CHICAGO — Every time Derrick Rose comes back to the United Center, it feels like the first time. Even when it’s the second time in three days.
It’s even more meaningful when he gets to play.
On Friday night, he entertained a full crowd of Chicago and New York reporters, two days after the previous “D-Rose is back!” news cycle.
It’s been more than a decade since he was the MVP of Chicago’s heart. The former Chicago prep stars who really contributed Friday night were Jalen Brunson and Ayo Dosunmu. But Rose is still a magnetic presence at his old stomping grounds.
With just over 4 minutes left in a blowout Knicks win, Rose, who is out of the Knicks rotation, raced from the tunnel onto the court to check in for the first time and the crowd ripped up in applause. When he entered the game, he got a standing ovation. When he hit a 3, he got MVP chants. When Rose committed a foul, he got louder cheers than any Bulls player got all night. Yes, Bulls fans were on their feet, loud and buoyant, at the end of a 114-91 loss.
It’s still Rose’s town.
Were the Bulls players upset about a visitor getting showered with applause? Not this time. They live in reality. “That’s Derrick Rose, man,” DeMar DeRozan said. “That’s Derrick Rose.”
Forever from Chicago ? pic.twitter.com/hrnhUZNldp
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) December 17, 2022
Since getting traded in 2016, Rose has played here five times with the Knicks, Timberwolves, Pistons and Knicks again. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of some good old-fashioned reminiscing.
Hey, it’s either that or write about the Bulls getting trounced at home by the Knicks for the second time this week. I’m not saying the Knicks were confident they were going to go 2-0 on this Chicago trip, but I saw beloved grump Tom Thibodeau give fist-bumps to fans and even take a selfie on his way back onto the court after the first half.
The impetus for Round 2 was CHGO personality Mark Carman asking Thibodeau if Rose’s number should be retired by the Bulls one day. Given that Thibs has signed Rose in his two post-Chicago coaching stops, he’s perfectly agreeable with the idea, which has been percolating in Chicago sports talk and Twitter circles for years.
“That would be a question really for the Bulls organization,” Thibodeau said. “I’m hopeful. My opinion is he is deserving. I’d love to see it. I think there were a few players that were on that team that deserve consideration to be up there. And so, what Derrick did for this organization, what he did for the city and what the city and the organization did for him, as well — I’d love to see it. In my opinion, he’s a Hall of Fame player.”
Rose said he mostly thinks about that possibility when he’s asked about it, which is probably every time he comes back to play the Bulls. It would be more for “my family members to see that and the people that have supported me all these years to be part of it, that would be cool.”
For basketball and nostalgia reasons, it’s a no-brainer. For the first time since Michael Jordan crossed over Bryon Russell, Rose brought back a sense of wonder to the Bulls. For a too-brief, wonderful period, Rose was the biggest star in the city, a one-man show that had to be seen to be believed.
The Bulls don’t give out Rose’s No. 1 jersey anymore, after the overwhelming negative reaction when they briefly assigned it to both Michael Carter-Williams and Anthony Morrow. Bulls Twitter wasn’t having it.
“I’m sorry the guys had to go through that,” Rose said with a laugh. “But yeah, if they decide to (retire the number), it would be dope, not only for me but for my family.”
That game would definitely sell out. Rose is still loved here. And I think a big part of retiring Rose’s number would be to honor his Chicago legacy.
On Friday, it was kind of depressing for most of the game. The only time he left the Knicks bench was to ride an exercise bike in the tunnel, but every time he did it, he got love from the nearby fans. Four years ago, when he came back with the Timberwolves, he got “MVP” chants when he scored 24 points to beat the Bulls during the dark days of Jim Boylen.
“I had to crack a smile a little bit,” Rose said after that Dec. 26, 2018, game. “It made me reminisce about some of the old days and how grateful I was to be in that position at a young age.”
The youngest MVP in league history never got that elusive championship, of course, and he never could regain his top form after multiple knee surgeries. After an interminable absence and years of up-and-down play, the end came swiftly in Chicago and then he was gone. (Shortly after getting dealt, Rose was found not liable for sexual assault in a Los Angeles civil trial in the fall of 2016.)
In the years since, Rose has carved out a decent enough career, showing he was capable of dropping 50 and acting as a wizened, veteran mentor.
Rose, never exactly excitable as a public speaker, seems completely at peace these days. He said he wants to keep playing, and that he can still play, but he’s accepted his benching for Miles “Deuce” McBride with equanimity.
“I mean, the situation I’m in right now, I’m just happy that I didn’t lose it by the way I was playing,” Rose said. “Or I didn’t get benched because of my play. I got benched because (Thibodeau) wanted to see how Deuce looked, and it’s a younger guy getting into the rotation. So how I can hate on that? That’s how I looked at it.”
Rose, who recently turned 34, says he wants to pull a Tom Brady and play until they kick him out of the league. Given that his guardian angel has benched him, that might be coming sooner rather than later. Rose said he has big plans for his post-basketball future, and sure, this is a perfect time to make those old “walking at graduation” jokes. But I’m guessing he’ll do something in Chicago and that should include a relationship with his old team.
The organization welcomed back two of Rose’s closest friends to the fold as team ambassadors in Luol Deng and Joakim Noah after their own bitter endings with the team. Noah was at Wednesday’s game before jetting off to the World Cup. Deng was around the game before. Rose said he believes it was fate that he wound up as teammates with them, and Bulls fans, as they say, get all the feels when pictures of the three show up on social media, like at Noah’s recent wedding in Brazil.
“Facts, facts,” Rose said. “And it’s not fake.”
I didn’t go to the United Center on Friday to wallow in the old times. We’ve done it enough with that Bulls team because the years since haven’t been very uplifting. But as the current team frustrates and founders, earning a chorus in the boos and “We want Derrick!” chants late in the fourth quarter, what’s the harm in daydreaming about a night in the future when beloved ol’ No. 1 goes into the rafters?
“Like I said, it would be awesome to see it, but it’s years away from that right now,” Rose said.
Forget honoring him, maybe the Bulls should trade for him. Rose is making $14 million so it wouldn’t be easy. But a source close to the team floated that idea Friday night. OK, the source was The Athletic’s Darnell Mayberry, but he spends a lot of time around the Bulls and I think he’s got the right idea. In truth, other teams probably have the same idea. He’ll play again this year.
With Lonzo Ball out with a lingering knee injury, the Bulls are a shell of themselves, listless and losing. So yes, history is repeating itself. And once again, they could use Rose again, on and off the court. Imagine the “likes” for a video of him dunking on Goran Dragić at the Advocate Center. Do it for the ‘Gram, Bulls, if not the playoffs.
(Photo of Derrick Rose: Matt Marton / USA Today)