Toronto — Derrick Rose can always go home again.
When the Pistons visit Chicago on Friday, it’ll be Rose’s first trip with Detroit back to his hometown to face his former team, with whom he started his career in 2008-09 and was named MVP in 2011.
Wherever he goes, Rose carries a Chicago swagger with him, a never-say-die attitude he exudes whether he’s on the court with a ball in his hands or chatting with teammates in the locker room.
It’s evident in the way he talks and attacks the rim — though it’s not the same all-out frenetic pace he had earlier in his career. Injuries have sapped some of that mercurial energy, but as he’s gotten healthier with the Pistons this season, some of the flash is coming back.
That anticipation is creating a groundswell of support in Chicago, as Rose has stirred some of the old emotions, as he’s averaging 20.4 points and 6.4 assists in the first five games. He had a season-high 31 points against the Sixers last week and had another good outing with 16 points and 10 assists Wednesday against the Raptors.
Chicago is different.
It still holds a special place in his heart and going home will be special.
“Everybody is hitting me up and me being from Chicago, the way the city is buzzing right now, it feels like a performer — like Jay-Z or somebody is coming into town,” Rose said Wednesday. “Everybody is geeked right now.”
Rose reciprocates the emotion he’s getting from friends and fans — but like many Chicagoans, he doesn’t wear it on his sleeve.
“I don’t express (the excitement) like that —but I feel the love,” he said.
It’s not as if going back to Chicago is anything new for Rose. He has had plenty of return trips since leaving the Bulls in 2016, with stints with the New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves sandwiched in between.
The Pistons are his fifth team, but there’s something different about this return, almost a year to the day of his renaissance virtuoso performance, with a career-best 50 points against the Utah Jazz on Halloween last season.
Rose is turning back the clock now that he’s healthy but he’s looking for more than individual accolades or maybe winning the Sixth Man of the Year or maybe getting back to his MVP form. He’s searching for a championship and although Detroit seems like an odd stop for that to happen, he believes in the franchise and the roster.
“You’re not going to see it but I’ve been playing basketball my whole life and there’s a lot of talent here and there’s potential,” Rose said. “I’ve played on teams where we didn’t have this much and we went far. Coming here, trying to help guys elevate and tweak their games, I can see things they normally don’t see and I can help in some way.
"I’m only 31 but with my injuries, it saved me some years and I’m still moving like I’m 25 or 26. It preserved me, in a way."
Pistons Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas, another Chicago legend, caught up with Rose this week and noted how Rose already has been embraced in Detroit for exhibiting some familiar traits that are emblematic of the grit of the Chicago blacktop courts.
“I just love the way (Detroit) already has embraced him,” Thomas said. “Hearing his name chanted in the arena, his competitive attitude that he always brings to the game and wanting to compete, no matter what the score is — he’s still thinking that he can win until the game is over.
“When you lose, it’s just not good. Any of the Chicago players, the one thing we bring to the table is a competitiveness.”
In the offseason, Rose said that he was looking for one more piece to his resume: an NBA championship. Chicago had no shortage of them in the Michael Jordan era, but Thomas, having denied Jordan prior to the Bulls’ dynasty, knows how important having that hardware is to gaining credibility in Chicago.
And that’s where Rose is trying to get.
“In Chicago, you’re judged by whether you win a championship,” Thomas said. “You can have a nice career in Chicago, but if you don’t win a championship, you don’t matter in Chicago — so you play with that thirst because the bar has been set so high.”
Friday’s return to Chicago alone won’t have much to do in getting a championship, but it’s a rare chance for Rose to get back to his roots and the essence of himself.
Then again, he doesn’t need to go home for that — Chicago is always with him.
Pistons at Bulls
Tipoff: 8 Friday, United Center, Chicago
Outlook: The Pistons (2-3) are in the midst of a stretch with three games in four nights, with a back-to-back against the Nets on Saturday. The Bulls (1-4) have lost three straight but Zach LaVine (20.2 points, 4 assists) is improving.