It’s good to be Derrick Rose. You’re 23 years old, the NBA’s reigning MVP, the most important person in your city (besides Barack Obama), and are making obscene amounts of money. You are young, a god of Chicago, and preternaturally talented. You are not of this world, in more ways than one.
Because in addition to there being a genetic gap between you and normal humans, there is, seemingly, a psychological one.
Rose is not comfortable in social situations. You can tell this just by observing him during interviews, or looking at the face he made during the player introductions at the All-Star game. Even in his commercials for Adidas, which are obviously pre-taped and aren’t filmed in front of the type of crowds that fill the United Center, he looks like you just told him some really bad news. The guy does not like attention.
This presents a problem, because along with a 22.5 points per game average and $260 million shoe contract comes… attention. Lots of attention. The type of attention that makes you not want to leave your house, particularly when basic social interactions are not something you enjoy.
In a new interview with Will Leitch in GQ, we learn — despite the MVP, despite the adulation, despite the money — just how deeply uncomfortable it is to be Derrick Rose sometimes.
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.
Particularly daunting was a speech President Obama asked Rose to give at an event. The two share an “open dialogue,” but the prospect of speaking in front of such a crowd was terrifying.
Last year, the president asked Rose to introduce him at a fund-raising event. Rose sweated it in a way he’s never sweated a game. “That was my first time ever speaking to that type of crowd,” he says. “I was so nervous and scared. Just a two- or three-minute thing, but, like, thousands of people were there. I was nervous as hell…but I got it done, and it helped me being more vocal, too, by doing that.”
Still, it’s not all bad. There is the money. And in addition to detailing what a freakish athlete Rose is, Leitch also notes that the MVP is a freakish tipper.
“I like living here,” he says. “They just try to make you comfortable. The people here, they are mostly from out of town; they don’t know who I am. That’s why I picked this place.” (It’s easy to understand why one would enjoy working in this building, too. When Rose orders two bottled waters for us during our chat, he hands the bellhop two $50 bills.)
I’m assuming those water bottles are $2 a pop (he lives in the Trump building) which comes out to a 2,400% tip, if you’re keeping score.
Back to the whole “borderline crippling social discomfort” thing, which makes Rose’s production at such a young age even more amazing than it already is. He plays front of 20,000 people a night and is being watched on TV by hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) more, which means one of two things happen when he plays basketball: the part of his brain that hates attention is shut off, or he is so talented that the intense discomfort he feels from all that attention is outweighed by just how great he is.
Either way, it’s good to be Derrick Rose. But it’s not easy.