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The Derrick Rose takeover has all eyes on Bulls’ superstar

Derrick Rose poses for portrait during 2011 NBA All-Star weekend. | Getty Images

Derrick Rose poses for a portrait during the 2011 NBA All-Star weekend. | Getty Images

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Updated: July 15, 2011 12:20AM

New York still is where things are measured.

So when the Bulls played the Knicks in the second-to- last game of the season on Tuesday night at aging Madison Square Garden, which is neither square nor garden-like, all eyes were on Derrick Rose.

This is where Phil Jackson got his start, where Frazier beat Ali in “The Fight of the Century,’’ with both men ending up in hospitals, where Willis Reed starred on one leg, where Michael dropped his “comeback double-nickel,’’ where John Lennon and Justin Bieber left their ­different marks.

If people in Chicago were saying Rose was the 2011 MVP, New York Garden-partiers wanted to see proof.

They got it with about a minute to go in the first quarter when Rose, flying up the right side of the court, took a fast-break lob from teammate Ronnie Brewer and sort of cradled the ball in one arm like an infant before jamming the thing home.

The stadium freaked.

All the swells and the regular folks alike knew they’d seen something unique. Why, Spike Lee nearly came out of his Knicks road jersey, he was so excited!

It’s not just that Rose is maybe a shade over 6-2. (He was asked recently if he was perhaps 6-3, and he replied with a sheepish grin, “Well, you can say I am if you want, but. . . .”) Nor is it that he was up in the air a long time, which he was. Remember, the NBA is full of some of the greatest leapers in the world.

It was that, like so many things Rose does on court, the explosion just seemed to come out of nowhere. One instant Rose was there, and the next instant he was somewhere else, doing something inexplicable.

“His athleticism is ridiculous,’’ Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said after the game.

One reason people still are finding that out is because Rose always played basketball and barely dabbled in other sports from the time he was a little kid in Englewood until he was, well, this ripe, old, third-year pro all of 22.

We don’t have videos of Rose running track or hitting a ball a mile or catching touchdown passes (you can watch LeBron James do that, if you want). So it’s all hoops for the measurements, and New York now has seen what’s up.

Not just from that one play, or even from Rose’s third-quarter, breakaway, unbelievably vicious, two-handed, behind-the-head jam that put his face in the net like some kind of wayward fish. But it’s the results of what he does.

That dunk, for instance, destroyed the Knicks, turning what had been just six minutes earlier a 55-54 Knicks lead into a 76-57 Bulls rout. During the critical run, Rose scored 11 points on everything from a four-foot runner to a 25-foot three-pointer to a pair of free throws to a sick dunk.

And then the good folks of the Big Apple got to see the most amazing part about the kid who averaged 25.0 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.05 steals this year: He ran back up the court without the slightest bit of celebratory smirk on his face. Determination, yes; focus, yes — arrogance, no; big joy, no.

“The talent part is obvious,’’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau says. “But it’s his makeup that’s so special.’’

First-year defensive maniac Thibodeau adds, of course, that this Bulls team “starts with our defense and rebounding.’’ True. But Rose is the rarest of people to be leading that team assault, to be setting the tone at the highest point.

“Unless you’re around him every day, you don’t know that he’s never satisfied,’’ Thibodeau says. “He has all the characteristics that allow him to get better.’’

Which is a trait in itself that has recently been described by sociologists as the most important characteristic of all for achieving stardom. It can be described in two words — grit and practice.

Everybody knows what grit is. And the practice part means, more precisely, practice with a purpose, not just repeating the same mistakes time and again.

To give you an example of how practice has ­transformed Rose, consider his free-throw shooting. After making 80 percent of his free throws at Simeon High School his senior year, Rose slipped to 71 percent during his single season at Memphis. This was due, we’re ­guessing, to Memphis coach John Calipari not caring a whole lot about non-moving baskets. But atrocious free-throw shooting is what ended up costing Rose and Memphis the NCAA championship in 2008.

