The Bulls' game Saturday against the Washington Wizards in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is an honor, a reflection of the organization's tradition, popularity internationally and the team's prospects this season. But mostly, it's part of the Derrick Rose effect.
Despite not playing all of last season, Rose was second in NBA jersey sales, behind reigning league MVP LeBron James of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, as well as first in Latin America, the region of the world where Saturday's game is being played. That's a tribute to the Chicago native's stylish game, but also how much his humility resonates with fans everywhere. There is a commercial aspect to it, with television and print ads seemingly all over the place, namely from adidas, the company that him signed to an approximately quarter-billion-dollar "lifetime" contract.
Lawrence Norman, Adidas' vice president of global basketball, has observed Rose up close since the then-incoming freshman at the University of Memphis participated in the inaugural Adidas Nations camp, then held in New Orleans, as a college counselor, less than a year ahead of the brand signing the future No. 1 overall draft pick as a professional endorser.
Norman recently explained to CSNChicago.com that Rose's popularity, which he personally witnessed while accompanying the point guard on tours of Europe and Asia this past summer, is a phenomenon unlike that he's ever seen during his long career in the sneaker industry.
"I've never seen it at this level, mainly because if you think of all the things that would be relevant for a player to become a signature athlete, he has it all," said Norman, a former professional basketball player in Israel himself. "The humility thing can't be overlooked because I think kids resonate to that and the team-first attitude is also something that's pretty special. The fact that he's from Chicago and he's in Chicago, and he plays point guard, so you can aspire to be 6-3, and the style off the court and his style on the court, where you can be in the 'SportsCenter Top 10,' but he cares more about team accolades than personal accolades.
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"All these things, you roll it up and you say, 'Wow, he's got everything,' and the scary thing is he's just getting started. He's got an incredible future ahead of him."
Rose's newest signature sneaker, the D Rose 4, was released Thursday, which you were probably aware of, given the ongoing deluge of print and television ads surrounding it. The commercials, centered around the former league MVP's passion for both the game and his hometown of Chicago, and while it's designed to push product, Norman insists the campaign rings true.
"It's the most authentic spot we've done because only basketball matters to him. His family, his basketball and his city, and really, that's it," the executive explained. "That's why I think this one really resonates. The humility of it all is cool because the humility of Derrick Rose hasn't changed at all from 2008 to now.
"I just traveled with him to Europe and to Asia, and saw him with his mom and his brothers, and the fact that his mom still dominates that family, and he still does what she says, and he doesn't care about awards and he means it. He just really wants to win for his city, so a lot of things haven't changed with him and this campaign is authentic to who he is, and he respects that."
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Norman also discussed Adidas' "The Return" campaign of a year ago, something a faction of fans may have taken literally in the wake of Rose's ACL injury and eventual season-long absence.
"I think 'The Return' was something that was interesting because it was a campaign that the day after the injury, we came up with the idea, more or less," he said. "Everything happens for a reason and he's trained incredibly hard, and this summer has been a growing experience for him, as far as becoming a better player, becoming a dad, seeing the world."
Fatherhood has had an obvious impact on Rose, who now wears a necklace emblazoned with his son's nickname, P.J. A private person, he tends to keep details of his personal life to himself-though photos of him dressing in costume to celebrate the child's recent one-year birthday have surfaced-but Rose opened up about becoming a father on Bulls' media day.
"Man, having a kid, he runs everything. It's a blessing at the same time, just being around him. My father wasn't in my life, so I didn't have the opportunity to be around him like that. If I do everything opposite of what he did, I should put myself in position to raise my son the right way," Rose observed.
"Seeing his traits, seeing the way he's starting to show emotion, laughing, taking steps, it makes me feel good as a father and a young man that I'm actually doing something right where he doesn't have to worry about anything, and it makes me feel good that I'm able to take care of my family."
Rose is into fashion off the court and although wearing his own sneakers don't always fit into the outfits he wears before and after games, Norman says that his personal growth has helped the collaborative design process for the player's shoe and apparel collection, as he's become more comfortable voicing his opinion.
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"This one is different because we wanted to reflect his on- and off-court style in a different way," he said. "Some things have changed and some things haven't. The things that haven't changed are that he's still a family guy-and now he's more of a family guy with his son, P.J.-and the humility hasn't changed at all, still the same guy. He still is a gym rat, wants to play basketball all the time and that's all he wants to do. That hasn't changed at all.
"We're going to be studying a lot of game film the first two weeks [of the Bulls' season] because we're planning the next couple years of product, so we'll keep studying that," Norman continued. "But also, his off-court style has changed. Like all of us, when you're 20 and you're 24, things change and you like different things, and he's really becoming more in tune with materials in apparel and materials on footwear, and wanting the most premium materials he can get for his collection. He's still a sweatpants and shorts type of guy, but he doesn't want to wear just mesh, just basic stuff. He wants to have really comfortable products, so he's been giving a lot of feedback on that. With taking in a lot of the feedback he's been giving us, in Germany, when we went on the European tour, this is the first time we went through all the products from Adidas.
"We learn more as we go and from him in these meetings, we also learned on his tour, from Brenda[Rose's mother] telling us he grew up with the nickname 'Old Soul,' because that's who he is. You hear all these stories about how he grew up with his grandmother in the same house and we incorporate all of those details into his collection because, No. 1, it's got to be the best performance products that you can possibly build with all the innovations, all the bells and whistles, right? But then you have the signature details and the personal anecdotes that get into the shoe, so when Derrick presents it, it's his and it's all his input, so the more personal the better, with the signature collections."