In large part, this is because he is such an exciting player. In fact, when he’s at his best, he might be the most aesthetic player in the NBA. That’s not a word you hear much when it comes to basketball players, but it’s one that fits Rose perfectly.
Certainly, there are better players. LeBron James is the best player in the world. No one except the most ardent Kobe Bryant fan denies that.
All of these players might be better than Rose, but are they more enjoyable to watch?
James is a cyborg who has incredible strength, athleticism and size. He can get to the rim at will—and does. His greatness is earned, and he is enjoyable to watch, but there’s not a lot of artistry involved in what he does. He’s like a bulldozer wrecking a building. It’s impressive, but it's not very pretty.
Russell Westbrook is a lightning bolt who can drive straight to the rim at a moment’s notice, but it’s a straight-ahead kind of drive. He doesn’t navigate through traffic. You don’t see the twists and turns that you see with Rose.
With Durant, you see a great shooter. While he’s worked on his handles, you certainly don’t conjure up images of him navigating the lane when you think of him playing. He has a beautiful jump shot, but jump shots aren’t thrilling.
Chris Paul has the ability to hold his dribble and carve through defenses, but he can’t get to the rim. He has a total of 38 dunks in his career. Tony Parker is the same, except that he doesn’t have a dunk since 2006, and he only has eight in his whole career.
Rose has more than twice as many as the two of them combined. He, like Westbrook, can drive and dunk like any man's business.
All those players are fun to watch, but they aren’t Derrick Rose-fun to watch.
Rose is unique in his ability to carve up defenders and get to the rim, doing things that the human body should not be able to do—things like this.
Rose has an unmatched ability to drive through traffic and finish with a dunk or a pretzel-like twist of the body and a circus shot. If there was a stat for “how did he do that?” plays, Rose would lead the league in them. He’s pure entertainment value.
In addition, Rose has the kind of great storyline the American public has come to want. We love to build up a star, tear them down, and then see them get back up.
We saw it with Kobe Bryant and the Colorado incident. We saw it with LeBron James and “The Decision.” We’ve seen it with Ray Lewis and Michael Vick in the NFL.
After winning the MVP in 2011, Rose had an injury-plagued season in 2012, which consummated in a torn ACL. The 2013 season saw him delay his #return in spite of the colossal Adidas campaign which promised it.
That drew heavy criticism, as many questioned his willingness and heart. His teammates, playing through injury and illness in the postseason, only added to the contrast. Rose had been cleared to play by his doctors yet declared himself not yet “mentally ready.”
Rose’s innocence or fault in the face of that criticism almost doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that the controversy existed. The vaunted hero fell in the eyes of the public. The cloud is there, fairly or not.
When healthy, who is the NBA's most entertaining player?
If Rose sees a resurgence to his MVP status this year, and in particular if he can hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end, he’ll fit the phoenix from the ashes motif. Even his name—Rose—implies ascendance!
And the background against which he could do this provides a remarkable contrast.
LeBron James has won the begrudging admission from the bulk of the nation that he is a winner, that he does have a “clutch” gene after all. Yet the Miami Heat haven't been embraced by the nation; people watch to cheer against them, not for them.
Americans need a champion who will step forward and defeat the dreaded adversary, and who better to do that than Rose? What better team than the Chicago Bulls, home of Michael Jordan, the antithesis of LeBron James?
The country so badly wanted to see the hero to take down James-the-super-villain that in last year’s playoffs, Nate Robinson was pictured next to James all over the broadcasts. Nate Robinson? Really? You have to love what Robinson did in the postseason, but he is not an answer to LeBron James.
Yes, Rose and the Bulls fell to the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, but that just feeds the rise-from-demise storyline even more. The nation would love to see that script flipped, and they would definitely tune in to watch it.
More than any other team, the Bulls toppling the Heat in the postseason would be a ratings bonanza. The excitement of Rose’s style of play, coupled with the rising hero slaying his archnemesis, would be a delight to Chicago fans and NBA fans nationwide (with the obvious exception of Miami).
America loves a great story, and Rose returning to rise to new heights is about the best ending that could be written to this NBA season.