Isiah Thomas counseled Derrick Rose

Among those whom Derrick Rose sought advice and solace from in the days after the Chicago Bulls were eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last May was the last point guard to lead his team in scoring while winning an NBA title.

Isiah Thomas said he met Rose last year after a game in Detroit and that Rose contacted him after the Bulls' season had ended.

"He was pretty down," Thomas told ESPNChicago.com by phone on Wednesday. "He asked me 'How did you do it? How did you win back-to-back championships at this size?' And my response to him was that once you understand your opponent and know your opponent better than you know yourself, you'll win."

Not many can know what Rose is going through as he endures the physical pain and rigors of the NBA season. He's been battling turf toe and back spasms that knocked him out of Monday's game in New Jersey. Even fewer can speak to the unique challenge the Bulls' 6-3 star faces as a relatively small man in a big man's game.

Rose understands Thomas' historical standing in both Chicago basketball and the NBA.

"... He's somebody where in Chicago, you definitely got to look up to, especially being a guard, winning championships in this league," Rose said. "[I] try to take things out of his game and put them into mine. But [he's] a cool dude. I played against his son in AAU. And he's from Chicago so I got to look up to him."

Thomas, of course, played at St. Joseph's in Westchester before going on to star for Bobby Knight at Indiana.

"It's hard to pattern your game after somebody that's great like that," Rose said. "If anything, he was a winner. His will to win, no matter how big he was on the floor, he was a small guy, but his passion for the game and how dedicated he was to playing the game."

But while some question the price Rose is paying in pursuit of an NBA title, Thomas, a 6-1 Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion with the Detroit Pistons, said he watches from his home in South Florida and applauds it.

"He's very courageous," Thomas said of his fellow Chicago native. "You've got to be courageous and you've got to make sacrifices in terms of your body to have success as a small man in the NBA and to win championships.

"And I emphasize win championships, because you can pile up statistics and great numbers playing a non-aggressive style and have a great career. But if you want to win championships, you have to pay the price and Derrick is definitely paying the price."

Thomas, a former NBA coach and executive and currently the head coach at Florida International University, said he admires Tom Thibodeau's coaching style and decision to often play Rose heavy minutes. Some have criticized Thibodeau for not resting Rose, especially late in blowouts.

"I love (Thibodeau)," Thomas said. "Chicago doesn't realize how lucky they are to have Thibodeau and Rose come together at this point in time in their careers, because you've got two people basically saying, 'Screw everybody else, we're trying to win a championship now.'"

Thomas said any talk of resting Rose in an effort to protect him from injury is foolish.

"I have a West Side mentality, and that is you're either fighting to get it or fighting to keep it," he said. "But make no mistake about it, you are always in the fight. . . . You want to sit me down and coddle me?"

Thomas played through a dislocated toe early in his career and acknowledged, "Derrick is 190 pounds getting hit by guys 240, 250, sometimes bigger, and make no mistake, the hits do hurt. You're like Sugar Ray Leonard trying to fight Mike Tyson.

"(My toe) was painful. Anything below the hips for a point guard definitely changes your game, and then for small guys, you have to be so fine-tuned that anything of that kind throws off your rhythm in terms of your knees, ankles or feet. ... What Derrick has got to transfer from is that now his greatest strength has to become his mind and not necessarily just his physical gifts."

Melissa Isaacson writes for ESPNChicago.com. Nick Friedell contributed to this report.