Sheepish but sincere, Derrick Rose diverted his eyes from the CNN interviewer who asked the kid from Englewood why gun crime was so bad in Chicago.
As Rose looked away, you wondered whose faces popped into his head while delivering an answer as accurate as his new jump shot. You imagined Rose picturing himself as a lucky little boy on the South Side who grew up poor but protected from all the bullets because of how he played basketball.
"It all starts with poverty, people just surviving and people just really trying to get out,'' Rose told CNN's Pedro Pinto in an important but largely overlooked interview during Rose's recent European marketing tour with Adidas.
In a sit-down conversation that lasted only 2 minutes, 25 seconds, Rose offered the most compelling content during recent interviews without even addressing whether he was 100 percent — unless that referred to a commitment to improving his crime-infested hometown.
Even from Europe via satellite, Chicago needs Rose's voice now more than ever as the alarming number of homicides in the city continues to grow — to 217 this year through Monday, 30 for July. So it was good the Bulls' influential superstar re-entered a relevant discussion after more than a year of too many overly orchestrated and ambiguous health updates. How nice to hear Rose doing his best to diagnose a broken community instead of his bum knee.
"If you look at the world we're living in today, everything is getting faster,'' Rose said. "You want success faster, you want Internet faster … everything is getting faster. Of course, being human, you want a lifestyle that's faster (too). You see people getting famous on YouTube and you think you can be that next person. That creates havoc and different ideas in people.''
Translated: Impoverished people seek quicker solutions to chronic problems that often contribute to making bad decisions. Sometimes their desperation turns deadly when weapons too easy to obtain fall into the wrong hands. As Rose suggested, a New York Times study last January analyzing Chicago homicides the past 12 years showed residents living near those crimes made $23,000 less per adult than those outside the area, were mostly black and only one of five earned college degrees.
"All I can do is stay positive and know there are people watching me, young kids looking up to me and giving them a reason to go out there and know the reason they're working hard is to help people,'' Rose said.
Inevitably, Rose will be asked to do even more than inspire by example — if he hasn't done so already quietly.
As powerful as Rose's words can be, his actions can change — and perhaps save — lives more profoundly. For a young man with long-term contracts with the Bulls and Adidas worth a combined $355 million, finding answers ultimately will mean funding them. It all starts with poverty.
Nobody doubts Rose's sincerity. Nor will anybody be surprised if eventually Rose matches his immense emotional investment with a financial one — toward a court, community center or cause — that empowers more youths to escape urban traps the way he did.
Example: Isiah Thomas, the Hall of Fame basketball player from the West Side, recently wrapped up the inaugural Windy City Hoops basketball season in conjunction with the Chicago Park District and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. From March to June, the $450,000 collaboration of private, public and non-profit support provided 1,200 Chicago teenagers an outlet Friday and Saturday nights at 10 city parks. Sustained interest led to a summer season.
Like in basketball, everybody plays a role trying to win a city's war against violence. Some are bigger than others. As John F. Kennedy once said: "For of those to whom much is given, much is expected.'' This, Rose seems to realize.
"I'm young but for some reason people tend to listen to me, especially younger kids, just knowing where I grew up and what I had to go through to get where I am at today,'' Rose said. "Being a role model, I try to stay positive and bring hope to my city where, of course, we're going through so much stuff with crime.''
It isn't Rose's style to make news speaking out on controversial issues such as the death of Trayvon Martin or homosexuals in NBA locker rooms. But trying to make an impact in a community that needs his resources and resolve fits an athlete who, whether you're still angry with him or not, serves as Chicago's global ambassador.
Rose spent July 6-14 promoting shoes in seven European countries. In September, he will embark to Asia to visit Japan, China and the Philippines before returning home.
Where Rose's heart always is, no matter where his head hits the pillow.