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Early Bloomer
November 24, 2008
Ten years after the departure of Michael Jordan, the Bulls finally have a player they can build around in No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose, a native son who quickly has become the face of the franchise
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November 24, 2008

Early Bloomer

Ten years after the departure of Michael Jordan, the Bulls finally have a player they can build around in No. 1 draft pick Derrick Rose, a native son who quickly has become the face of the franchise

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DERRICK ROSE, BULLS ('08) 18.9 5.0 5.6 1.20 46.8
Mike Conley, Grizzlies ('07) 9.4 2.6 4.2 0.83 42.8
Deron Williams, Jazz ('05) 10.8 2.4 4.5 0.75 42.1
Chris Paul, Hornets ('05) 16.1 5.1 7.8 2.24 43.0
Raymond Felton, Bobcats ('05) 11.9 3.3 5.6 1.28 39.1

WATCHING A Chicago Bulls game with Dwayne Rose was an agonizing experience. In the final moments of the most crucial playoff games, Dwayne would become overwhelmed with anxiety, unable to stand the suspense. The oldest of the four Rose brothers—and thus the one in charge of the remote control—would without warning turn off the television just as the ball made its way into Michael Jordan's hands. Dwayne's brothers would scream at him. They would threaten him with bodily harm. And then they would grudgingly sit in their home on the South Side of Chicago in complete silence. "We had to listen for the reaction in the neighborhood," says Reggie, the second-oldest brother. "If everybody went crazy, you knew [Jordan] made the shot."

On a recent November evening Reggie, 33, and brother Allan, 27, are now watching the Bulls from the front row of a luxury suite at the United Center, where no one can extinguish their view. Dwayne, 37, is standing toward the back, where he can turn away when the tension mounts. And the youngest Rose—who missed Jordan's championship-winning shot against the Utah Jazz in the 1998 Finals, thanks to Dwayne—is down on the court, trying to assume a mantle that no one in Chicago has been able to wear. Fortunately for the Bulls, Derrick Rose's nerves are stronger than Dwayne's.

"When I'm sitting in the locker room before games, I think about the history of this team, all those great players, what it was like in Chicago then," Derrick says. "I want to get back to those days. I know a lot of pressure comes with that, but I want it. I want the pressure on me. I would be more worried if it wasn't there."

Rose is 20 years old, five months past being drafted No. 1 as a freshman out of Memphis and three weeks into his first NBA season. The Bulls' starting point guard, he is already their best player. His style is vintage Chicago, solid and low-key. Rose does not pump his fists or pound his chest. He does not talk on the court, other than an occasional mumble. He comes across as sleepy-eyed and almost bored, nibbling the corner of his mouthpiece during breaks in the action. "Nobody ever knows what I'm thinking," says Rose. But just when defenders look as if they too are about to settle in for a nap, Rose goes from zero to 60 with a single sneaker-squeak. At 6'3" and 190 pounds he is a blur of broad shoulders, quick enough to beat guards into the paint and strong enough to absorb contact once he gets there.

At week's end Rose was averaging 18.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 2.5 turnovers, and for now his numbers are the ones that give fans hope. The Bulls, at 5--5, are no title contender, but at least they have a bona fide franchise player for the first time in 10 years. "Since Derrick came back to Chicago, only one thing has been able to overshadow him," says Thomas Green, the basketball coach at Beasley Academic Center, which Rose attended through eighth grade. "And that was the election of Barack Obama."

The top pick always draws intense scrutiny, but Rose happens to play his home games for a fan base that has been following him since he was at Beasley. When he settles for a layup in the lane, season-ticket holder Brian Johnson shouts from his seat in the third row, "Dunk the ball, Derrick! I've seen you do it since the eighth grade!" Before his varsity debut Rose's AAU coach, Harvey Hampton, called him the best point guard from Chicago since Isiah Thomas. When Rose was in high school, at Simeon Career Academy, he played pickup games with Jordan's two sons at Jordan's house. After losing the national championship game to Kansas in overtime last April, he cried on the shoulder of Jesse Jackson. "Your scars make your stars," the Chicago-based minister whispered into Rose's ear. And on the night of the draft, when Obama was asked whom the Bulls should take with the first pick, the senator from Illinois and former South Side community organizer declared, "Derrick Rose is the man." When the Bulls introduced their draft choice at a press conference five days later inside the United Center's Chicago Stadium Club, they placed a long-stemmed rose on every seat.

"The buzz here right now," says Tommy Edwards, "reminds you of somebody else."

EDWARDS BEGAN his first stint as the Bulls' public-address announcer in 1976, and like a lot of people in this organization his profile grew with Jordan's. Pregame introductions at the old Chicago Stadium became a spectacle punctuated by a grand finale. "They always introduced Jordan last," says Dwayne. "And now, from North Carolina, Michael Jordan! It got so loud after 'North Carolina' that you couldn't hear Jordan's name."

Before this season Edwards was told by Bulls higher-ups to introduce Rose last, an honor usually bestowed upon a veteran player, most recently guard Kirk Hinrich. Rose requested, with a nudge from the team's marketing department, that he also be introduced as "from Chicago," not "from Memphis." On opening night, when Edwards boomed frrrom Chicago, the roar was so loud that Dwayne never heard his brother's name. Reggie cried in the suite. Their mother, Brenda, shouted, "That's my baby!"

Unlike LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and every other NBA star who has been burdened by comparisons to you-know-who, Rose has a game that's nothing like Jordan's. His whole life, coaches and teammates have been imploring him to shoot. At Beasley he usually scored five or six points, while other players poured in more than 20. He led Simeon to a victory in the state championship game as a senior by handing out eight assists and scoring just two points. Players from other schools wanted to transfer to Simeon just to be on the end of Rose's passes.

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