For eight seasons and three NBA championships, John Paxson was Michael Jordan's teammate. Paxson drafted Derrick Rose in 2008.
Nobody can compare the abilities of Jordan and Rose to carry their respective Bulls teams through tough playoff stretches more knowledgeably than Paxson. Not that the Bulls executive vice president ever would engage in such folly.
"To ever compare Derrick to the greatest player ever is unrealistic and will always be unfair in my opinion," Paxson said. "That comparison should never be made. Even though he's the MVP of the league, (Rose) is still going through certain competitive experiences for the first time as a player. This conference finals is one of them."
Now seems like a good time to remind those who have invoked Jordan playoff memories since Rose's disappearing act in the fourth quarter of Game 2 that, when His Airness was 22, he was a rookie for the 38-44 Bulls. Yet I've heard from many Chicagoans demanding a Jordanian effort from Rose if the Bulls want to beat the Heat in Game 3 on Sunday in Miami.
I understand the temptation to see Rose and think Jordan. Every time they play the Alan Parsons Project music before Bulls player introductions at the United Center, it takes Chicago back to the 1990s. I get it.
Full disclosure: I used the term "Jordanesque" to describe the way Rose took over a regular-season game. I was swept away. Understandably, we all have been at times with a rare homegrown superstar mature beyond his years on and off the court.
But Jordan, Rose is not. Nor should anybody expect him to be. Not now, with the Bulls on the brink of losing two straight games for the first time since Feb. 5-7. Probably not ever.
"I'm not even near him," Rose said Saturday of the specter of Jordan looming over this series. "There's no comparison where he accomplished so many things. I'm just in my first couple of years in the NBA."
Rose is a once-in-a-generation player. Jordan was a once-in-a-lifetime player. Count us lucky to be witnesses to both.
That takes nothing away from Rose. Kobe Bryant has five championships and still doesn't measure up to Jordan. LeBron James likely never will, and he's the most athletically gifted player on the planet. Remember when Harold Miner was nicknamed "Baby Jordan"?
We can stop waiting for the Air Apparent. As Oprah was the latest to remind us at her grand finale at the United Center, there is only one MJ.
When Jordan faced what Rose is facing after a Game 2 loss in his first Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons in 1989 -- Jordan's fifth season -- he scored 46 in a victory. It's misguided to expect Rose to duplicate such dominance Sunday with the stakes just as high.
There were times in the playoffs Jordan, at 6-foot-6, could score against any scheme and win without much help. But this particular time isn't suited for a point guard going against a Heat team committed to making Rose "finish over three or four outstretched hands," as Dwyane Wade said. The more Rose tries going one-on-five against a defense that's like a Miami vise, the closer the Bulls will come to trailing the series 2-1.
For the Bulls to get back on top, they don't need Rose to be more like Mike. They simply need Rose to be more like Rose.
They need Rose to attack more often when overmatched point guard Mike Bibby guards him. They need Rose to make smarter, quicker decisions moving the ball when the Heat overplay the pick-and-roll. And when James or Wade switches onto Rose in crunch time, when playoff legacies are made, he needs to force the action with enough time on the shot clock to create good looks for him or the open man.
For Rose, taking over ideally means taking turns hitting big shots.
If Rose does all the Bulls need in facilitating the offense, I doubt he shoots 7 of 23 or the Bulls hit 34 percent from the field again.
"To me he simply has to be himself the rest of this series, and that's good enough in my book," Paxson said.
After James and Wade struggled to combine for 33 points in Game 1, the Bulls' defense received more credit than a rich heiress on a shopping spree. But when Rose didn't make a field goal in the fourth quarter for the first time this postseason in a Bulls loss, it became convenient to forget the Heat finished second in the league in defense.
"Miami had a great game plan to force jump shots," Comcast SportsNet analyst Stacey King said. "Great players have bad nights. LeBron and D-Wade had theirs in the first game, Derrick had his in the second game."
History says that means we will see a Rose who refuses to wilt in Game 3.
"If you watch the pattern of this kid, if he has a game he thinks is bad, he comes out the next time and makes a statement," King said. "He makes it personal like Michael did."
For those who insist on comparing Rose to Jordan this week, that deep, innate will to win is where it starts. And ends.