- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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Late a couple of Saturday nights ago, long after the Boston Celtics had at last eliminated the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of their first-round series, I walked into the Bulls locker room at the TD Banknorth Garden to find the following:
A pair of French-speaking sportswriters interviewing Joakim Noah ... a handful of writers forming a semicircle around instant free-agent Ben Gordon ... and Derrick Rose, the NBA Rookie of the Year and former 2008 No. 1 draft pick, standing by himself as he straightened the collar of his red Izod tennis shirt.
A few days earlier, I had asked Chicago Tribune Bulls beat reporter K.C. Johnson what it was like to deal with Rose on a daily basis. I knew Rose only from covering him during the University of Memphis' Final Four appearance a season earlier. Back then he was quiet, polite, modest to a fault.
Turns out he was no different as a Bull.
"Too good to be true," said Johnson, a veteran NBA reporter.
So I introduced myself to Rose. He stares you in the eye. He doesn't big-time you. He does his best to answer your questions.
I told him that I thought some of the Celtics didn't want to see him or the Bulls anytime soon. He laughed and said, "I wouldn't say that. They're a good team. Seems like they're willing to face anybody. But we gave them a run."
A few minutes later, as Gordon was telling reporters that he wanted to stay in Chicago (for the right deal, of course), I turned and saw Bulls radio play-by-play announcer Chuck Swirsky approach Rose. I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but they were standing only a few feet away.
Swirsky shook the point guard's hand, told Rose what an absolute joy the rookie had been to watch this season, what a gentleman he was, and not to hesitate to call if he needed help with anything, including Rose's summer camp. Then he handed Rose his business card, shook his hand again and was off.
You don't see that very often. You don't see longtime NBA announcers peel back into a locker room, seek out a rookie, compliment the player on his season and his class, and then offer to help him any way they can. At least, I'd never seen it before.
Rose is special. The question is, will he stay that way?
I'm not talking about what he does on the court. The consensus among the Celtics and Bulls players, the two coaching staffs and I suppose the rest of the league is that Rose will become more of a force in this league. No, I'm talking about the non-hoops Rose.
Sports is filled with crater marks from fallen superstars. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, etc., and now Manny Ramirez have done more than just compromise the game they played. They diluted trust. They made us skeptical and cynical. They lost their way.
We want to believe in athletes. It's in our nature. Sure, it's naive and a formula for disappointment, but that doesn't stop us from searching for their better angels.
Ramirez, jettisoned for insubordination by the Boston Red Sox, became beloved as a Los Angeles Dodger after just 53 regular-season and eight playoff games in 2008. Not even an offseason contract squabble could calm Mannywood mania.
And then came last Thursday's news of Ramirez's 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy.
See you in July. Maybe.
Emerging young stars such as Rose don't need to be perfect, they just need to be true to themselves and, if possible, true to sports fans. We have enough Mannys being Mannys. We need more Derricks being Derricks.
There are no guarantees Rose will remain unspoiled. Money, fame and a sense of entitlement have ways of anesthetizing common sense. The business of the NBA, of all sports, can corrupt. It can also corrode the humility and innocence of someone as sweet as Rose.
Five years from now will Rose still look you in the eye? Will his modesty still match his scoring average?
In a perfect world, you hope so. But this is a world of imperfections, of Mannys, of casual and practiced arrogance.
It would be nice if Rose, and LeBron James, and a few handfuls of other young players could reverse the perception. In fact, it would be better than nice. It would be too good to be true.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.
2hSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann