Returning champion

Rose makes pop culture waves as he battles back to Bulls from injury

  • Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Tribune…)
December 11, 2012|By Mick Swasko, @mickswasko | RedEye

Derrick Rose hasn't set foot on the hardwood since he tore his ACL in April, but he's certainly held court in 2012 pop culture.

No. 1 draft pick. Rookie of the year. The first Bulls All-Star since Michael Jordan. The league's youngest-ever MVP. Rose already had those bullet points on his resume heading into last season. As he works toward his return to the court, he has made waves off of it, and Chicago can't get enough of the 24-year-old.

As if Rose wasn't Chicago enough—he grew up in Englewood and played ball at Simeon Career Academy in Chatham—he entrenched himself further in the city this year. In March, he dropped $2.8 million for a condo in Trump Tower. In September, he announced the launch of the D Rose 3 shoe as part of his lifetime contract with Adidas, footwear loaded with symbols from his childhood in Chicago. He also acquired an equity stake in and became a spokesman for city staple Giordano's Pizza. In November, he and his girlfriend introduced their new son, P.J., to the city via Twitter. Three photos got nearly 15,000 shares on the site.

For all those reasons and more, Rose is

RedEye's 2012 Pop Person of the Year, our annual acknowledgment of the person—or people—who have had the greatest impact on pop culture, for better or worse. He joins the likes of Melissa McCarthy (2011), Kanye West (2010) and Lady Gaga (2009) in the annals of news, sports and gossip.

His efforts to get back on the court have been well documented. "The Return," a series of videos he executive-produced in conjunction with Adidas, chronicled his impassioned journey to regain his strength. The six-part Web series focused not just on his recovery, but also his following.

"My true fans, they know, man. I'm never gonna stop. I know I got my family, my friends and the city behind me. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for my fans," he says in the final episode. "That's my life. That's what you're not understanding. I would die on that court. Like, die. I'm gonna go all in for it."

Rose showed similar emotion at the launch of the D Rose 3 in September, a month in which Chicago saw 41 homicides. When asked about the inspiration he gets from his fans, he teared up at the press conference.

"It's truly a blessing, man. With all this stuff that's going on in this city, a kid from Englewood's got something positive going on, that makes me feel so good, man," he said. "I went through so much, to have, like, true fans, it means a lot to me and I know it means a lot to my family. Because we aren't supposed to be here, at all, but God made the way. This is truly unreal, I'm just happy I have true fans out there."

"Sometimes athletes represent our fantasies," says Columbia College associate professor Erin McCarthy, who has taught and studied sports history. But Rose, she says, isn't about showing off fancy cars or expensive jewelry. This year, he's spent time off the court buying a home, having a child and investing long-term in the city where he grew up, all while remaining humble about his achievements. That makes him all the more endearing.

"I think it's a very challenging thing when someone has exceptional talent all their lives, they are told the rules don't apply to them," she said. "I think people notice that, he's got the talent, but he seems to be not succumbing to the temptation or lifestyles many of his peers do."

Marc Silverman, co-host of ESPN radio's "Waddle and Silvy," said Rose's selflessness on and off the court makes him beloved.

"How many humble athletes do you know?" he said. "That's an oxymoron, isn't it?"

Stacey King, former Bulls player and color commentator for the team, said it's all what-you-see-is-what-you-get with jersey No. 1, and that's not about to change.

"He hasn't changed one bit. That's great to see because a lot of times those successes that come early [for young players], it's common knowledge that they change a little bit," he said, adding that the only way Rose will change is if people make him, which is unlikely given the close guard kept by family and friends.

King said Rose represents the next-best hope for fans itching to return to the days of the dynasty.

"It's like Halley's Comet, you see it once every 100 years," he said. "Michael Jordan came through here and he was like Halley's Comet, you didn't think you would see it again so soon."

King, along with every other Bulls fan, is eager to see the star return. Most recent reports indicate Rose is close to practicing with the team, and may return to the court in February. While it remains to be seen if he's the same athlete, King is hopeful.

"He's going to put every ounce of sweat, every ounce of blood, every ounce of tears to get back to what he needs to be," he said. "He bleeds this Chicago Bulls team."

mswasko@tribune.com

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