose brothers—andthus the one in charge of the remote control—would without warning turn off thetelevision just as the ball made its way into Michael Jordan's hands. Dwayne'sbrothers would scream at him. They would threaten him with bodily harm. Andthen they would grudgingly sit in their home on the South Side of Chicago incomplete silence. "We had to listen for the reaction in theneighborhood," says Reggie, the second-oldest brother. "If everybodywent crazy, you knew [Jordan] made the shot."

On a recentNovember evening Reggie, 33, and brother Allan, 27, are now watching the Bullsfrom the front row of a luxury suite at the United Center, where no one canextinguish their view. Dwayne, 37, is standing toward the back, where he canturn away when the tension mounts. And the youngest Rose—who missed Jordan'schampionship-winning shot against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 Finals, thanks toDwayne—is down on the court, trying to assume a mantle that no one in Chicagohas been able to wear. Fortunately for the Bulls, Derrick Rose's nerves arestronger than Dwayne's.

"When I'msitting in the locker room before games, I think about the history of thisteam, all those great players, what it was like in Chicago then," Derricksays. "I want to get back to those days. I know a lot of pressure comeswith that, but I want it. I want the pressure on me. I would be more worried ifit wasn't there."

Rose is 20 yearsold, five months past being drafted No. 1 as a freshman out of Memphis andthree weeks into his first NBA season. The Bulls' starting point guard, he isalready their best player. His style is vintage Chicago, solid and low-key.Rose does not pump his fists or pound his chest. He does not talk on the court,other than an occasional mumble. He comes across as sleepy-eyed and almostbored, nibbling the corner of his mouthpiece during breaks in the action."Nobody ever knows what I'm thinking," says Rose. But just whendefenders look as if they too are about to settle in for a nap, Rose goes fromzero to 60 with a single sneaker-squeak. At 6'3" and 190 pounds he is ablur of broad shoulders, quick enough to beat guards into the paint and strongenough to absorb contact once he gets there.

At week's end Rosewas averaging 18.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 turnovers, and fornow his numbers are the ones that give fans hope. The Bulls, at 5--5, are notitle contender, but at least they have a bona fide franchise player for thefirst time in 10 years. "Since Derrick came back to Chicago, only one thinghas been able to overshadow him," says Thomas Green, the basketball coachat Beasley Academic Center, which Rose attended through eighth grade. "Andthat was the election of Barack Obama."

The top pickalways draws intense scrutiny, but Rose happens to play his home games for afan base that has been following him since he was at Beasley. When he settlesfor a layup in the lane, season-ticket holder Brian Johnson shouts from hisseat in the third row, "Dunk the ball, Derrick! I've seen you do it sincethe eighth grade!" Before his varsity debut Rose's AAU coach, HarveyHampton, called him the best point guard from Chicago since Isiah Thomas. WhenRose was in high school, at Simeon Career Academy, he played pickup games withJordan's two sons at Jordan's house. After losing the national championshipgame to Kansas in overtime last April, he cried on the shoulder of JesseJackson. "Your scars make your stars," the Chicago-based ministerwhispered into Rose's ear. And on the night of the draft, when Obama was askedwhom the Bulls should take with the first pick, the senator from Illinois andformer South Side community organizer declared, "Derrick Rose is theman." When the Bulls introduced their draft choice at a press conferencefive days later inside the United Center's Chicago Stadium Club, they placed along-stemmed rose on every seat.

"The buzz hereright now," says Tommy Edwards, "reminds you of somebody else."

EDWARDS BEGAN hisfirst stint as the Bulls' public-address announcer in 1976, and like a lot ofpeople in this organization his profile grew with Jordan's. Pregameintroductions at the old Chicago Stadium became a spectacle punctuated by agrand finale. "They always introduced Jordan last," says Dwayne."And now, from North Carolina, Michael Jordan! It got so loud after 'NorthCarolina' that you couldn't hear Jordan's name."

