Derrick Rose was introduced to rousing roars in the United Center before the Bulls' 96-81 exhibition victory over the Pistons on Wednesday night.
Bulls fans proceeded to cheer the first time Rose touched the ball, his first basket on this floor in nearly 18 months and his first everything that ensued.
Why not? Rose demonstrated the same acceleration and elevation and aggressiveness and creativity as before he went down in a heap during a playoff game on April 28, 2012.
This was Rose's first time back on the UC court in a game since then, and the crowd made him feel right at home.
What, you expected boos or indifference?
The UC is Rose's house now. Michael Jordan built the place, but Rose holds the lease on it these days.
This is his town, too, of course. The game's TV lead-in included an ad for Bulls tickets that emphasized Rose's connection to Chicago from childhood in Englewood to adulthood in the United Center.
Overall the night crystallized an explanation that a veteran NBA observer offered to me last spring while Rose was declining to come back from knee surgery: The superstar point guard's popularity translates into power.
I ranted at everybody back then -- Rose especially but also his management team and anyone else who defended his decision not to play late last season.
The Bulls' organization was another target. Why wouldn't their decision-makers insist that Rose return after doctors cleared him for takeoff? Heck, why didn't they threaten him with a suspension, lawsuit or dismemberment?
Rose's teammates needed him. He was cashing huge paychecks. He was dominating in practice. So why didn't he re-enter the fray?
As the veteran observer's explanation put it, because he didn't want to, and if an athlete of his stature doesn't want to he doesn't have to.
The franchise player knows he's the franchise's most important person, like a supermodel diva knows how beautiful she is and therefore how important.
Bulls ownership and management couldn't afford to anger their most valuable asset. If Rose preferred lounging on the bench to sweating on the court, nobody could do anything about it.
A sports superstar becomes his bosses' boss.
The Bulls were going to have to pay Rose the hundreds of millions of dollars remaining on his contract regardless, so why anger him? Better to allow him to come back happy on his terms rather than unhappy on anyone else's terms.
The Bulls weren't at fuller strength with Rose last postseason, but so what? They would have him back at fuller strength this autumn, right? At least that was the rationale being babbled as the Bulls faced the harsh reality of who has the most leverage in this era of professional sports.
Times are different now than even when the UC opened as Michael Jordan's house.
The NBA's collective-bargaining agreement is different. The size of financial commitments to players is different. A player's level of entitlement is different.
So if doctors said Rose was healthy to play and he said he wasn't, well, he wasn't. If the Bulls didn't like it, well, that was their problem. If many fans lost respect for him then but are willing to forgive and forget now, well, that's predictable.
Last spring is behind the Bulls and they're looking ahead toward competing for an NBA title next spring with what they expect to be a healthy Derrick Rose.
Perhaps more important in 21st century sports, they hope the young man will be happy so capacity crowds will keep paying to cheer him in the United Center.
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