- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Before Friday night's game, before he led the Bulls to their first win over the Los Angeles Lakers in four years, before he drove grown men to dance in their seats like giddy teenagers, before he wowed a national crowd with 29 and 9, Derrick Rose told reporters with a straight face that he's not a star.
"He did?" Joakim Noah said. "When he plays on the court, you really believe he thinks that?"
No, of course not.
"Exactly," Noah said. "He might tell you guys that, but when he's dribbling that ball up the court, he knows what he's doing."
He knows what he's doing, all right. What he did Friday night was score 29 points, knock down three of five 3-pointers, dish out nine assists and, by force of will, lead the Bulls to their most impressive win of this young season, a wildly entertaining 88-84 victory over the defending champion Lakers.
"His swag is crazy right now," Noah said. "That's good. That's a good thing. We need that."
This wasn't just an early December win. The Bulls hadn't beaten Los Angeles since Dec. 19, 2006, and coming off disappointing losses to Orlando and Boston last week, this team needed to make a statement that it was really a player in the big picture.
Do the players feel the same way about one win?
"Of course," Rose said. "When you beat the champions, there's nothing you can say about that. We won this game fair and square."
"It feels great because I've never beat the Lake Show before," Noah said. "If you say it's just another game on the schedule, that's a lie. That's what coaches say. As players, that's not true."
In Rose's ubiquitous Bulls commercial in Chicago, he tells fans he "just wants to 'wee-un,'" stretching out the final word in his familiar Chicago dialect.
I've seen that commercial about 3,000 times, and it hasn't gotten old yet.
Rose's pure desire, clichéd as it sounds, separates him from the pretenders and the second-tier players. And it's why he is a star, Noah said, no matter the platitudes the young point guard offers up like lob passes.
"Derrick is somebody who wants to be great," Noah said. "I've never been around somebody who's so hard on himself. He really wants to be the best player he can be. He's special because, you know, he has a lot of abilities, but his mindset is what makes him so unique. I've never seen somebody with that much ability be so humble off the court, but on the court, his swag is unbelievable."
When you get two "swags" from Noah, you know you had a good game.
"What he's doing right now is unbelievable," Noah said.
In a game that defined the rising arc of his young career, Rose's most memorable move came with 5 minutes, 31 seconds to go and the Bulls up 74-67.
It was an accidental homage to the ghost he'll chase until the end of his career.
The move came on a catch-and-shoot play out of a timeout with 3 seconds on the shot clock. Rose caught the pass, faded back, off balance, into the Lakers bench. He uncorked his body and buried a 21-foot jumper.
Then, in un-Derrick-like fashion, he shrugged his shoulders, put his palms up and smiled, as if to say, "I don't know how I did that, either."
Remind you of anyone special?
OK, some conspiracy theorists on press row said he was really just gesturing to the ref, but that's not very fun. And Rose said he was giving love to the fans.
"Just the crowd," he said. "I love when the crowd be in it. They deserve it. The team is bringing excitement back to the city, along with the other sports, and we're giving people something to brag about."
Oh, and Rose hit another shot clock beater, a 15-foot fadeaway, with 25.2 seconds left to keep a dwindling lead at 85-80. He scored nine points in the fourth.
"I don't mean to bring [my agent] B.J. [Armstrong] in it, but he said that's when good players are supposed to take over a game," Rose said. "And that's all I was trying to do. And the shots, thank God, went in."
You could feel the reverberations of the Bulls' first win over the Lakers in four years all over the NBA.
The Bulls trailed early, but a 19-3 run to end the first half shook up the crowd and awakened a sleepwalking team. After that, except for Lakers spurts here and there, Chicago played to its potential, holding Los Angeles to its lowest point total of the season. Kobe Bryant needed 23 shots to get 23 points. Somewhere No. 23 is smiling.
While the Bulls got killed in the paint, getting outscored 52-30, they had a 19-8 fastbreak advantage and hit eight of 17 3-pointers.
The fans were up for this one, especially after last week's losses to Orlando and Boston, and chants of "Beat L.A." and "Kobe sucks" battled with cheers of "MVP" for Rose.
Rose said the MVP chants feel good, but he's not going to let it go to his head.
"I'm not a star," Rose said before the game. "I'm just playing in the NBA, just trying to do anything to get my team a win, just passing the ball, doing whatever. But you can see the difference between a star and a superstar, especially in this league where superstars like Kobe and other players -- there's only a few of them -- they can take over games and do it on a consistent basis."
Earlier in the day, I read some mild criticism of Rose that was linked on TrueHoop, mostly that he is too graceful going to the hoop, and thus doesn't create contact and draw enough fouls.
I doubt Rose reads TrueHoop or FreeDarko, but he agrees with the criticism.
Like Noah said, he's always hard on himself.
"Yeah, I'm learning that now," he said. "Where my whole life in the park, you try to not get fouled, because there's no fouls in the park. So you try and hit the layup or go through somebody. So my whole life I've been avoiding calls.
"Some of the things you see me do out there, I've been doing it my whole life. So it's hard to change but I'm getting used to it. Hopefully as the year goes on, I'll get to the line more."
Of course, most players grow up playing no-foul games in playgrounds and gyms, but you can see his point.
Rose didn't try too hard to create contact Friday night. He weaved through traffic, split defenders and attempted just four free throws, slightly less than his average.
Forget the negatives for right now; Rose was at his best Friday night just being himself.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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