Four years into his NBA career, Derrick Rose has earned millions of dollars, gained global popularity, and become the leader of a championship-contending team. So what continues to push Chicago’s prodigal son to work like an underdog? Following a major injury that threatens his future, now it’s the challenge of rebuilding his game to an MVP level.
Here is the cover story from Dime #69 on the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…
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The play’s the thing,
wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.
Shakespeare wrote those lines for Hamlet, and in the context of his story, for an entirely darker purpose than their application in this story. Hamlet was trying to solve his father’s murder—we’re just talking about basketball.
The King, in this case, could be LeBron James. He was the one bestowed the royal nickname in high school, the one now cast as the bad guy leading the Miami Heat toward becoming the NBA’s villainous version of baseball’s Yankees.
Or the King could be Kobe Bryant, the highest-ranking active player on almost every expert’s list of the game’s all-time greats, the veteran professor at 33 still schooling his ambitious successors on the court.
Or it could be Kevin Durant, owner of three NBA scoring titles and a full decade younger than Kobe, the lion without a mane putting in his early bid for King of the pride – vying to be the face of the league’s next generation.
The King could even be Michael Jordan. More than just a man in basketball culture, MJ is the ghost who – like the spirit of Hamlet’s father – represents the near-unattainable ideal for this story’s hero.
That hero would be Derrick Rose, 23-year-old point guard of the Chicago Bulls.
In the follow-up to last year’s MVP campaign, Rose averaged 21.8 points and a career-high 7.9 assists over this year’s lockout-shortened, 66-game regular season. He led the Bulls to the best record in the league (50-16, tied with San Antonio) and the No. 1 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.
The team success is crucial in perspective, because it puts Rose in a position that neither Kobe nor Jordan nor dozens of other Basketball Hall of Famers could claim – unquestioned leader of a serious championship contender by his fourth pro season.
Rose’s popularity has also never been greater. In February, more than 1.5 million fans voted for him to start in the NBA All-Star Game, the third-highest total behind Dwight Howard and Kobe. In April, the NBA Store released its list of top-selling jerseys, on which Rose ranked No. 1 ahead of New York sensation Jeremy Lin, Kobe, LeBron and New York’s Carmelo Anthony. At the end of the regular season, the Bulls ranked No. 1 in the league in overall attendance, drawing an average of 22,000-plus at home and almost 18,000 on the road.
That Rose has reached such heights as a player is no brain teaser. He has always been among the best at his level, dating back to his high school days at Simeon Career Academy in Chicago, to his one-year stint at the University of Memphis – where he led the Tigers to the NCAA national championship game – to his NBA career that began by being picked No. 1 in the draft by the Bulls, included a Rookie of the Year award in 2009, and has so far been headlined by becoming the youngest MVP in league history two years later.
How he came to be a cultural icon and bona fide celebrity is more complicated.
Playing in a major market certainly helps, but Chicago hype still doesn’t match New York or L.A. hype. A healthy collection of endorsement deals helps, but Rose still doesn’t even speak in some of his commercials. He is in the public eye, no doubt, but he is not the most visible athlete. His face doesn’t pop up in tabloids and on red carpets. His name doesn’t pop up in the headlines of national sports columnists every week, his game being picked apart for every failure and immortalized for every success.
The key to Derrick Rose’s abnormal fame could be in his refreshingly normal façade. There is no way to quantify it, but I believe Rose resonates with fans because he is the most authentic basketball superstar we’ve seen since Allen Iverson.
All of that popularity and praise, however, will not buy Rose the thing he wants most out of his profession. His motivation remains to bring an NBA championship back to Chicago.
The story of Rose’s rise to power and prestige, in many ways, parallels that of Hamlet: motivated by legacy and pride and just a bit of bloodlust, aiming to catch the King – whoever he is – and assume the throne many in his domain (Chi-town) view as a birthright since his predecessor (Jordan) last wore the crown.
And to pull it off without falling apart in the process.