The Rose that rose from concrete
In the words of Kanye West, he's so Chi that he's bashful.
But don't get it twisted. Don't mistake the shyness for being soft. He's not like that. What the Bulls have in Derrick Martell Rose is more than just the future of the franchise. At only 20 years old and just finishing his first full NBA regular season Wednesday night, Rose is a budding prodigy. And very soon, he'll also be able to call himself Rookie of The Year.
And now, for the kid known in almost every household from 63rd and Halsted to 76th and Wentworth as "Pooh," the player many in the city believe was a Godsend for an almost-dying franchise, this day represents where the expectations finally meet his personal and professional opportunity.
In a candid conversation, we talked about life in a city where misunderstandings can prevail, and how your legacy -- even as one of the greatest players to ever come from Chicago's concrete -- can have nothing to do with basketball.
Scoop Jackson: Has this year been what you expected?
Derrick Rose: I expected it to be kinda good. Like getting to know my teammates, I thought it would take a long time. But with 82 games, you get to learn your teammates really quick. Everything has been going good, um, we've been playing pretty well. I've been playing decent, and I'm getting to learn my new teammates: Brad Miller, Tim Thomas and John Salmons. And now we got this thing rollin'.
Jackson: Has it been difficult for you to take on the leadership role being so young? I mean, coming in it was kind of known that this was your team to a certain degree, but was the actuality behind that hard for you to get used to?
Rose: When I first came in, it was hard knowing that [I] had people on the team that were grown men, like 27 and 30 years old, that were going to be looking at me. But [I] had to lead by example. I had to let them know that I really wanted to play and that I really wanted to win. I always believed if you did that, then they'll follow you.
Jackson: Has this year changed you at all? As a person?
Rose: Yeah [sigh]. I think I've matured a little bit more -- off the court and on the court. Just looking at what my teammates do when they are off the court, when they're in their hotel rooms, they don't really go out, they don't go to, like, the fast food restaurants. They go to places where they can get grilled chicken and healthy things like that. And the way I dress, I dress totally different than I did when I was in college. I have to -- try to -- look professional. You change a lot when you are in the NBA, but I know where I came from.
ESPN.com's David Thorpe says Derrick Rose is his Rookie of the Year for 2008-09, edging out Nets big man Brook Lopez.
Jackson: OK, so for years we've always thought that you were already mature for your age. And what you are telling me now is that you are now more mature?
Rose: Yeah, I really am. I'm blessed that [we] don't have anyone on our team that's hardheaded or is a knucklehead. They're all good guys. Not that I'll ever be a knucklehead, but this year has made me feel much older. Playing all of these games, getting to know everything about the NBA, you realize that you are your own business. You have business meetings to go to, signings to go to. Like I'm only 20, but the stuff I'm doing the average 20-year-old isn't doing.
Jackson: That's interesting -- you saying that you are your own business. Because I've always said that once you sign your name on that contract you become a business, but a lot of players that come into the league don't get that. You, your family and your crew, specifically [your older brother] Reggie, you all understood that coming in, right?
Rose: Yeah. We knew coming in we wanted to get everything settled. The shoe deal, the endorsements, all that stuff. We were just trying to give ourselves a base so that everything could just grow from there.
Jackson: Has anything bad happened to you or has anyone written or said anything about you this year that you thought you couldn't handle, but you did? You know what I'm saying?
Rose: I understand exactly what you are saying, but I don't think so. People are always going to say things about [my] game. They always say that I can't shoot, or that I couldn't lead a team because I'm not that vocal, but I've always felt that if [I] lead by example, all of that stuff will come along. It will just come natural. I mean, the media has been very fair with me. I'm surprised about that. Of course, they are going to say some bad things, but that's the media. That's you all's job [laughs].
Jackson: True. How have you been able to hold it down? I mean, one of the things being said when you were coming back home was that there were going to be all of these distractions and all of this and that. Now a lot of the people saying that didn't know you and didn't know your background and where you were from. If they did, they'd know that you've never been distracted by the city, so it's not about to happen now. But still, now that the regular season's done, how have you been able to hold down being at the crib while dealing with everything that comes with you having to run a team?
