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Larry Bird sees start of a new era: The Derrick Rose era

Bulls guard Derrick Rose takes ball hoop as he is defended by Indianforward Paul George 2nd quarter an NBA playoff

Bulls guard Derrick Rose takes the ball to the hoop as he is defended by Indiana forward Paul George in the 2nd quarter in an NBA playoff game featuring the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers in game two; round one April 18, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 20, 2011 12:33AM

Larry Bird knows eras.

The Indiana Pacers’ president was half of one: the Magic Johnson/Bird dominance of the 1980s.

And he remembers when giants Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain went at it when he was but a kid in the 1960s.

And he was there on the court, winding down with a chronically bad back from a Hall of Fame career in the early 1990s, when the Michael Jordan Era was starting to take flight.

So what he sees now is interesting and likely informative.

‘‘I think it is the era of the point guard,’’ he said shortly before the Bulls faced his Pacers on Monday night at the United Center.

That Bulls point guard Derrick Rose continues to prove he is different from anyone on the floor, perhaps in all of basketball, has not been lost on Bird.

‘‘There are so many good point guards out there,’’ he said. ‘‘Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, they’re all over the place. But Rose is the youngest MVP ever? I mean, that’s something.’’

So could this be the start of something sort of like, dare we ask it .  .  . the D-Rose Era?

‘‘Absolutely,’’ said Bird, whose own point guard, the sparrow-quick, 6-0, 160-pound Darren Collison, a grandfatherly 23, is not too bad himself.

But here’s the thing. The 6-21/2, 207-pound Rose sometimes blows past Collison on his way up court or to the rack. And if you wonder how amazing that is, consider the lightning-blur Collison’s speed pedigree: His track-star father, Dennis, ran a 10.1-second 100 meters and a 20.3-second 200 meters, and his track-star mother, June, was ranked 10th in the world in the 400 meters in 1979 and represented Guyana at the 1984 Summer Olympics.

And don’t even talk about jumping. Because Rose is a sick, sick leaper.

Bird also is amazed at Rose’s early display of court acumen and the good character issues that surround him.

‘‘I’ve never heard one person say a bad thing about him,’’ Bird said. ‘‘And you know in the league, we hear everything about everybody.’’

So what that possible new era will hearken back to for Bulls fans is the Jordan Era, the joyful extravaganza that lasted, essentially, for the entire decade of the 1990s — or at least until the Bulls’ last NBA crown in 1998.

There were many of us who thought such a time never would come again. How swiftly that White Sox 2005 World Series title recedes into the distance, for example. And the Blackhawks’ glorious Stanley Cup title a year ago looks more one-and-done than a drunken date.

The crazy excitement could be here again for the Bulls, but, of course, they haven’t won anything since Jordan left, nor are they even guaranteed to make it beyond this first-round series.

The pressure only will build, and that’s how the budding era will be tested.

‘‘There were all the distractions, all the stuff affecting the players subconsciously,’’ Bulls assistant coach Tex Winter said back in 1996, when the Bulls were en route to a title — Jordan’s fourth — but had not secured it yet and, in fact had just lost to their Finals opponent, the Seattle SuperSonics. ‘‘The anticipation of the sweep. Celebration plans back in Chicago. The greatest team of all time. It’s a bunch of crap. Media talk.’’

And that’s how it will be if this era even officially begins.

‘‘Remember, it took Michael almost seven years to get the title,’’ Bird said. ‘‘And once he got there, he didn’t let go.’’

A lot of near-misses, that’s for sure, even though Jordan’s talent was obvious from the start.

And there’s one other thing Bird brings up.

For the era to be authentic, Rose must have a constant foe.

‘‘He’ll need a rival,’’ Bird said.

Hmm. But is there one now, an obvious one? Steve Nash is aging. So is Jason Kidd. John Wall? Russell Westbrook is young and damned good, but he’s out west, like many of the others.

‘‘It would be best if it’s in his division,’’ Bird said of that nemesis, but not necessary.

What if Rose doesn’t find a rival?

‘‘Oh, he’ll get one,’’ Bird said with that thin smile. ‘‘He will. Oh, yeah.’’

Which makes you think of Jordan again.

Why did MJ get those 69 points against the Cavaliers back in 1990?

‘‘Because I hated Cleveland,’’ he said. ‘‘I went to the hole in that game, and Hot Rod Williams knocked my feet out and I landed on my tailbone. I could have been really hurt, and I hear the crowd cheering, yelling, ‘Yeah! Yeah!’ Boy, that f---ing burned me!’’

Does Rose have that? Do the Bulls?

If so, it’s on.

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