- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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DEERFIELD, Ill. -- John Salmons is a pretty laid-back dude. But if you ever want to see him show real emotion -- in this case, disgust -- ask him whether he thinks his teammate Derrick Rose is sexy.
"I don't know nothing about that," he replied to a questioner, visibly disturbed.
Joakim Noah is 180 degrees different, personality-wise, from Salmons. He's known from Gainesville, Fla., to "gay Paree" for his freewheeling ways. But he had the same reaction to the questions about the attractiveness of his teammate. He will rave about Rose's skills all day, but his looks?
"I've never been asked questions like this before," he said.
The reason for such nervousness was Rose's nomination as Victoria Secret's "Sexiest Athlete in Chicago." Supermodel Marisa Miller was in attendance to bestow the honor on the Bulls star. Miller, who weighs as much as one of Jerome James' size 23 sneakers, was a rare sight at the suburban Berto Center. It's not every day you see someone with a personal hair-spray artist, even with Vinny Del Negro around.
"I met Derrick last night," Miller said. "He has long eyelashes and these gorgeous eyes, so he's sexy."
Some would argue Rose brought the sexy back to the Bulls last season, when the No. 1 draft pick almost led Chicago to an upset series victory over Boston in the playoffs. When someone asked him whether he would rather be Rookie of the Year (which he was last season) or Sexiest Athlete, he thoughtfully paused.
"I'd have to say Rookie of the Year," he said. "I don't care about being sexy."
Rose is not the most eloquent public speaker, but you can tell he speaks from the heart. He is charmingly honest in most situations, and it's a breath of fresh air. When I hear LeBron James speak, I wonder what is real and what is image cultivation. Every utterance from Michael Jordan was designed to promote or provoke. Rose is still trying find his voice.
Rose admitted he had never heard of Miller, a Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover girl, but after looking at some pictures, he declared, "she was looking pretty good." He brought her a bouquet of roses Thursday, and received a Bulls jersey with his No. 1 and a new surname: Sexy. This earned him heckles from the cultured and experienced Noah: "Don't let it go to your head." But he's enjoying the world beyond basketball. I have an inkling that this is a new phenomenon for him.
"It's fun," he said of the hoopla. "I'm young, living it up right now. Just doing everything to keep it positive."
The best part of the distraction was it kept Rose's mind off basketball, if only for a second. The 21-year-old is going to have to deal with professional pressures for the next three presidential terms. He is in an enviable position as hometown hero, but a challenging one as well. And it doesn't help that his injured ankle has limited his preseason work to almost nothing.
Rose participated in practice for about 40 minutes Thursday, running and shooting, with a brace on his balky right ankle. Will he play in Friday's exhibition finale?
"I asked them if I could get some minutes, just one or two to get the feel of the game," he said. "But they said they'll see."
The Bulls need Rose healthy now. They open the regular season Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs. Then they go to Boston in the first of 22 back-to-backs this season. After that it's off to Miami, home against Milwaukee and at Cleveland. That's in the first week. The Bulls play three of their ensuing four at home, before going on the circus trip, six games in two weeks, all but one against Western Conference teams.
The Bulls have the continuity and the talent, even without Ben Gordon, who signed with the Detroit Pistons as a free agent. Del Negro seems more relaxed and confident in his team. Noah was working on his post moves with big man coach Sidney Green for a half-hour after practice until sweat soaked through his shirt. Aside from the schedule, there is no reason for the team to get off to a bad start.
Injuries have interrupted the team's preparation, though the Bulls are 5-2 this preseason. Rose has been out the past three weeks and Tyrus Thomas has missed around two weeks with a hip injury. Brad Miller has missed time because of the flu, and Salmons was absent for a while tending to his pregnant wife.
The team isn't in shambles, but it's far from a well-oiled machine.
"We've got to get better offensively and defensively," Noah said. "And not worry about the Victoria's Secret models."
Raise your hand if you thought you'd ever hear that sentence from Noah, who earned Internet street cred from some pictures of him frolicking on a beach this summer.
The Bulls have been fortunate to get a chance to play their preseason under the radar. Rose's team has been pushed to the back burner in Chicago, thanks to Jay Cutler fever and the Blackhawks' continuing rise in popularity, but there is no Chicago athlete with more promise than the quiet kid from Simeon Career Academy.
Much is expected of him.
"Hopefully he comes back ready to go," Noah said.
As for Rose's rise to Sexiest Athlete?
"I hope he wins," Noah said. "More power to the Bulls."
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Victoria's Secret calls him sexy. The Bulls hope they can call Derrick Rose healthy.