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How the Bulls’ Derrick Rose Went from Good to Great

THE TIPPING POINT: This season the soft-spoken Chicago native has blossomed into one of the most dazzling basketball players on the planet. Here’s how he did it

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Derrick Rose
Colossus of Rose: “He wants to be the best,” says Rob McClanaghan, who trained the Bulls guard in the off-season. “It’s as simple as that.” For more photos, launch the gallery »

 

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Derrick is number three

Did you ever see Michael Jordan with a one-dollar bill in his hand?

Not me. I can’t even imagine it.

Decked out in custom-made suits and diamond earrings big as Brussels sprouts, His Airness always gave the impression that he would sooner bikini-wax Dennis Rodman than mess around with chump change.

Yet there was Derrick Rose the other day, in the Bulls locker room, fishing through the pockets of his faded jeans to get a tip for the clubhouse attendant. And what did he do? He pulled out a crumpled lump of ones. Not a wad. Not a stack. A sad, crumpled little lump. He dug through the lump until he found some twenties, and he gave the clubhouse guy a nice tip. But that’s not the point.

There were people in the room, Derrick! There were cameras! An NBA star of the highest order has an image to maintain. Certain standards apply. You don’t wear a fake Rolex. You don’t eat 7-Eleven hot dogs. And you don’t touch dollar bills.

It’s all in the players’ handbook. Really, Derrick, you should read it.

On second thought, maybe hold off on that for a while. Let us enjoy this moment.

Barring injury, as the sportscasters say, this will be remembered as the year that D-Rose—22 years old and still a shy and humble kid—blossomed into a full-fledged superstar. For Walter Payton, it happened in 1977, when he rushed for 275 yards in one game, breaking the single-game record. For Jordan, it was 1984, his rookie season, when he averaged 28 points a game and his jealous All-Star Game teammates refused to pass him the ball. For Sammy Sosa, the year was 1998, when he hit 66 home runs and steroids were scarcely mentioned.

Rose is right there, on the brink, straddling the line between kid and adult, between innocence and self-awareness, between big and colossal. Which makes this a special time to see him.

The Bulls don’t look like champions yet, but this is the best team they’ve had in years, and they’ve finally got the right coach in Tom Thibodeau. If they do go all the way, this season or another, make no mistake—Rose will be the one leading them. When that happens, he will own this town like no one else.

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Photograph: Atiba Jefferson

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