At just 23, Derrick Rose already has an MVP award, a $95 million contract, and a direct line to the White House, home of his number one fan. He also has Chicago—the city where he was born and bred—convinced that it’s witnessing the second coming of you-know-who
Derrick Rose, the reigning NBA MVP, lives on the eighty-fourth floor of the Trump building in Chicago, one of the tallest buildings in the country, right up near the roof, with wall-length windows overlooking the city he rules, the only city he has ever known. The view is disorienting and all-encompassing, sort of like he’s living on an observation deck of the Willis Tower, which happens to be right over there, one of the only points above us in the mess of verticals downtown.
Rose also has a home in Northbrook, by the Bulls’ training complex, but he says he has that place mostly for convenience, so he doesn’t have to drive back into the city after practice. Someday he’d like to have a house, “my real house,” where he’ll “have kids and just live in my spot.” But he can’t do that now, not even close. This condo, the one he just moved into about a month ago—it is almost entirely unfurnished; two of his bedrooms have no sheets on the beds and are filled with stacks of unopened boxes—this is his escape for now. Eighty-four stories up in the sky, secured away.
“I like living here,” he says. “They just try to make you comfortable. The people here, they are mostly from out of town; they don’t know who I am. That’s why I picked this place.” (It’s easy to understand why one would enjoy working in this building, too. When Rose orders two bottled waters for us during our chat, he hands the bellhop two $50 bills.) Presidents talk about how the White House begins to feel like a prison. Rose speaks the same way about the town that adores him. “It gets on my nerves that I just can’t go out,” he says. “It’s just boundaries now. People are like, ‘You can’t go here, you can’t go there, you got to let that person know where you’re going.’ It’s just weird. I’m never alone. Ever.”
The afternoon I visit his condo is a rare one for Rose during this truncated, lockout-compressed NBA schedule: a day off. Last night he played his first game in almost two weeks, and in the locker room post-buzzer, everyone desperately wanted to pick his brain. Rose had missed the last five Bulls outings with back spasms, but he certainly didn’t look to be too agonized, scoring twenty-three points and notching six assists in a breezy 90–79 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. In one memorable sequence, he sidewinded himself through several Hawks defenders, pulled the ball above his head, absorbed contact, and then spun it just so, kissing the backboard and splashing through. He fell hard to the floor, popped up, and sunk the free throw. The back was feeling better.
Postgame, there were probably three dozen media members laser-focused on Rose’s locker, from WGN to the Chicago Tribune to someone whose credentials seemed to say “MARS.” Before too long the crowd grew even more robust, at least five people deep in a semicircle around Rose’s chair. With the mess of Fourth Estaters spreading farther and farther out to the middle of the room, the odds I’d hear a word Rose said were approaching zero. I strained, I jumped, I peered, but nothing.
Just then, a Bulls rep burst into the room. “He’s not coming, you guys,” he said. “He already left.” The media horde did this collective shoulder sag and, like the ripple from a drop of water, dispersed randomly in all directions from Rose’s locker. They’d been packed in so tightly in anticipation of his appearance that I’d had no idea he was not, in fact, at his locker. Derrick Rose is surrounded even when he isn’t there.
Nick Friedell, the Bulls beat reporter for ESPN Chicago, walked toward me and looked as though he’d seen some mythical creature, maybe a chupacabra. “He has almost never done that since I started working this beat,” he said. “I’m stunned.” Friedell joined some of his regular colleagues, and the conversation turned to how Michael Jordan never pulled this, how he always made an appearance no matter what. Off to the side, reserve point guard John Lucas III, the unfortunate soul saddled with the locker next to Rose’s, politely nudged his way through the morass and dropped his towel.
In his condo, I ask Rose why he blew off the media the night before. He sighs and forces a wan smile. He has been expecting this question, if not necessarily so soon. “It was just too much,” he says. “I just couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t deal with it. There were so many people. I saw them there from the other room. And when I thought about having to go in there, I just couldn’t work my way up to it.” He pauses and takes a sip of water. His eyes go somewhere beyond my left ear. “There were so many of them. I hope they’ll forget about it.”