- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Perception is reality. It can change in the blink of an eye or change steadily over time.
Almost exactly four years ago, Rose stood inside the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas preparing for the first day of Team USA's training camp as it prepared for the world championships. The 21-year-old was admittedly surprised that LeBron James and Chris Bosh had not signed with the Bulls during that offseason, but he didn't seem to care. He was determined to show the world that he could lead his team to a title.
"I want to be that guy," Rose told ESPNChicago.com at the time. "I want to be the reason why the Bulls are back to what they were 10, 12 years ago or something like that."
Rose took pride in the fact that he was becoming the new face of the organization. He believed in himself and his new teammates. He was confident that the Bulls would come together, and he didn't worry much about whether he should have better recruited James to Chicago. He and James texted a few times, and Rose figured that was enough. He figured his team and his city were enough to sell anyone on joining the Bulls.
"If anyone knows me, especially in my hometown, they know that I don't like being in the public like that or getting all the attention like that," he said. "To me I think it was a no-brainer, [but] he made the decision."
Rose was praised for that us-against-the-world attitude. Four years later, Rose is being crushed by many fans who used to love him. He's being second-guessed in his hometown. Once universally beloved in Chicago, Rose has found himself at the center of much public scorn.
How does the most popular athlete in town lose the benefit of the doubt in his own city? Several factors are in play here, but the biggest is, of course, that he was injured.
A torn ACL in his left knee in the 2012 playoffs went from devastating to frustrating for Bulls fans as Rose elected to sit out the entire 2012-13 season, even though the organization expected to have him back in the second half of the year. Between the ACL injury and a torn meniscus in his right knee that kept him out of all but 10 games last season, Rose, his camp and the Bulls have been plagued by PR missteps. His brother Reggie openly criticized the organization for failing to put better players around Rose.
The organization has kept its most important star mostly cloaked in secrecy throughout the past few years during his rehab phases. What has exacerbated the issues is that Rose has shown the same reluctance and indifference toward recruiting free agents while teammate Joakim Noah has emerged as a salesman, doing his best to persuade Carmelo Anthony to come to Chicago. Instead of receiving a pass from most fans because of the attitude, Rose is being questioned yet again.
Times have changed for Rose and the league. It's one thing to maintain that stance when you're producing at an MVP level, but it's another to keep that feeling when you've played only 49 games in the past three seasons.
To win back the fans' trust, Rose must play and perform at a high level. But it goes deeper than that for Rose and the Bulls.
As it pertains to the recruiting, players want to be wanted. They want to hear what stars in the NBA have to say about their team. Rose hasn't played much in three years, but players still respect his game and what he has already accomplished. He's still a star, and they want to hear from him.
Whether it's a member of his inner-circle or a member of the Bulls organization, somebody has to get through to him that he is best served by playing the PR game, even if it's uncomfortable for him. The more Rose shows publicly that he is willing to be part of these pitches, the more he will start to win back some fans.
Rose can't do anything about the fact that he was injured. It happens to almost all athletes at some point in their career, and Rose has had more bad luck than most. His contract doesn't require him to recruit players, he's just required to perform on the floor. Since he hasn't been able to do that for much of the past three seasons, Rose has to take it upon himself to find other ways to help.
Rose is the same person he was before -- shy, introverted, cautious -- he's just not the same player. Nobody knows if Rose will look like his old self when he hits the floor again this season, and nobody knows if his body will be able to hold him if and when he does. The only way to win back that trust is to play again -- and play at a high level for an extended amount of time. He doesn't want to recruit, but he still badly wants to win. It's up to those closest to Rose to make sure he understands this as he heads into the season.
It's also important to understand that Rose still wants to be the player who delivers a championship to his city.
"It makes me feel a little bit better that they really believe in me and have trust in me about decisions that they make," Rose said on that July day in 2010, in regards to the faith the Bulls organization had placed upon him. "It just means a lot, man. A little guy coming from the South Side of Chicago got his own team. It shows that just hard work and dedication really pays off."
Rose never wanted to leave Chicago. But now a portion of Chicago seems to want to turn its back on him. It's crazy how quickly things can change.
It's up to Rose to make the decisions to turn things in a positive direction once again.
2dMatt Walks, ESPN.com
2dJason McCallum, ESPN Stats & Info