Anyone who has spent time with Derrick Rose recently has come away with a similar conclusion: The former Bull and current Piston is in a good place.
In the first season of a two-year, $15 million deal with the Pistons, Rose visits the United Center for the second time this season Wednesday. His last visit on Nov. 1 prompted a standing ovation and chants of “MVP! MVP!” for the hometown product.
Rose is 2-1 as a visiting player at the United Center. In advance of his fourth appearance — one with the Knicks, one with the Timberwolves, two with the Pistons — Rose sat down with NBC Sports Chicago Pregame and Postgame Live analyst Will Perdue to address a wide variety of topics.
Now 31 and over eight years removed from becoming the youngest most valuable player in NBA history with the Bulls, Rose agreed with Perdue’s assessment that this may be the best he has felt mentally, physically and emotionally.
“I believe so,” Rose said. “I’ve been through a lot. I was a kid when I first started off here. I was shy to the media. I didn’t want to talk to the media at all. It was a learning process. And I didn’t have a mentor at the time. (Agent) B.J. (Armstrong) could do all that he could do. But he never had the talent that I had or the spotlight that I had. He kind of let me just learn by actually just thrusting me in there and letting me figure it out myself.”
That, of course, led to a turbulent period when Rose’s knee injuries and surgeries began piling up, ultimately leading to his trade to the Knicks in June 2016. The trade stung Rose emotionally.
Nevertheless, he told Perdue playing in his hometown still was the best place for him early in his career, even if the considerable shadow of Michael Jordan loomed.
“My story is my story,” Rose said. “I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way but how it played out. I achieved a lot here. I loved it here. This is my hometown. But when I look at the old footage of the documentary, it kind of remind me of a younger Mike Tyson in a way where you got this talented, gifted individual and they’re just locked into their craft. And they don’t care about what’s going on on the outside. They don’t care about who they’re getting compared to. I didn’t care who I was getting compared to. And I looked at it where MJ was a two guard. I’m a point guard. So how can you compare me?”
Rose’s ascent at times seemed too good to be true. The No. 1 overall pick. Rookie of the Year. First Bulls All-Star since Jordan. Youngest MVP in league history. His injury-plagued fall from grace seemed just as swift.
And it led to considerable second-guessing when Rose sat out the 2012-13 season following his first knee surgery to repair the torn left ACL he suffered in the 2012 playoffs against the Knicks. Generally speaking, he grew more guarded in his media appearances.
“Once I got all that thrown on me and the way people were like coming at me, like you said I wanted to be stubborn. I wasn’t going to change who I was,” Rose said. “Why should I elaborate on an answer when I know you’re going to kill me in the paper the next day? Where I know that you don’t like me as a person, why should I give you my real answer? No, I’m going to act like I don’t want to talk to you. And that’s that.”
Never mind that Rose’s decision is now the norm and load management has become all the rage in today’s NBA. Warriors guard Klay Thompson is expected to miss all this season after tearing his ACL. Kawhi Leonard maximized load management to help lead the Raptors to last season’s NBA title.
“I mean, it was just a different time in the sports world period,” Rose said of his decision. “Now we have the term load management. I don’t think I would’ve taken it as far as Kawhi as far as like they’re really being cautious about his injury or whatever he has. But if load management would’ve been around, who knows? I probably would’ve still been a Chicago Bull by now. But it wasn’t around.
“I was doing what was best for myself and my family. Around that time, I had to think solely for myself. My family was telling me one thing. They really didn’t care. They were just worried about if I was healthy and my mental was all right. When I was around them, they knew I was all right. It was just the outside that was wondering what was going on. And once I figured things out then, it was just a smooth ride until I got traded.”
Already this season, Rookie of the Year favorite and fellow No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has yet to play for the Pelicans after undergoing surgery to repair a torn right meniscus. At 6 feet, 6 inches and 285 pounds, Williamson plays with a viciousness and torque that recalls a young Rose.
Asked by Perdue what advice he’d give to Williamson, Rose offered eloquence and experience.
“I mean, it’s a lot. First is your weight,” Rose said. “I remember playing for the USA teams and I think my second time we were going and seeing all these doctors and I was getting all these MRIs and I was still feeling pain in my knees certain days. It all came down to my weight. Nobody said nothing about my weight. I think I was around 212 or 214 (pounds) at the time. I was too heavy. It was the little things. I had to watch my diet. Once I watched my diet, I was fine. That was something I didn’t have to worry about.
“But Zion is in his own lane. Just being that heavy, playing the way that he plays, he’s explosive. He’s an athlete I think nobody never saw before. His path is going to be totally different than mine, you know what I mean? He has to, for one, learn the league. I had a chance to learn the league, play through my mistakes and I got injured Year 3 or 4. He got injured right away. So he has to learn his body right away, learn the league, learn what his skills are, work on his skills.”
When Rose scored 50 points last season with the Timberwolves, the outpouring of praise from around the league felt universal. Rose’s ability to persevere and endure his physical travails to still impact games has resonated.
“Me and BJ talk about this a lot and I think it’s the struggle,” Rose said. “Everybody struggles in life. A lot of people pretend and act like they don’t. And you wear a mask the majority of the day or a lot of people wear the majority of their life and try to hide the dark side or the down days. My down days were on TV. It was publicized. So I wasn’t able to hide like that.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why I have a calm temper. Leading up to all (these) dramatics and me leaving and everything, the whirlwind I was in, the eye of the storm, I always stayed calm. I think that’s just part of who I am, my character.”
Rose didn’t wade much into the speculative game as to whether or not the Tom Thibodeau-coached teams would’ve won an NBA title had he not gotten injured.
“I mean, that’s a lot of ifs,” Rose said. “That was something we were fighting for. I think we were very focused and locked in on that. That was one of the goals. But that was something that was in the past. And them memories, we will always cherish. But we’re going to leave that in the past.”
Or even if he could see a return one day to the Bulls, who he led to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.
“I mean, like I always say, you probably have to ask (Chairman) Jerry (Reinsdorf) about that,” Rose said. “I have one more year on this deal. I’m here for two years. After next year, I’ll be a free agent. Who knows? That’s how I’m going to leave that.”
But it’s clear Rose appreciated his time in Chicago. He has said he hopes his oldest son, P.J., grows up like Joakim Noah, one of his close friends.
“I mean, Jo, I think he wouldn’t mind me saying this, he grew up a silver spoon. I call him soft socks,” Rose said. “That’s no knock for people who grew up like him. I used to ask him a lot of questions when he was on the team. I mean, like from grammar school, high school, college, just ask him the activities that he got into when he was older because he had access to everything. He was financially stable. His parents were around here and there.
“I used to ask about some of the diplomatic schools he used to attend in New York and how he’d travel to France and internationally. This whole time, I’m keeping tips. I’m keeping them in my head because it’s like, ‘All right, when my son grows up, he’s going to be in the exact same position as Joakim.’ . . . What drew me to Joakim is his mentality, how he’s independent. He’s not living off his Pops’ legacy. He has made his own legacy in a way. That’s something that I always loved and I was drawn to.”
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.