The Trials & Tribulations of Chicago’s Prodigal Son.
Kids for years have always dreamed of playing for their hometown teams, practicing hitting the game winning shot in game seven for a championship whether it was with a ball and hoop or a dirty shirt and laundry hoop. A select few get to play professionally and even fewer get to play for their hometown team. For Derrick Rose this dream became a reality when the Chicago Bulls drafted him with the number 1 overall pick. This came right at the time when the city needed a savior, Rose was to be that hero, and more importantly he was one of them. It was as if it was written up in Hollywood.
It was as if this was written in a smoke filled back room in Hollywood, the hero returning home to play for the team he idolized. The franchise’s not only found its face of the team that he it had been searching for but it was a home grown talent returning home to put the Bulls back on the map. With Rose in place as the star of the team, it was only a matter of when and not if there would be another Bulls victory parade.
Act One: The Rise
The scene is Chicago’s United Center, it’s October 28th, 2008. The arena is dark, the only light coming from the jumbo-tron, the animated bulls are running the streets of Chicago, and the crowd is getting fired up. Standing in the tunnel, the light from the spotlight occasionally illuminating the frame of our young hero deep in thought. His mind is racing but he same question keeps running through his mind, how did I get here?
As the spotlight flashes in his eyes, Derrick Rose jumps back into time to a time when he lived just 10 miles away from the United Center. A time when he lived in South Side Englewood, one of Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods; raised by his mother. He can see a younger version of himself, shooting dice in the alleys, taking jumpers in the park for money, even pumping gas to help his mother. He was hustling everyday to survive. For him his childhood was about survival and hoops. Hoops gave him an opportunity few in his neighborhood had; his game caught the eye of several college scouts.
Then visions of him dressed in the blue and gold of Simeon High School. He can feel the air as younger-self takes off past defenders, glides in the air and finishes with a rim-rattling dunk. Flashes of him jumping head and shoulders higher than anyone in the gym on the way to leading Simeon to back-to-back state titles run through his mind. He can feel everyone at Simeon watching him over the years as he went 120-12. Rose felt them then, and he can feel them now as he’s home in Chicago dressed in the adored red and black.
Our hero’s mind drifts from Simeon to the memories of the University of Memphis. There he continued to wow NBA scouts with his pure athleticism while leading the Tigers to a 38-1 record before falling to the University of Kansas Jayhawks in the NCAA Championship. He remembers every moment from the championship game, the feel of the crowd in San Antonio roaring as the young Rose began to bloom in the second half. Gaining steam after every bucket, as they were getting ready to cut the nets and be crown champions. He recalls the feel of the ball, the sweat dripping down his face, two more free throws and we’re champions he thought. Rose rises up for the ball to clang off the rim. The rest was history; as Kansas would go on to win in overtime. Before entering the NBA, Rose had only tasted defeat only 14 times over a five-year stretch.
Meanwhile in Chicago, the Bulls lost 49 games that season and fired coach Scott Skiles 25 games into the season. The Bulls and the city of Chicago were desperate for the Bulls to return to the prominence that they so enjoyed during the 90s in the Jordan era. Six trips to the finals, six victory parades that ended with rallies at Grant Park were a distant memory. Tough luck such as a motorcycle accident ended the career of the second pick in the 2002 draft Jay Williams began to strike the Bulls. It seemed like the city’s prayers had been announced on the night of May 20th, 2008 when the Bulls won the draft lottery.
Our hero’s stroll down memory lane takes him to draft night. He still remembers the day like it was yesterday, sitting in front of the stage, surrounded, by his mother, brothers, friends, and agent; he can hear everyone cheer with excitement when Commissioner David Stern announces with the first pick in the 2008 draft, the Chicago Bulls select Derrick Rose from the University of Memphis. He vaguely remembers the walk to the stage to shake the Commissioner’s hand, or the brief interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith. All he could think about was coming home to play for the Bulls and all the eyes that have been following from the streets to Simeon to Memphis, and now back home again.
Act Two: The Peak
Back October 28th, 2008, its opening night and the NBA debut of Derrick Rose the savior of the Chicago Bulls. When the announcer gets to the last player in the starting lineup. “From Chicago, DERRICK ROSE!” the crowd erupts with thunderous applause and cheers like in the days of Jordan. Rose jumps off the bench and high fives his teammates as he joins them in a circle. The Bulls would deliver a win in front of their home crowd. In 32 minutes Rose started his rookie of the year campaign with an 11-point and 9 assist debut. It was all a blur really for Rose, so much emotion, not just his first NBA game but also his debut for his hometown team. It doesn’t matter that he was just 20 years old; he was expected to return them to their Jordan glory days.
A few nights later in his second home game he erupted with a 26-point performance against the Grizzlies. That there was any doubt but with each passing game Rose was cementing his position as the heir to the Michael Jordan throne in Chicago.
The movie continues with a montage of Rose playing ball. He would blow by his defenders whether in the half court or in transition and explode towards the rim. As he would get to the rim, he would cock the ball behind his head with both hands and then detonate the rim. Dunking with such force rarely seen from a point guard. The highlights started pouring in, like when he dunked on Goran Dragic, or that time he put Gregg Oden on a poster, or when broke Andre Miller’s ankles. In his rookie year he averaged 16.3 points and 6.3 assists a night, which earned him the rookie of the year. The Bulls found themselves back in the playoffs and up against the newly formed Big Three of the Boston Celtics.
