Derrick Rose never thought he would see the city of Chicago in his rearview mirror.
Nor did he image that one summer afternoon his driver would pull up to Madison Square Garden and he would be greeted by a giant electronic picture of himself in a Knicks uniform on the building’s Seventh Avenue marquee.
Rose always thought he was a lifer when it came to the Windy City. He was born there, learned the game there and never dreamed of playing anywhere else, even after all the injuries when it seemed that a portion of the city and basketball fans had soured on him the last couple of years. So on Friday, a full 48 hours after learning that the Bulls had traded him to the Knicks, Rose looked as if he was trying to absorb the fact for the first time since the Bulls took him with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft, he will not be wearing their uniform.
“It still don’t feel real,” he told reporters Friday at Madison Square Garden. “Driving in and just seeing my name on the billboard outside side of the building. It blew me away a little bit. It probably really won’t hit me until I step on the court and actually have a jersey … Chicago is more than just a home. It grew me into the man I am today.”
Yet, to become the player he needs to be tomorrow, Rose had to leave. So say several observers who believe that stepping away from the pressure of being the hometown hero may be the best thing that could happen to Rose and his game.
“Sometimes it’s good for players to get away,” said Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, who is also from Chicago, albeit the suburbs. “Obviously, after he won the MVP, he was from Chicago and there was a lot of pressure on him out there. There’s a lot of pressure in New York, but he’s not going to be the hometown guy trying to carry a team by himself. Hopefully, that will release a little of the pressure from his play and he can have fun.”
John Calipari, who coached Rose at the University of Memphis, said he talked with Rose and he realizes that the best thing for his career right now is to move on.
“He said, ‘Coach, you know I love Chicago, you know what I wanted to do here, great experience, the fans. But I’m excited about the next step, the next phase,” Calipari said on ESPN radio. “And I said to him, ‘You know what? It’s time to hit the restart button and go back to where you were.”
For the first three years of his NBA career, Rose was considered the most dominant young point guard in the game. His first season, he was rookie of the year. His second, he was an All-Star. And his third, 2010-11, he was the league’s MVP.
Rose seemed to have everything going for him before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in a 2012 playoff game. He would play in just 10 games the next two seasons as he suffered another knee injury when he tried to return. Suddenly, the same city that had celebrated him, was deriding him as soft. Though he played the last two seasons, he never returned to All-Star form and there were growing questions about his ability to get along with fellow guard Jimmy Butler.
Rose was working out with his personal trainer in California when news of the trade came through. The Rose who appeared Friday at Madison Square Garden wearing a Knicks golf shirt looked a little worn out like he was still trying to absorb the turn events over the past two days.
“I don’t know why I was traded. But I would like to tell them thank you,” Rose said Friday. “Giving me another star. I’m grateful to be where I’m at. I could be anywhere. But to be in this market to be in a city with a legacy and history of basketball. ….I’m grateful to be her. I feel like they’re going to appreciate me a little more.”
Rose was asked if there was something liberating about no longer being the hometown hero.
“Yeah, but it’s really going to take me living here,” he said. “I can tell you, I hope it’s going to do that. Coming here, I’m taking it as this is business. For one, I want to have fun. I want to be happy and I wanted to be excited about what I’m doing. I want to be wining a long the way. I think winning covers every category for an athlete. I want to enjoy for teammates.”
That’s a long wish list and the Knicks would be more than happy if it all works out for him. Yet, even though he will be wearing a new uniform and have new teammates, Rose wanted to send a message to his fans back in the Windy City that he is not forgetting them.
Rose has requested to change his jersey number from No. 1 to 25, the same number he wore in high school at Simeon Career Academy. For years, all the best players at Simeon High school wore No. 25, in honor of Simeon legend Ben Wilson, at top high school player who was shot and killed the day before his senior season opened in 1984.
Said Rose: “I know there’s a lot of people back home who are very surprised by this move. So, I’m not forgetting about them. We’re just taking this to New York. That’s why I wear 25. So they are there with me.”