Derrick Rose, Matt Forte, Patrick Kane. Three superstars in the making. And each time I watch one of them play, I ask myself, How lucky can one city get? They're so young, in age and experience, that you hesitate to believe they're for real. You hate to get your hopes up, only to see them blow up or fade away. But we've already seen enough from these three to know they're special, haven't we? I intend to enjoy watching them develop.
It took Rose, a 20-year-old rookie, about five quarters to become the Bulls' floor leader. Opposing coaches already are strategizing to keep the ball out of his hands. He has been everything we hoped for, and more. We expected the drives and dishes and generally solid point-guard play. We expect the all-out effort. But who knew his jump shot would look so solid this soon? Rose was the No. 1 pick in the league, and we knew he was a gifted player. But we didn't know if the incredible will to win he demonstrated at Simeon High School and at Memphis would follow him to the NBA . And we didn't know how quickly he'd adjust to the pro game. But it didn't take Rose long to pull a teammate aside for the first time and remind him that he wanted the ball in his hands down the stretch. Adjustment -- what adjustment?
Forte, the 22-year-old rookie running back, has been the Bears' most consistent player on either side of the ball. He also has been good. He isn't afraid of contact, he grinds defenses down, and, as we were reminded Sunday, he has enough burst to break a long run. And he's not a one-dimensional back. He's a very good receiver, and he has been a solid blocker. He leads all rookie backs with 909 rushing yards and is third among rookies with 45 receptions. There's not much more we could ask from him. And to think he was ''only'' a second-round pick.
Kane, the veteran of this trio, is in his second pro season but only recently turned 20. And as anyone who watches the Hawks play has surely observed, it's impossible to take your eyes off him when he has the puck. At 5-9, he's usually the smallest guy on the ice -- but no one has figured out a way to stop him yet. He had 21 goals and 51 assists for the rebuilding Blackhawks last season and was named rookie of the year. He has gotten off to a great start this season, with 25 points on 11 goals and 14 assists. Those 25 points are best on the Hawks and, through Sunday's games, were the fifth-highest point total in the league. Sure, it's the kind of production you expect from a winger who was the No. 1 pick in the draft. But that doesn't mean you always get it.
The best thing about Rose, Forte and Kane? There's not a prima donna in the group. Maybe they're too young to know better. Or maybe they're not only great athletes, but good people as well. We've heard them say over and over again that their only goal is to win. I'm becoming a believer. We know that Rose already has shown a willingness to play through pain and the ability to take over games in the fourth quarter. We saw Kane handle his first big disappointment, the firing of coach Denis Savard, without missing a beat. And we've never heard Forte complain about a lack of carries, even during those games when the Bears seemed to forget he was in the backfield.
How often do fans get the chance to watch one, let alone three budding superstars emerge in a year? Certainly not often enough. I'd add Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, the National League rookie of the year, and White Sox infielder Alexei Ramirez, who finished second in the American League rookie vote, to the list. But at ages 25 and 27, respectively, Soto and Ramirez aren't kids anymore. Kane's teammate Jonathan Toews is certainly a contender, though. All of 20 years old himself, Toews is the third- youngest captain in NHL history. He's in good company. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Vincent Lecavalier are the only two players to have captained their teams at a younger age than Toews.
I look at these players and wonder if they will remain in Chicago for the duration of their careers. I wonder if any of them, or all of them, will win a championship. I wonder if Rose, Forte and Kane will become the next Michael Jordan, the next Walter Payton, the next Bobby Hull. It's impossible to project so far ahead. But there's nothing wrong with enjoying the moment -- and I intend to do just that.