Derrick Rose isn't so much a name as a sentence. As in: Derrick Rose in the NBA three years ago and hasn't stopped since.
He's my MVP so far, not just for the way he's carried the limping Chicago Bulls the way Penn's carried Teller. And not just for the way he jumps like a frog bred with a kangaroo. And not just for the way he scores, defends and passes like every game is a one-day tryout. He's my MVP for moments like this:
Three young fans are walking alone after leaving the United Center. They're the last to go, so they're all alone. A white SUV pulls up next to them. This part of Chicago could use a shave and a clean shirt, so somebody rolling up on you isn't usually happy news. The young men try not to look. The window comes down and who is behind it but Derrick Rose himself, The Heir to Air.
Their mouths fall unhinged.
"Hey, man, just want to thank you guys for taking time to come out," Rose says. "Really appreciate it."
Their voice boxes go mute.
"And thanks for wearin' my jersey, too!" Rose says to one of them.
Their eyes fail to blink.
Finally, one of them, Martin Campoverde, 23, gulps, "What's it feel like playing in your hometown?"
Rose pauses and smiles. "Greatest thing ever happened to me," he says. "This is the greatest city in the world."
Window goes up. SUV drives off. Year is made.
Derrick Rose, but the pass still hadn't come. Now his elbow was at about rim height -- which is insane for a man who is only 6-3. He had done his part -- the alley -- but the oop still hadn't arrived from teammate Ron Brewer, so there was nothing to do but hang around and wait. He looked like some David Copperfield trick up there, immune to gravity.
"I really thought [the ball] would be there earlier," Rose explained later, after the Bulls had rallied to whip Detroit, "but Ronnie took an extra dribble so I kind of had to catch and dunk on the way down."
Who can't relate to this? You're loitering at the top of the backboard square, just hanging around, and finally have to dunk it on the way back down. It's inconvenient, yes, but this is life.
Rose tomahawked it through with one hand so hard he nearly left a dent in the floor.
This is how out of touch Rose is with superstardom: One of his goals this year is to stop swearing.
It put air under 44,000 shoes. The 11 o'clock sports guys played it about 10 times each.
"Have you seen a replay?" I asked him.
"No," he said with a grin.
"Will you go home tonight and watch it on 'SportsCenter'?"
"No, no, no. I'll watch something tonight but it won't be that."
"Don't you want to see it?"
"No, sir. I don't want to get caught up in all that."
Who builds athletes like this nowadays? Rose calls people ma'am and sir. He doesn't have a Twitter page. After ad shoots, he personally goes around and thanks everybody in the room, even the lens-cap-holder guy. And he has the peculiar habit of referring to himself in the first person.
Rose could put up numbers that would fry your calculator. He is easily talented enough to lead the league in scoring. His drive to the iron is unstoppable. His 3-pointers made are up 800 percent this season. The kid has made 69 treys already. Michael Jordan didn't make that many until his sixth season. But Rose would sooner tongue-bathe goats than go for the scoring crown. "I can't do that! I'm the point guard!"
This is how out of touch Rose is with superstardom: One of his goals this year is to stop swearing. "My mom yells at me," he says. "She says, 'People can read lips!'"
Derrick Rose where the blood flows in the gutters and fear rides on the wind on the South Side. In 1991, when Rose was 3, his Englewood neighborhood had 81 murders -- in the first four months. In 2008, the singer Jennifer Hudson's family was gunned down on West 79th, four blocks from Murray Park, where Rose learned to ball. So far, in the first three weeks of 2011, there have already been two murders.
"I used to have this sense," says Rose, 22. "I just knew when there was trouble. You can feel it in your bones. 'Oh, dang. It's time to go.' And I'd just run home as fast as I could."
Rose moved his mom and brothers out of here long ago, but he refuses to turn his back on his home. He stops by Murray Park all the time to watch the kids pretend to be him.
"You got to go back," says Rose. "You don't ever want to show up there and have the kids say, 'Man, what are YOU doing here? You don't belong here no more.'"
One time he was driving through, by himself, and heard gunshots close by. Even that hasn't stopped him, though now he brings his two security guards -- both old friends from those very streets. They go out with Rose every time he goes out, wherever he goes out. "Just in case. I don't want something to happen. Something bad. I don't want any incidents."
Do his guards carry guns?
"Sometimes," he says.
On his right hand, you see his latest tattoo: Sweet Home Chicago.
Derrick Rose the last few weeks in the All-Star voting to become a starter on the ridiculously loaded NBA East. He pretended he'd be happy to be "a towel boy" but he admitted to friends that he was aching to be voted onto the starting team by the fans.
In fact, he'd like to be more than that.
"Who gets your vote for MVP so far?" I ask.
"Can I vote for myself?"
"Well, 'cause I've worked so hard and I'd like people to know it. And 'cause it would be for my team. And mostly 'cause I want to represent my city the best I possibly can. This is the greatest city in the world."
We're entering a shimmering era in the NBA. I can't remember seeing this many thrilling young players all at once. Dwight Howard. Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook. Blake Griffin. Chris Paul. Rajon Rondo. And Rose. All 25 or under and all could end up in the Hall of Fame.
Your MVP vote might be Dwyane Wade or LeBron James in Miami, but you'd be wrong. They have each other. It might be for the wizard Rondo in Boston, but he's only a disher, not a scorer. It might be for Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, but if he's so valuable, why do they lose as often as they win? Rose has the Bulls in the hunt for the No. 1 seed in the East even though they lost their two trees -- Joakim Noah (17 games) and Carlos Boozer (16) -- for much of the first half.
The pick is Rose for all the right reasons.
And when someone asks you, "How'd the Bulls get so good?" you answer in a complete sentence: Derrick Rose.
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