Rose then got his rookie Bulls average back up to a decent 79 percent. Then last year he slipped to 77 percent, leaving 79 free throws out there for dead.

Great point guards can’t do that. They must have the ball at the end, and they must be money from the stripe.

So from working hard, Rose is up to a lifetime hoops best of 86 percent this season. To be even finer about it, consider this: Rose had a chance to tie the Dec. 18 game against the Los Angeles Clippers at the United Center with 0.8 seconds left, but he missed the back end of a two-shot foul, and the Bulls lost 100-99 to last year’s Bulls coach, Vinny Del Negro.

Rose was shooting 76 percent from the line at the time.

Since then, he has hit 378 of 425 free throws, or nearly 89 percent. Can you see where pride kicks in here, too?

You can ask Thibodeau, who has coached with seven NBA teams over two decades, who the star players are whom Rose’s drive reminds him of.

He hates to do this, but he will quietly say, “Jordan, Magic, Isiah, Erving, Garnett — all those guys continued to get better, and they were never satisfied. That’s the ­biggest similarity.’’

As Knicks coach D’Antoni notes of Rose’s ­improvement, “He’s the MVP in what, his third year? That’s pretty impressive. I think he’s come farther faster than anyone expected.’’

He hasn’t won the trophy yet, coach. But if he does, he’ll be the youngest MVP ever. And just as interesting, he didn’t get mentioned as a candidate his first two years. So that’s fast.

Who is Rose’s competition? Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron James.

Rose is the favorite not just because he’s a new face and his team has improved by 21 wins over last year’s, but also because he’s a straight-faced, non-complaining, theatrics-free, lunch-bucket worker.

After endless player posturing, self-promotion and, especially, James’ “The Decision’’ nonsense, America, it seems, is ready for some plain old humble-pie hoopsters.

Maybe even New York is.

“I think he’s the MVP,’’ says Spike Lee, the quintessential hoops critic and Knicks fan. “But I haven’t seen Michael in him yet. And the Bulls need a two-guard.’’

No, there was only one Mike. Never will be another. Which is fine.

This new kid is from Chicago, loves Chicago, has “Sweet Home Chicago’’ tattooed on his arm. There may never be another one like him.

People looking for issues already have whispered, what if the Bulls can’t keep him?

“It’s a no-brainer,’’ says his older brother and career planner Reggie, laughing at such nonsense. “Come on. Just sign the paper.’’

Derrick and his three brothers and Mom lived in ­Englewood on the South Side, and it’s bad there. ­Robberies, murders, all of it.

Why did they stay, you can’t help wondering? Almost anyplace in the United States would have been safer.

“You know what’s crazy?’’ Reggie says. “When yougrow up in that environment, you think that’s how the whole world is. It’s not normal. But you find that out later, when you go on college trips and things.’’

The Rose household was tight and protective, and it has been said Derrick grew up in a cocoon, with three older boys replacing his absent dad.

It’s likely the major reason Rose has the peace of mind and work ethic to be able to say and mean such things as, “I use every shootaround to get better.’’

That’s what he said in the morning at the team shootaround at the musty old Garden.

At 34th Street and 8th Avenue, a block north of the arena, there is a four-story billboard extolling new Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony. In the rain Tuesday, you could still see the lit-up words next to the giant figure of ’Melo himself: “To the City that made me — And the game it gave me — Thanks, Carmelo Anthony.’’

Rose will have that stuff soon enough in Chicago. Not that he is asking for it. His humility and self-effacement seem part of his DNA. He needs only the sport to express himself.

After his 55-point game at Madison Square Garden in 1995, just weeks after he’d returned from a year and a half of odd retirement and full-blown media speculation, Jordan said, “Once I’m on the basketball court, the rest of the stuff doesn’t make any difference to me — because I’m in my own dreamland.’’

Derrick Rose is the same. Let’s hope his dream is just starting.

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