Rose: My family plays a big role in it. Like my mom, she never let anything distract me when I was in grammar school [or] high school. She never let me think of myself as bigger than anyone else. And I think just living out here [in the north suburbs of Chicago], basketball-wise, helps. You have older people out here and younger kids out here, so there's nothing to do out here but chill in your house and go to a movie or something like that. Other than that, you just focus on basketball. It would probably be totally different if I lived in the city, downtown. It's just temptation down there. You always want to go out, go out to eat. I learned early in the season that if you steadily going out, steadily running around, that will wear down on you.
Jackson: Speaking of your mom, your high school coach [Robert Smith, head basketball coach at Simeon high school] once told me that your mom was so about keeping you grounded that you couldn't practice if your room wasn't clean, homework wasn't finished or whatever was supposed to be done around the house wasn't done.
Rose: Yeah, my mom used to always tell me stuff and say stuff about being responsible. I don't know, that's just my mom. She would just always say things about being responsible. She used to hate when I [didn't] make my bed in the morning. I used to get up and [not] fix my bed, and she'd tell me about how irresponsible a person is that doesn't make their bed. I mean, my mom just looks at the littlest stuff ... and it really gets to her when I do certain things that she wants me to do only because she's looking out for my best interest. Like, she just wants me to be the perfect son and the perfect person.
Jackson: Does that still weigh on you now?
Rose: Yeah! I think about her any time I do something. I hear her voice. Like, "Is my Mom going to like this?" or "How would she react to this?" When I do certain things, she's always in the back of my head.
[A huge mixed media painting of Michael Jordan hangs in the stairwell between the first and second floors of the Berto Center. Going up to do the interview Derrick and I passed the painting.]
Jackson: When I asked you about that Jordan painting in the hallway, you said to me, "Wanna get there." What did you mean by that?
Rose: Just the legacy in Chicago. You could say he's from here, his legacy is so big. I know it'll be big if, say, we change this organization around; I want to be the guy that can change it...
Jackson: Do you really want to be that guy or...
Rose: For real, I want to be that guy. As a kid, [I] wanted to always be that guy. Especially playing for my home team. That would be the best gift anyone could ever give me: to win a championship here for my hometown.
Jackson: But do you want your legacy in the city to be just about basketball?
Rose: No, not just about that. Also about helping where I'm from, the community. Just to let them know that hope is still there. Don't give up. In my era, where I'm from, I only had Donald Whiteside. He's from Englewood and he's the only one that came out of Englewood. Other than him, I really didn't have anyone else to look up to that was from my area. So in seeing him, I never gave up hope, just kept playing and then I realized that I might have a future in basketball.
Jackson: How often do you get to get back to Englewood to let them know that that hope is still possible?
Rose: Every once in a while, not as much as I'd like. I'll stop through there, make sure I don't do anything spectacular or anything, you know, just roll through to show my face and show them that I'm still here.
Jackson: Is there a part of you, though, that still wishes you could live there?
Rose: Yeah. I remember when I came back from the draft I was always in my [old] neighborhood. Like, after the draft, that summer, there was a lot of killing in my neighborhood, and my mom would be texting me and calling me all of the time, saying, "Please don't go over there," because so many bad things were happening over there. And we got into an argument about that. Because to me, I'm used to how it is over there. That's where I'm from. But, of course, I had to listen to her. So, I stopped going over there for a while. Then I just started popping up over there every once and a while. You know, just to let the people over there know...
Jackson: Is that tough to deal with? I mean, none of us wants to be tagged or labeled a "sellout" and none of us wants to be looked at as turning our backs on where we came from, but mentally you have to be: "I gotta do this [leave] but I wanna do this [stay]." At 40, it was tough for me, so I know at 20, it's gotta be hard for you.
