Chicago Illuminating Company is tucked away just south of the Loop and approximately three baseball throws away from Chinatown on city’s near-South Side. It isn’t exactly hard to find, at least not when it’s marked by adidas flags and men as large as wookies in all black suits protecting the perimeter. On Thursday afternoon, the spot might as well have been the epicenter of the Chicago basketball scene. No, there wasn’t a ball bounced or a jumper hoisted, but fallen Bulls superstar Derrick Rose was very much in the house. His mere presence is likely enough to meet the criteria during these hoops-starved September days.
Rose was the man of the hour in new balance 574 running an elaborate adidas production showcasing his new signature apparel line for his chief endorser. Derrick Rose wasn’t only speaking candidly on-stage, he also hung on the walls, played on the television screens and was name-dropped in the accompanying hip-hop music blaring through the building.
There’s really no way of overstating just how ubiquitous D. Rose’s image was at an event like this. Adidas has a good one, and they know it. A video mashup of his commercials and top highlights played while a DJ spun cuts off “Cruel Summer” at uncomfortably high decibel levels. People drank complementary bottles of SmartWater as the speakers repeated “your chick, she’s so thirsty”. B.J. Armstrong held a door open for me. I talked to Derrick’s brother Reggie and nearly bumped into his mom Brenda by accident. Derrick has always spoke to the importance of those who raised and protected him, and would at this event, but his frantic travel and rehab schedule almost makes you wonder if this is what counts as a Rose family reunion this time of year. If so, at least they did it big.
There’s no cheering in the press box, of course, but it’s hard to resist the magnetism and charm of Rose. He is very much a Grade-A celebrity in this town, though I can’t imagine anyone of his stature coming off as likable. As he talked about his shoes, the company and his rehabilitation, I found myself rooting him for to speak eloquently and not trip over his own words. He nailed it, by and large. While the equally relevant Jay Cutler flicks off cameras from a variety of angles and treats dealing with the press like doing homework, Rose doesn’t at all seem uncomfortable in a setting like the one on Thursday. It’s clear he realizes how fortunate he is to be blessed with such otherworldly athletic gifts, and his much talked about humbleness is nothing if not authentic. If it is indeed an act, he’s doing a damn fine job of keeping up the charade.
I did this last year, too: PHOTO ESSAY: Derrick Rose Meets Fans, Media At Foot Locker Appearance Rose was joined on stage by two men, a designer who resembled Dr. Tobias Funke and the VP of adidas basketball who had the posture of man worth more money than everyone reading this story combined. They lobbed softball questions at Derrick as he spoke about his new clothing line and not much else. I don’t think the Bulls were mentioned more than once during the 40 minute event, though Rose did touch upon his rehab in Los Angeles. Spoiler alert: Derrick Rose says he’s getting stronger everyday and just wants to win a championship. Front page stuff, right there.
It didn’t take long for my favorite moment to unfurl. It came from what I believe was the first question of the event. The VP, Lawrence Norman, asked Rose about his commercial shoot with Ken Jeong, the guy who plays Professor Chang on “Community”. This is, even without a response, a hilarious initial question. Rose, straight-faced, looked out at the audience and said: “It was cool. A new experience. That was my first time ever working with an actor. But he was so much more than an actor.”