Thursday, March 19, 2009

Nice to Meet You #7 - Derrick Rose

This is my favorite Derrick Rose story:

Just as the new NBA season was starting—Derrick’s rookie season—I had a conversation with a boy at the high school that’s got Downs Syndrome. Knowing that I cover Bulls games, he asked me if I was going to the preseason game at the University of Illinois. That drive taking about a third of the time the drive to Chicago usually takes, I naturally answered in the affirmative.

This young man, in the energetic, loveable way that only he could do it, asked if I would tell Derrick Rose that he said hello, because Derrick Rose was his new favorite player. I said that I would. That should be easy enough.

But he wasn’t done, of course, and asked of me one more favor—“Would you give him a hug for me, too?”

He wasn’t kidding. After abruptly cutting off my chortle as he sustained a straight face, I said that I’d try, even though I wasn’t sure hugging was an activity professional athletes often shared with the media.

It was a fun story, and I thought it would be a cool story to share with the young man. At that point I knew very little about Derrick, but I thought he’d get a kick.

So that night in Champaign I had the opportunity to pull Derrick aside and share the story with him. There were no hugs, but he loved the story. We laughed a little as I explained to him what a sweet kid this student was, and without thinking he offered to sign an autograph for him, completely unprovoked.

It’s actually a policy that we not get autographs from the athletes. Sure, they’d be cool to have, but it’s a lot cooler to have professionalism and the respect of the players. If I want keepsakes I’ve got a couple hundred audio files of me interviewing all kinds of people. I didn’t need the autograph, and told Mr. Rose that it wasn’t my policy to take that sort of thing from him.

But he absolutely insisted, signed the piece of paper as I graciously tried to turn him down.

“What’s his name?” he asked, and I told him. He personalized it and everything.

When I gave the autograph to the student, he held it high in the air with both hands, like it was a thirty-pound championship trophy, and blurted, “YESSSS!” Every other kid in the class looked back at him casually, more or less accustomed to his enthusiastic outbursts, and soon were given private showings of the signature. That was one happy kid that day.

So the next game I told Derrick how much the kid loved the autograph, and he assured me it was nothing. I wondered if maybe this humble demeanor of his was a show—if maybe he just assimilating into the Big League and was keeping things quiet early in his career so as not to rock the boat. But every time I’ve talked to him since that point he’s been equally great. This kid was the #1 pick, probably the Rookie of the Year, and making more money than anyone in his draft class, and he’s managed to stay as modest as he is.

At All-Star Weekend I caught up with him and asked I’d see him out and about at any of the after-parties. He was pretty exhausted from taking a late charter from a game the night before, so when he said “Probably not,” I wasn’t particularly surprised. It was what he said next that blew my mind: “I’m pretty tired, but my mom probably wouldn’t let me anyway.”

We both laughed because he knew how silly that sounded the minute it came out of his mouth. With so much family in town to see him win the Playstation Skills Challenge, his mother wanted him to spend time with all his guests, not out with idiots like me until the wee hours.

In general, he’s just been a really nice, respectful young man. Not only is he a fantastic talent, but he’s a great kid as well. Thankfully, he’ll probably be in Chicago for the next 15 years.

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