Bulls' Rose has all the makings of a superstar, and his dream is coming true
Derrick Rose's name should be in lights, like the Chicago Theatre sign, only bigger. Put the Rose sign outside the United Center or maybe in his old neighborhood of Englewood. Or erect the sign somewhere on the Dan Ryan so frustrated commuters can have something to stare at besides the bumper six inches from their face.
If Rose's name isn't in lights, it should be on your back. If you're trying the adidas store on Michigan Ave., you better call ahead.
If Rose's name isn't in lights or on your back, it should be on your mind. What's he doing? And what nameless European is he dunking on today? Why didn't you vote for him for the All-Star Game? When are his new shoes coming out?
This is Derrick Rose's world and we're living in it, right? Right?
In a city once dominated by MJ and Oprah and lately, Obama, Rose is unquestionably the most enthralling, talented and promising athlete.
Poetically, he is the son of Chicago, the best we have to offer from our real neighborhoods. How many kids go from the Chicago Public League to the United Center in two years' time? How many could handle it if they had the talent?
Rose has so much potential, on and off the court. Sure, he still mumbles his interviews. And yes, his defense, not to mention his long-range jumper, leaves a lot to be desired. But he is the epitome of young talent and we should pay attention now, before he is fully formed.
So, when I had a few minutes to talk to him, I asked him, essentially: What do you want to accomplish in your career, Derrick?
"Everything," he said.
In the wake of the news about his jersey being the fourth-best seller in the NBA, we were talking about marketing, a word so vague, it encompasses everything but jump shots. In a brief phone conversation before the Bulls' win in Houston on Friday, Rose sounded to me like a man who knows what he wants.
"Like you see LeBron and Kobe," he said. "You want marketing to open up windows for you as a player. In the future, you never know what you're going to want to do. Some guys get into broadcasting or the movies. You'll never know what to do. Hopefully in a couple years, I'll know what I want to do."
Rose recently visited his "people" in Los Angeles, superagent Arn Tellem and Rose's personal agent, former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong. They got him in a fashion spread in GQ. They got him his deal with adidas (which sent him to China this summer, a major coup for sales), a commercial for TNT this spring, a coronation as "Chicago's Sexiest Athlete." They are working hard on making Rose a brand to be reckoned with.
"My marketing people have done a great job," he said. "I meet with my agents every time I'm out there. I love them all to death."
Tellem is as respected as anybody and Armstrong is an up-and-comer. No doubt. But what did they do to boost Rose's All-Star candidacy? The Bulls did their usual shtick, imploring fans to vote, but nothing dramatic was done by anybody. Being an All-Star isn't like being a Pro Bowler. It's a mark of distinction, a sign that you've made it. Being in the "skills competition" isn't quite the same thing.
Rose finished with 571,911 votes, according to NBA.com. Those are good numbers, to be sure, but 700,000 shy of Allen Iverson, who will start the game along with Dwyane Wade. Iverson, a resoundingly popular, at least with fans, legend, has had a 12-year head start on Rose, popularity-wise, but there's no reason that Rose should be nearly a half-million votes behind Vince Carter. Why didn't someone make a viral video for him, like Chris Bosh did two years ago?
While the Bulls are struggling for market share right now with the Blackhawks, Rose still plays in front of sellout crowds for the team that employed the most popular athlete of all-time. (No, not Rusty LaRue). He has more of a built-in advantage in a popularity contest than over-the-hill ex-superstars like Iverson and Carter.
I asked Rose if "they" had a plan to try and get him votes, and he told me about some adidas "Vote for Derrick" shirts. Where are they? I asked. I've never seen them. I called the adidas store and they had never heard of them.
"My high school team wears them as warm-ups," he said proudly.
Um, that's great for the thousand fans at Simeon games. But what about the rest of us?
"I'm speechless," he told traveling reporters. "I can't wait to get on the phone and tell my Mom. I know she'll be happy for me."
I was curious how Rose compares to other Chicago athletes. While officials with Major League Baseball and the NFL didn't get back to me, Mike DiLorenzo, the NHL's point man on social media strategy and business communications, informed me that the Blackhawks have seven players in the top 75, and more importantly, two in the top 10 -- Kane (six) and Toews (8). That's no surprise to anyone who's been to a Hawks game.
Jay Cutler had the third-highest selling jersey as of mid-November, though that seems weighted toward his popularity before the season.
Because of the variety to choose from, I can't imagine any one Cub or Sox player has a sizable advantage. (Plus, there are the rubes who put their own names on the back.)
In my completely unscientific poll to determine how popular Rose is, compared to his peers in Chicago, I went to Facebook. Rose's official group is closing in on 670,000 fans. The closest equivalent I could find, aside from Michael Jordan? Geovany Soto with 40,000 fans. Kane has around 22,000 and Toews 17,000. Brian Urlacher has around 17,000 and Carlos Zambrano 5,000. Mark Buehrle has nearly 10,000 fans. Cutler has around 14,000 in his top two groups, or about 22,000 fewer than Jay Cutler the bodybuilder.
Those are impressive numbers. I wonder if Rose realizes that?
"I don't think he knows how big he is," said Brian Venegas, a manager at the adidas store at Water Tower Place. Venegas has worked with Rose during his public appearances. He has a firsthand look at how much money Rose can generate.
"We're currently out of his jersey," Venegas said Sunday. "We usually get 15 in a shipment, and they're gone in a week."
Whenever Rose debuts a new pair of shoes, the phones start ringing, he said. Rose is getting that underground buzz.
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Rose is not shy about one thing. He absolutely wants to play in an All-Star Game. He called it "a dream." The NBA needs him there, too. No Bulls have made the game since the end of the Jordan era. For his potential, both on and off the court, it would be huge for his image.
Rose is earning some serious consideration, along with Joakim Noah, to be a substitute. After a slow start, thanks to a bum ankle, he is averaging nearly 20 points and six assists a game, shooting 47 percent (it helps he almost never takes 3-pointers), and helping a undermanned Bulls team compete for a second straight playoff spot.
With little help scoring-wise, he is starting to take over. He is averaging 26.2 points in his past five games, twice eclipsing 30. In a 115-104 win over Phoenix on Friday, he exploded over poor Goran Dragic for a two-handed slam that sent the Bulls' bench into a state of joy like a Martin Lawrence-era crowd at Def Comedy Jam.
"I got a lot of messages," Rose said of the dunk. "More than normal."
Text messages, Facebook fans, top-four jerseys. It's only the beginning. "Everything" is possible.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.