Before this seasonEdwards was told by Bulls higher-ups to introduce Rose last, an honor usuallybestowed upon a veteran player, most recently guard Kirk Hinrich. Roserequested, with a nudge from the team's marketing department, that he also beintroduced as "from Chicago," not "from Memphis." On openingnight, when Edwards boomed frrrom Chicago, the roar was so loud that Dwaynenever heard his brother's name. Reggie cried in the suite. Their mother,Brenda, shouted, "That's my baby!"

Unlike LeBronJames, Kobe Bryant and every other NBA star who has been burdened bycomparisons to you-know-who, Rose has a game that's nothing like Jordan's. Hiswhole life, coaches and teammates have been imploring him to shoot. At Beasleyhe usually scored five or six points, while other players poured in more than20. He led Simeon to a victory in the state championship game as a senior byhanding out eight assists and scoring just two points. Players from otherschools wanted to transfer to Simeon just to be on the end of Rose'spasses.

When he got toMemphis, he grew even more deferential. Rose was so quiet that teammates couldnot hear him call plays. "What's wrong with you?" teammate ChrisDouglas-Roberts asked him last fall. The Tigers did not know what to make of ablue-chipper who covered his eyes when his highlights came on TV and bowed hishead when he was praised in a press conference. They appreciated his modestybut wondered about his maturity. Nicknamed Pooh for his sweet tooth, Rose ateso much candy at the Final Four that he had to miss practice because of astomachache. That weekend he also said he was not ready for the NBA—Roseaveraged 14.9 points, 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds in his one season atMemphis—suggesting that backup Andre Allen was a better one-on-one player, agenerous but preposterous evaluation.

Rose becomesanimated only when discussing his shortcomings. When Bulls assistant Del Harrisapproached him this season to discuss a mistake, Harris could barely get a wordin. "I know, I know, it was terrible," Rose told Harris. "I can'tbelieve I did that. I should have been over there, and the guy was open, and Imissed him." Harris walked away, his job done for him. "He is harder onhimself than any coach," says Harris.

Vinny Del Negrohas given Rose a forum to vent, using a system he learned from his first NBAcoach, Dick Motta. Del Negro presented Rose with a stack of questionnairesbefore the season, to be filled out after every game. "Each one has sixquestions," says Del Negro, Chicago's rookie coach. "What offensivesets worked well against this team? What defensive sets were they in? Who didyou guard? Was he a post-up player? What was effective and what wasn't? Whatdid you learn about this team, and what did you learn in transition?" Roseand Del Negro go over the questionnaires on flights, then Rose puts them in abinder so that he can look back at his answers before rematches.

During the Bulls'loss to defending champion Boston in their second game, Rose noticed somethingabout the Celtics that did not necessarily fit on the questionnaire. "Theynever stopped talking on the court," he says. "They were aggressivewith everything, always showing emotion. That's not my way. But to be a leader,I've got to do it."

When Jordanarrived in Chicago in 1984, the Bulls were loaded with recent top 10 picks,among them Orlando Woolridge, Quintin Dailey and Sidney Green. "Michaelreally wanted to fit in and be one of the guys," says Sam Smith, whocovered the Bulls for the Chicago Tribune, "but it was visible early onthat he was the most talented." In order to make the playoffs, Jordan couldnot worry about offending teammates. He had to take over.

This year's Bullsare also stocked with top 10 picks—including Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, TyrusThomas and Joakim Noah—and Rose is reluctant to overstep his bounds. He buysthe team doughnuts before practice and carries luggage on road trips,traditional rookie duties. But for Chicago to make a run at the postseason, hemust be more than a caddie. Just as Rose carried Memphis in the second half ofthe NCAA title game, scoring 14 points in an eight-minute span, he has provedthat he can do the same for the Bulls. In a 98--91 win over the DallasMavericks last Thursday, the rookie dropped 14 in the third quarter on threedriving layups, two pull-up jumpers, an offensive rebound of his own miss, anda pair of free throws.

Rose still needswork on his range, but he is a natural penetrator, with a thunderous first stepand a fearless streak in the lane. While other point guards settle forfloaters, he attacks with double-pump layups and jams. "He may already bethe best finishing point guard in the league," says Noah. After Rosescorched the Hawks for 26 points on Nov. 11, Atlanta forward Marvin Williamssaid, "He's so strong and explosive, it's hard to even think of him as apoint guard. I'm an opposing player, but tonight I was also a fan."

