NORTHBROOK, Ill. -- The little boy in the Bulls jersey desperately wanted Joakim Noah's attention.
Like a couple hundred other people, the young hoopster-to-be packed into Morton's Steakhouse in Northbrook to catch a glimpse of Noah and Derrick Rose, who were on hand Wednesday night to participate in ESPN 1000's "Lunch With a Legend".
Once the show hit its first commercial break, he raced towards the front of the stage that has been set up in the back of the crowded restaurant. He started taking pictures with his father's cell phone camera, but he wanted to get even closer, so he climbed up onto the side of the stage and attempted to get a picture signed by the duo.
"Hey buddy," Noah said in his characteristically upbeat voice.
The little boy passed the picture off to the giant in front of him and watched as Noah signed his name with a black Sharpie. As Noah slid the photograph over to Rose, his new little friend's eyes lit up even more.
"Look at this," he said, as he showed the Bulls center a small white wristband that had the NBA emblazoned on it.
"Where did you get that?" Noah said.
The little boy explained that his dad had given it to him, but right about the same time this was going on, a little girl started crying right in front of the stage.
It was the little boy's sister.
As the father would explain, she was upset because her little brother got to spend a few precious moments with Noah and she did not. When Noah tried to tell the little girl to come up and say hello she just turned into her father's side and continued to cry. It was too late. Noah tried his best to console her from afar, but it was to no avail. No matter how many autographs or pictures he signed on this night, the little girl would always feel like she was upstaged by her brother.
Noah clearly felt bad, but there was nothing he could do. Besides, the show was coming back from commercial and he had to get ready to field more questions. As the show rolled on, I couldn't help but wonder what it must be like for a 25-year-old like Noah to know that he has that kind of influence over people. Or that a simple stroke of the pen from a 22-year-old like Rose could make a 40-year-old man's day.
The ironic thing is that as I watched Noah and Rose throughout the day, I realized that they're still coming to grips with that realization as well.
The duo makes a living performing in front of 20,000 people every night, so it's always interesting to see how they respond in a much different atmosphere with a couple hundred.
Obviously, both realize that it's events like these that are just part of the package when you become an NBA star, but that doesn't mean they have completely adjusted to all of the adulation just yet. It's an ongoing process; everybody wants a piece of them and everybody wants to pull them in a different direction. What's clear after watching them weave their way through every picture, every request and every handshake, is that the pair is going through the process together.
Noah enjoys playing the role of big brother to Rose. Rose enjoys the fact that he has somebody to share the spotlight with. Both realize that the Chicago Bulls franchise is only going to go as far as they take it.
It was obvious to anyone in attendance, or anyone who has watched them play recently, that their bond is growing stronger by the day. Not only are they trying to get the Bulls to the next step on the floor, they're trying to figure out just how to take the next step off of it. They're trying to come to grips with the fact that in many way they have already reached the mountaintop: Their dreams of becoming basketball stars have become a reality.
As the second commercial break hit, both players just sat, a little awe at all the attention surrounding them. More people stood up and tried to snap a photo or get an autograph. Noah and Rose just shot the breeze about everything that was going on. Rose talked about the possibility of playing with Noah in the All-Star game, as the seven-footer took a few bites out of a chicken caesar salad.
The show would be over in a flash. Pretty soon they would be on their way out the back door and into their normal routines once again. There are more games to play after all, and more goals to achieve. The key for both men is that they realize they're on their way. As they noted at different times throughout the show, they are just glad they have one another to lean on. They're not exactly sure how to feel comfortable being constantly adored just yet, and they know that they're not always going to be able to make everyone happy on their journey to super-stardom. However, whether you're watching them on the floor or in a crowded restaurant surrounded by throngs of fans, the one thing you know without a doubt is this: They're certainly going to try.