Dan McGrath and David Heinzmann, Chicago Tribune, June 12, 2009
After a standout debut season in which he was voted NBA Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose’s off-season encountered more turbulence Thursday.
Weeks after he was linked to allegations of academic fraud at the University of Memphis, the Bulls’ star guard issued a statement declaring his vehement opposition to gangs in response to a photo posted on the Internet that showed him flashing gang signs at a party in Memphis during his freshman year there.
“I want to emphatically state, now and forever, that Derrick Rose is anti-gang, anti-drug and anti-violence,” Rose said in the statement released through the Bulls. “I am not, nor have I ever been, affiliated with any gang, and I can’t speak loudly enough against gang violence and the things that gangs represent.”
Earlier Thursday, a Bulls spokesman said the team was aware of the photo but was not concerned, as gang affiliation and behavior didn’t square with the Rose the Bulls know.
Rose grew up in Chicago’s violent and gang-ridden Englewood neighborhood. The undated photo shows him seated and displaying the “pitchforks” sign of the Gangster Disciples Nation. A young man identified as Memphis teammate Antonio Anderson is standing behind Rose, smiling and flashing different gang signs, according to a police source.
“This photo was taken at a party I attended in Memphis while I was in school there, and was meant as a joke . . . a bad one, I now admit,” Rose’s statement said. “In posing for this picture, I am guilty of being young, naive and of using extremely poor judgment. I sincerely apologize to all my fans for my mistake.”
The Gangster Disciples, a large criminal organization with tens of thousands of members, are deeply involved in Chicago’s violent narcotics trade. Gangster Disciples long have been the predominant gang in the Englewood neighborhood.
The incident comes on the heels of another off-court controversy surrounding Rose. The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal broke a story last month stating the NCAA alleged a stand-in took an SAT test for a student who played for Memphis during the 2007-08 season. Several media outlets reported that player to be Rose.
Several media outlets subsequently reported that Rose had a grade changed from a D to a C during his senior season at Simeon to help ensure his college eligibility.
Irv Rein, a Northwestern communication studies professor whose book, “The Elusive Fan,” examines fan cultivation and retention, believes Rose is “next in line” behind LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade as a marketing star.
“Short-term, there might be some effect, but long-term I don’t think so,” Rein said. “He has a good American story–up from the ghetto. He has a nice smile. And he’s a hell of a player.”