It's been awhile since Chicago had a commercial-break mainstay from its athletic ranks. With the brand-ification of Derrick Rose, it looks like the city may have what it's lacked since Michael Jordan's departure.
No -- not a championship-caliber NBA team (the Bulls are still at least an Anthony arrival and Deng departure away from that). Rather, in the increasingly visible third-year point guard, Chicago has an emerging media darling.
Albeit a rather stoic and often monotone one.
To be sure, we're seeing a ton of Rose lately, and it's not just on the court. As he looks to build on a solid sophomore campaign that saw him take charge as the team's unquestionable floor leader, Team Derrick (a coterie of handlers, agents, managers and PR wizards) will seek to build the native Chicagoan's brand in the void left in the wake of LeBron James' popularity plunge.
So damaging was LeBron's half-hour Me-athon last July that Nike is now running ads featuring a contemplative, introspective James asking the ether, "What should I do?"
If this vie for popularity sounds a bit high school-y, it's because it is.
This situation harkens a recent plot twist in "Glee," in which star athlete/glee club tenor Finn is kicked off the football team and loses his spot as starting quarterback, thus severely diminishing his popularity. This paves the way for the opportunistic new guy, Sam, to step in with his blonde Bieber cut and take the helm under center, simultaneously building cred among the team and the student body.
Ultimately, Finn sabotages Sam's reign as quarterback, leaving Sam injured. Sidelined and full of free time, Sam agrees to join glee club. It's not long before some former teammates douse Sam with slushees for associating with the dorks in the glee club.
As LeBron's popularity declines, enter the all-too-timely brand-ification of Derrick.
If LeBron is Finn and Rose is Sam in this equation, one can argue that with the increased commercial visibility, Rose is opening himself up to judgment like never before. If he fails to deliver on the court, Rose could find a proverbial slushee chucked in his direction. If he thrives, Rose confirms what Chicagoans would so dearly love--that he's it.
One problem: Rose isn't exactly Robin Williams on-screen ... or Juan Williams, for that matter.
An acting teacher once told me that it's better to be interesting than funny. In Rose's case, it seems interesting is his only option. He has many strengths--hamming it up is not one of them.
While no one will question Rose's ability to run an offense or soar high above the likes of Goran Dragic for a monstrous dunk, it's unlikely that we'll be seeing him star in "Space Jam II" anytime soon.
So far, advertisers seem to be playing to Rose's ability as straight man. In fact, he's in many regards the perfect straight man. And every good comedian benefits from a solid straight man.
He appears silent, running, dribbling and winking in an Adidas commercial with Ken Jeong as the filthy rich, lady pyramid enthusiast "Slim Chin." In another spot featuring Jeong and Orlando's Dwight Howard, Rose doesn't join in on the impromptu off-key song session. Instead, we see images of Rose doing what he does best--crossing over, spinning, dunking and not trying to be funny.
He can also be seen briefly in spots for DirecTV and NBA Cares--even delivering the enthusiastic tagline at the end of the former, "Now that's amazing."
In viral video trailers for the video game "NBA 2K11," which features Michael Jordan, Rose is given more lines and plays himself. It's meant to be funny but not joke-driven.
The takeaway is simple--Rose is at his best when he's being himself.
As far as Bulls fans are concerned, Rose can do no wrong on the court. Aside from a couple miscues after his rookie season, he can seemingly do no wrong off it, either. If the current trajectory of both continue, he could someday challenge the mighty Q score of No. 23 himself.
Jordan had the holy trinity of basketball stardom--the talent, the marketable charisma and, ultimately, the rings.
Rose has the first. He's working on the second. His biggest challenge will likely be the third. But he has asserted all along that it's his goal to be the best player in the NBA and bring the Larry O'Brien trophy back to his hometown.
Now that would be truly amazing.