CHICAGO -- Kobe Bryant spent the first few moments following the Lakers' shootaround Friday afternoon praising Derrick Rose. The former MVP loves the way Rose plays the game. He was complimentary of the young point guard's work ethic and dedication to his craft. Like so many fans, Bryant enjoys watching Rose play.
But when the time came to ask Bryant if he was ready to pass the proverbial torch to Rose, the veteran champion balked.
"I'm not passing [expletive]," Bryant sniffed.
"He's got to come take it?" a reporter suggested.
"He can certainly try," Bryant replied.
Well, at least for one night, Rose not only accepted the challenge, he ran away with it. Rose scored 29 points and yet again put the Bulls on his back down the stretch, hitting several crucial buckets to seal the win. The performance was ironic considering that before the game, Rose actually said the following:
"I'm not a star," he said with an embarrassed chuckle. "I just play in the NBA. I'm just trying to do anything to get my team the win, go out there and get wins. And that's passing the ball or doing whatever. But you can see the difference between a star and a superstar, especially in this league where superstars like Kobe and all the other players, there's only a [small] amount of them. Where they can take over games and do it on a consistent basis."
Rose may not consider himself a star just yet, but almost everyone else does. That's why the United Center repeatedly serenaded him with "MVP" chants throughout the night. Like he said, only a few players can take over games at the end -- he's one of them. No, he's not on Bryant's level yet (no one is right now) and no, a torch was not passed on Friday night. But, Rose yet again proved that he has elevated his game to yet another level, one that frightens the rest of the league.
"There are a lot of players in this game that we pick because they've been on very good basketball teams in college," Phil Jackson said before the game. "And they've been winners in their high school [and] college days. That doesn't mean they're going to come to the NBA and be stars. They still have to have the talent. But the ones that know how to win seem to perpetually find a way to win or help teams win. And Derrick has that character about him."
He also has the ability to pass that confidence on to the rest of his teammates. With Rose leading the way, the Bulls believe there isn't a team that can beat them. They showed that fortitude in their biggest win to date over Bryant and the Lakers on Friday.
"It's feels great because a lot of people were saying ... I had never beat The Lake Show before," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "So beating the Lake Show, if you say is just another game on the schedule, that's a lie. That's what coaches say. As players, that's not true. They're back to back champs. It was a great atmosphere in there and it's always a good feeling to beat the Lake Show."
It's a feeling that should give the Bulls a lot of confidence as they head into a soft portion of their schedule. Just a year ago, it was Noah who labeled the Bulls a "JV team" to the Lakers' "varsity." Now, with Rose leading the way, it's Noah who believes the Bulls can accomplish all the things they want to set their mind toward. Between Rose's drive to succeed and Tom Thibodeau's intense focus, the Bulls are starting to develop the type of mentality the good teams have. They believe they can with every single night.
"Derrick is somebody who wants to be great," Noah said. "I've never been around somebody who's so hard on himself. He really wants to be the best player he can be. He's special because he has a lot of abilities, but I think his mindset is what makes him so unique. I've never seen somebody with that much ability, so humble off the court, but on the court, his swag is unbelievable."
It's that swagger and killer instinct that gives Bryant so much pause.
"I don't think you can develop that," Bryant said. "I think you either have it or you don't and I think he's had it since he was in high school ... that separates players I think. Players of equal ability, it's about the engine that you have inside. I think he certainly gives them an edge."
That engine is why Bulls fans left the United Center smiling Friday night. Rose might have saved the day one more time, but a win over the Lakers, and any extra cheers he may have earned, aren't going to sway him from his ultimate goal: He wants to win a title, and he wants to win one soon.
"It feels good but I won't let it go to my head," Rose said of the "MVP" chants. "We've still got a lot more games to go. We've got to go play against Minnesota [Saturday]. We're just trying to bring excitement back to the city."
It's that mindset that Bryant appreciates most about the up-and-coming star.
"The sky's the limit for him," Bryant said. "You see now just off of the improvement he's made with his jump shot from last year to this year how much his game has really gone to another level. I think he's just scratching the surface. He's realizing now what his jump shot can do and hopefully he'll continue to work on it and hopefully he'll become a pure shooter."
As Rose proved yet again on Friday, he isn't just becoming a shooter. He's becoming a winner.