Derrick Rose will grace the cover of the May 2012 GQ magazine, complete with a sporty, casual photo shoot and feature interview.
One can't read the interview and not get a deeper glimpse into the Bulls superstar's highly introverted personality. What's often described solely as humility is actually a deeper rooted disdain for attention, infringement of his personal space, and the limitations his celebrity status places on the more mundane aspects of life.
The article highlights the ways in which his mother and brothers literally protected him since his childhood. How they not only paved the path for his success, but vehemently guarded that path from toxic people who'd risk to disrupt it.
On top of being highly introverted is the existential status of Rose as a mega-icon from China to his hometown in Chicago. That this reserved man of few words has an entire franchise on his back. That that franchise is in a league that markets individual players more aggressively than any other league in the world. That he's highly aware of this responsibility and continues to excel and progress through life.
There's a consciousness of that social responsibility displayed in his highly matured awareness that his actions don't occur in a vacuum. He can be shy, but isn't shy at all in acknowledging his words and actions have consequences which extend far beyond himself. More important, he's driven to use that awareness and avoids decisions where people can get hurt.
Obviously, the magazine drops Michael Jordan's name because it's the easy, lazy thing to do, but also because the association is unavoidable to the common reader. The article doesn't profile Jordan and intentionally avoids that distraction, keeping the article about Rose.
Also, likely because, Jordan and Rose couldn't be more different. Jordan embraced his celebrity as an opportunist, but also as a highly extraverted individual -- a man compelled to express himself to whoever was around to experience while carrying an extreme image consciousness and always able to exploit the attention his excellence received. Rose is a much more reserved anti-celebrity without being an anti-hero.
Rose just bought a ballin' condo at the Trump International Tower in downtown Chicago and said he likes that it adds a bit of freedom to his life, despite being more centrally located in the megalopolis. But he's clearly frustrated by the lack of flexibility and spontaneity in his life:
Presidents talk about how the White House begins to feel like a prison. Rose speaks the same way about the town that adores him. "It gets on my nerves that I just can't go out," he says. "It's just boundaries now. People are like, 'You can't go here, you can't go there, you got to let that person know where you're going.' It's just weird. I'm never alone. Ever."
Will Leitch, who interviewed Rose for GQ, met with the reigning MVP on a rare off day in this compressed lockout-shortened season. Rose seemed to be looking forward to a personal day and ended up feeding his need to recharge his battery as introverts do best -- sitting around at home -- after expressing how he not only doesn't demand mega-celebrity treatment, but how much he "hates" it:
"This is gonna be the best day," he says, smiling widely. "Some friends may come over. I might get on the phone. That's it. It makes me superhappy to have this whole day to myself, to be a little selfish, to eat whatever I want, to not have anyone asking me to do things. When you get a chance to have a day like today, you have to take advantage of it." But after I leave, he plans to exploit this rare opportunity by going nowhere.
As the star of a top team in a league that markets individuals more than any other sport in America (a league that has long had a reputation of harboring the hardest-partying athletes in America), Rose bristles at the thought of going out. In one way, this is refreshing. He just wants to do his own thing. But the more I think about it-the more I hear Rose talk about how little he enjoys interacting with strangers, how desperately he misses being able to walk around unnoticed, how mournful he gets when the topic of "attention" is breached, how obviously uncomfortable he is even in basic social situations outside his immediate circle-it strikes me as unbearably sad.
It's another reason his one salvation is on a basketball court, where he can focus on winning and nothing else. ("He came packaged like that," his agent, BJ Armstrong, says. "That box was already packaged. That is who he is.") But even that's becoming a problem. Because the thing that Derrick Rose likes to do more than anything else in the world-winning basketball games-is making it more and more difficult to avoid the thing he dislikes more than anything in the world. "Don't get me wrong. I don't take anything for granted," he says. "But it seems like the better I play, the more attention I get. And I can't get away from it. You play great, you get attention. But I hate attention. It is weird. I'm in a bind. The more you win, the more they come."
There is something sad about it. Sure, he's slated to earn hundreds of millions in his career -- and Rose surely doesn't take living his dream career and financial abundance for granted -- but that his coping mechanisms are limited.
It isn't "sad" that he's so tortured, but that there are needs for psychological stability being so compromised.
What's most misunderstood about introverted people is their own attention spans. As an introvert myself, I understand my moments of lower volume or living within my own head as a pompous aloofness. There's the distrust people have for introverts because there's less external affirmations of their care within their relationships at times.
But like any successful introvert, Rose is described as an elite listener. And, therefore, a great student of a craft in which he highly values:
"I have said his greatest asset, his greatest quality, is that he is a phenomenal, phenomenal listener," BJ Armstrong says. Armstrong, who played on three of those Jordan championship teams, is now one of Rose's closest mentors. "He listens. He is able to take information, decipher what is important, decipher what is not important, and gets to the crux, right to the heart of what is going on right there."
Rose calls this going into stealth mode. "I was always the kid who didn't say too much, and people didn't think I knew that much," he says. "But I always knew everything that was going on in the room and always knew my surroundings."
I suggest that this is the sort of skill that might benefit someone who plays his particular position. "Oh, for sure. Paying attention to detail, that's part of being a point guard."
There can be concern to fans of Rose that he comes off as a tortured soul. And that attention, attention, and attention will be his kryptonite. That he's some ticking time bomb who may fatally break down at any moment and become crushed under a rubble.
But the reality is that he has the tools surrounding him to continue excelling: a handful of people he loves who love him back and a career about which he personally extremely passionate. Despite all other things, this is what an introvert needs most.
The healthiest part of Rose is indulging himself in keeping his inner circle close and exercising his passion in performing his craft.