WHEN ROSE met withthe Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles last spring, agent Arn Tellem asked ifhe wanted to play in Chicago. Rose laughed. The Bulls had only a 1.7% chance ofwinning the lottery. But he appreciated Tellem's optimism and signed with WMG,choosing former Bulls point guard B.J. Armstrong as his representative. Whenthe Ping-Pong balls bounced Chicago's way on May 20, Derrick called Reggie."Can you believe it?" he asked.

Of all thebrothers, Rose is closest to Reggie, the one who protected him from streetagents and college recruiters and who now shields him from ticket requests andfriends looking for handouts, the kinds of distractions that have doomed otherhometown stars. When Rose signed his first contract, a two-year, $10 milliondeal with team options that could make it worth $22.5 million, Reggie forbadehim to buy a mansion. Derrick instead purchased a town house in Deerfield,Ill., the suburb where the Bulls practice. "I wouldn't want a mansionanyway," he says. "That's too big for me." Reggie helped him orderfurniture, pick out linens and set up the cable.

Rose's town houseis about 35 miles from Englewood, the South Side neighborhood where he wasraised. Englewood has a long history of gang violence, and it has been in thenews recently for the triple homicide of singer-actress Jennifer Hudson'smother, brother and nephew. All of Rose's immediate family have moved out ofthe area, and they're staying away for the time being.

But Rose'spresence is still felt at Englewood's Murray Park, where he once showed up toplay basketball despite having broken his right arm climbing a tree earlier inthe day. On draft day about 200 Englewood residents gathered at the park tolisten to the radio broadcast. They grilled hot dogs, shot three-pointers andmunched on gummy bears—a sweet tribute to Pooh. "When the Bulls picked him,we jumped for joy," says John Paul Jones, a community leader who organizedthe event.

With Rose'ssterling start, excitement has given way to expectation. On an overcastafternoon this month 15-year-old Davonta Bishop walked through the autumnleaves at Murray Park, raindrops falling on the brim of his Cubs cap. Bishophas played several pickup games with Rose—"Yeah, Pooh's dropped me somedimes," he says—and he is asked how long it will take for his running mateto deliver a championship to Chicago. Jordan, of course, needed seven years towin his first one and then reeled off five more in rapid succession.

"Derrick Roseis a young guy and people have to realize he is going to need time tomature," said Bishop, himself a precocious point guard. "Give him ayear or two."

A BullishStart

Derrick Rose'snumbers through Sunday's games stack up favorably against the rookie statisticsof the point guards taken in the top five of the previous three drafts.

NAME, TEAM (DRAFT) PT. REB. ASST. STL. FG%
DERRICK ROSE, BULLS ('08) 18.9 5.0 5.6 1.20 46.8
Mike Conley, Grizzlies ('07) 9.4 2.6 4.2 0.83 42.8
Deron Williams, Jazz ('05) 10.8 2.4 4.5 0.75 42.1
Chris Paul, Hornets ('05) 16.1 5.1 7.8 2.24 43.0
Raymond Felton, Bobcats ('05) 11.9 3.3 5.6 1.28 39.1

When Rose settles for a layup, a Chicago fan shouts,"DUNK THE BALL, DERRICK! I've seen you do it since the eighthgrade!"

After Rose torched the Hawks for 26, forward MarvinWilliams said, "I'm an opposing player, but tonight I WAS ALSO AFAN."

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PHOTOPhotograph by David E. KluthoCHICAGO'S HOPE Rose's precocity as a playmaker has eased the transition for his rookie coach, Del Negro (above, left). PHOTOJOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES[See caption above] PHOTOJOHN BIEVERSOUTH SIDE STORY Before tossing the first pitch for the Sox, Rose was winning at Simeon and grinning with David Stern. PHOTOWORSOM ROBINSON/CHICAGO DEFENDER[See caption above] PHOTODAVID BERGMAN[See caption above] PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)