I've gotten so accustomed to seeing Derrick Rose jerseys over the last few years that it's become second nature to see people wearing them on the street no matter where I am in the country.
Seeing Rose jerseys pop up in Australia recently was a different story, though.
I spent two weeks "Down Under" last month and came away even more impressed by the surge in popularity of Chicago's favorite son. After winning the MVP last season, Rose isn't just selling more jerseys and shoes both in the States and abroad, he's becoming the type of worldwide brand that only few athletes could ever imagine.
People in Australia and beyond knew who Rose was before he won MVP, but winning that award has catapulted him into the next tier of NBA superstars. One Melbourne store owner told me that out of the 30 or so jersey requests he gets each week, more than half are for Rose. The explanation being that Rose plays an exciting brand of basketball that fans love to watch and they view him as the up and coming star along with Kevin Durant.
As the store owner explained, everyone in Australia (and certainly other places across the globe) already has a Kobe Bryant jersey. They already have a LeBron James or a Dwyane Wade jersey. Most don't have Rose paraphernalia just yet. Maybe more importantly, Rose has given his fans no reason to dislike him up to this point, unlike James and Bryant, and to a lesser extent Wade. Rose is "fresh" and comes across genuine, both in the way he plays the game, and in how he conducts himself in interviews off the floor. He seems to appreciate all the love he has gotten from fans.
It's why so many fans lined up all throughout the city on Saturday morning to meet Rose. Yes, the promotion through Adidas was to spread the word about Rose's new adizero Rose 2 shoe. But most people standing in line weren't there for the shoe. They were there because they feel like they have a connection to Rose. That's why some people shook with anticipation as they waited in line to meet him while others were almost moved to tears after the picture was taken and they held a hard copy of it in their hands.
The blend of Rose's talents on the floor and his personality off of it is the reason so many people are lining up to be associated with him in some way. Dwight Howard has a fun-loving personality, but his game can be construed as boring to a faction of basketball fans who want to see excitement at every turn. The store owner bemoaned the fact that he has a hard time selling Howard's shoes when they come to his store, compared to Rose's line which are seemingly flying off the shelves.
Rose has the ability to connect with his fans no matter where they are.
"[Rose's] profile isn't as big as some of the others," Australian and former Bull Luc Longley told me recently. "There's a lot of [Dwyane] Wade and [LeBron] James out here, jerseys, getting around. To my way of thinking, he's one of the top 10 guys, but he hasn't taken over like a [Michael] Jordan did or a Wade did."
Like the rest of the basketball community, Longley knows Rose's time is coming.
"But I think that's in him yet," Longley said. "I think [if he wins] a championship, he'll go through the roof."
Rose knows if he wins a title or two he may become the most popular basketball player in the world, a distinction he would love to earn.
What's special about Rose is that he hasn't just developed his own following since bursting on to the NBA scene three years ago. He has re-energized all the old Bulls fans that Jordan and Scottie Pippen cultivated years ago. The buzz around the Bulls is as big as it's been since Jordan retired. That's why there were people walking around Sydney and Melbourne decked out in Bulls gear throughout my trip.
The Bulls are "cool" once again.
Even the causal fan that doesn't know much about basketball associates Chicago's basketball team with being "hip" and "in style." If the Bulls can win another title there's no telling just how much gear we will see popping up all over the world.
One thing is clear right now: With that backing and Bulls name brand behind him, there's no telling just how big Rose could become if he leads the Bulls to another title.