LOS ANGELES -- The most intriguing player in this All-Star Game is second-time participant Derrick Rose, a man who in many circles (including mine) is the top candidate for this season's Most Valuable Player, yet his deferential demeanor around the guys who've been through this weekend of hoops hype a few times makes you think he's a teenager who just transferred to a new high school.
"I feel like I'm still a rookie compared to all these guys," Rose said. "You look at KG [Kevin Garnett], this is like his 14th one. He's got so many stars on the back of his warmup.
"It makes you want to fight to get more. Makes you want to go in and work out harder, just because you want to get to the All-Star Game the number of years the other guys did. "
With Rose, it seems, all things make him want to work harder. Every day he shows up at the Bulls' practice facility and sees the championship banners and the retired jerseys of the key players who made it happen -- Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen -- or throwback Bulls such as Jerry Sloan, and it's all the incentive he needs.
"You just want to get your jersey up there," Rose said. "I know for me, that's what I look at. I just want to get my jersey up there. Days I come in sore or I don't feel like working out ... looking at those jerseys gets you ready to play."
But if you really want to get Rose incentivized, have the audacity to make him look bad on the court. No other player is as determined to exact revenge immediately as Rose. Deron Williams stole the ball from him late in a game in Utah, started a fast break the other way and Rose chased him down and stole it back. In New Orleans, Chris Paul crossed over Rose And1-style, but by the time Paul got to the rim Rose caught up to him and blocked his shot.
"That's just a Chicago thing," Rose said. "If somebody tries to embarrass you or you feel like somebody's coming at you, you're going to go right back at them."
He's trying to make the Bulls into a Chicago thing again, too. He's 22, old enough to have good memories of the Bulls' second three-peat from 1996-98. He also can remember when he was a little older and his brother would watch TV and flip right past the Bulls game because they weren't good.
This Bulls team is not a threat to three-peat yet, but the fact Chicago is back among the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference is a testament to Rose, a more impressive part of his MVP application than his 25 points and eight assists per game. Unlike LeBron James, who's flanked by Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Los Angeles, Rose is here alone. Carlos Boozer has missed 18 games and Joakim Noah has missed 30, and the Bulls haven't missed a beat.
Every time a questioner asked Rose about the possibility of being MVP during the media session Friday, Rose would drop his head, give an aw-shucks smile and say, "I wish."
That's Eastern All-Stars coach Doc Rivers' favorite quality about Rose. "He thinks he's good," Rivers said. "But he won't tell you."
Will Rose let any of the other Eastern All-Stars know? Will he demand the ball Sunday? Or order them to clear out? Will he take the shots if it's late in the game and the score is close?
Rose will make his debut as a starter, courtesy of fan voting. He might not admit it, he might not act that way, but he has every right to consider himself one of the best players on the court Sunday.
The NBA is a pay-your-dues league, prone to make people wait for all of their accolades. It's not all supposed to come so soon and so ... simultaneously.
But if Rose has shown us anything in his first three seasons in the league, he belongs in any conversation you want to put him in. I just hope he plays like he knows he belongs in this All-Star Game.