Rose: Yeah, it's real hard. All the years I've been over there, um, all the years I've been in the area and nobody's ever touched me or anything like that. And now you're telling me that I can't go stand on the same corner I've been standing on for 13 years? Yeah, it's hard. Not seeing people that I grew up around while living in the same city. Not seeing my friends anymore. I had to know it was going to change one day.
Jackson: But do you understand why it has to change?
Rose: Of course, I do. Things change. People get greedy. People see me differently now, they see me on a certain stage now and anything can happen. Like, I have friends over there that understand automatically. But then there are friends that are over there that I haven't seen in like a year or so and they don't.
Jackson: Do you miss it?
Rose: I miss some of it. I miss going to the malls in the 'hood to hang out or just hanging at one of my guys' houses for a couple of hours. Now they have to come out to my house instead of me just going to the city. But out here, I stay focused out here.
Jackson: What is the worst, most inaccurate thing someone can say or think about you?
Rose: That I'm mean or that I'm soft. People think that I'm mean because I'm quiet, and I don't really go out places or because I don't really say too much. On the other hand, people think that I'm soft because I may not handle myself the way other people handle themselves. That's just not me. They don't know my background or none of that stuff. They just automatically assume that [I'm] soft.
Jackson: Is any part of those two true?
Rose: Not at all. Not at all. Me being mean, I'm just not a talkative person. Not until I get to know you, you know, watch you a little bit before I talk to you.
Jackson: But you've always been that way.
Rose: Always. For people that know me, they know I've always been that way. And for being soft ... I'm far from it.
Jackson: Do you work to try to prove the people who may be thinking that wrong?
Rose: Yeah. Especially when I'm on the court. I think people are starting to believe that I can play a little bit. That I can play in this league, a little bit. I mean, I still have a long way to go and, hopefully, one day people will look up to me in this league.
Jackson: That said, where do you see your basketball life when your next contract comes up?
Rose: Hopefully, I'll be one of the best players at my position in the NBA. Hopefully, you'll see me in commercials like Dwyane Wade and LeBron [James]. And definitely doing more things with some kids. NBA Cares stuff, charity stuff. I really think about that a lot because they really look up to us. Oh, and spoiling my mom.
Jackson: You mentioned LeBron -- have you had a chance to talk to him about your situation? I only ask because of the similarities. Him getting drafted by his hometown team and having the pressure of carrying a franchise, you basically being looked at to do the same just five years later.
Rose: No. I've never had the chance to sit down and talk to him about that.
Jackson: If you had the chance, do you think you'd like to sit down and chop it up with him about that, or do you think you're handling it pretty well without any advice?
Rose: No, I'd love to sit down and talk with him about how to handle this [laughs].
Jackson: Maybe I'm being presumptuous, but knowing the type of person you are, it seems like winning the Rookie of the Year doesn't mean anything to you. I mean, like you can live with or without it.
Rose: Honestly? The minute I heard them say that the No. 1 pick in the draft -- and I'm a guard -- wasn't even being considered for winning the Rookie of the Year, I went right to work. I went right to the gym. I wanted to prove them wrong. I'm the type of person that needs something to push me. And the people around me, like my friends and people in my family, they know it, too. So they feed me things, they tell me things that someone said about me or something someone wrote, they know that'll get me. I'm the type of person that looks for that. One little thing. Something someone wrote, something a coach said, something from someone who doubts or don't expect something from me, or they think that I can't do something ... I hold on to it.
Jackson: You won't publicly come out and say, if you win it, "Now what?" to the people that doubted you, though, would you?
Rose: No. That's not me. But to my friends, I'll probably say something like, "What'd I tell you."
Jackson: Has all of this sunk in yet with you? I mean, the chances of you getting to play here were probably less than the 1.7 percent chance the Bulls had in getting the first pick in the draft. And now look. I guess what I'm asking is: At any point during this season, did you just sit back and ask why this happened? Ever wondered why you and why here in Chicago?
Rose: God. That's the only answer I came up with. I guess because I've been trying to do everything right. I'm not treating people wrong, I've been on the positive side, doing everything I need to do. Just trying to be a good person. I guess that's why this is happening to me.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.