The Bulls gave the Celtics everything they could handle, stealing game one in Boston and forced the series to seven games. Five of the seven games were decided by a total of 11 points, in his first playoff series Rose averaged 19.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.4 assist. Although they lost the series, they put the NBA on notice. Something was brewing in Chicago and Chicago’s native son, Derrick Rose, spearheaded it.
As the story goes on the Bulls changed head coaches before the 2010-11 season and brought in defensive minded Tom Thibodeau to help take the Bulls to the next level. They connected instantly, Rose told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune “He makes you want to play hard. He’s a great teacher” and the feeling was mutually as Thibodeau tells Johnson “I called him when I was first hired.” Rose developed a bond with his coach for the first time in the NBA and Chicago benefited.
The city got a whiff of what it used to have; the Bulls went from being a 41-win team to a 62-win team. Rose was blossoming under Thibodeau and becoming the star everyone believed he would turn into, he averaged 25 points a game, 7.7 assists, and 4.1 rebounds. The Bulls were rounding into a championship team and finished with the top seed in the East.
These young Bulls would reach heights that no Bulls team had reached since the 97-98 Bulls. They made it to the Eastern Conference finals only to lose to the new Big Three that was formed in Miami the previous off-season. The 2010-11 season also made Rose the youngest player in the NBA to win the MVP at the age of 22 and in his third year in the NBA. The Bulls’ first MVP going to a player not named Michael Jordan, and another notch in the legend of the homegrown star.
Cut to the scene of his acceptance speech of the MVP, his teammates sitting on the floor and the room filled with his supporters. Rose gets teary eyed as he finishes his speech thanking his mother for all her support and sacrificing for him when he was a kid. Shots going back in forth between Rose and tearful mother this unfortunately is not a fairytale and is the height of the Rose career.
And the Fall
The start of the next season was delayed by the NBA lockout that threatened to cancel the entire season. The Bulls did not skip a beat though; winning 50 out of 66 games and finished with best record in the East. Despite the Bulls success, Rose began to struggle with injuries, off the 66 games he was only able to play in 39 of them.
Once the time the 2012 playoffs arrived Rose was as healthy as anyone competing in the playoffs. In the first game of the playoffs, Rose was dominating the Philadelphia Sixers, scoring 23 points and dishing out nine assists on the Bulls way to a 12 point victory. However, it is in the final minutes when disaster struck the Bulls and changed the course of Rose’s career.
With the crowd fired up, the Bulls on their way to another playoff victory Rose drives right by a Sixers’ defender. He tries to execute a jump stop and upon landing on both feet his left knee gives in. Everything goes silent for him as he is rolling around in pain. Team doctors rushing onto the court while the hearts of the Bulls organization and the entire city of Chicago’s jumps into their throat, their star, their son is on the ground and he’s not getting up. The next scene is Rose getting an MRI on his knee to have it confirmed the hero of the Bulls tore his ACL. Not only knocking him out of the playoffs but for a good part of the next season.
Nearly 12 months earlier he was accepting the MVP and now he was looking at a long recovery. For an athlete whose game is based on his explosiveness this was one of the worst injuries he could have received. The city would pray for his speedy recovery and hope he would return to his MVP form.
In life, there are times when your body betrays you, there are times when your mind is willing but your body limits you. Rose was betrayed by his body, and all NBA fans were robbed of seeing what could have been. Visions of him leading a championship parade towards Grant Park vanished. Rose would work diligently to return to the NBA. His mind completely willing but his body was not; he didn’t play a game in the 2012-13, ten games into the 2013-14 season his season ended when he tore his MCL in his right knee.
His 2014-15 season was riddled with injuries and 46 games in he tore the MCL in his right knee again. He would return in time for the playoffs and the team would lose to the LeBron James Cleveland Cavaliers in six games. There were flashes and glimpses of Rose returning to form, like his back to back 30 point games in games three and four.
The 2015-16 started out with an ominous omen, when Rose suffered an orbital fracture on the left side of his face, he was able to get healthy enough to play by opening night but dealt with blurry vision during the early part of the season. Besides that injury, this was the healthiest Rose had been since his MVP season. That said the magic was gone, the Bulls and some in the city were beginning to question whether it was still Rose’s team as Jimmy Butler began to emerge as a star for the Bulls.
In the summer of 2016, the homegrown hero would, the once savior of the Chicago Bulls would be traded to the New York Knicks. Rose embodied everything Chicago was, he played every second with nothing but heart and the city responded by taking their own back in.
If the script were indeed written in Hollywood it would have had a happy ending. Rose would have been able to work his way back from his ACL injury and eventually overcome all the odds to the lead the Bulls to their first NBA title since Jordan. Alas this is not a script and there was not the fairy tale ending. What many had envisioned on June 28th, 2008 when the Bulls drafted its prodigal son Derrick Rose would never come true.
The one fact remains although he is no longer a Bull; Derrick Rose will always be a son of Chicago. As Sam Smith quoted Rose “The city meant everything. They’re the reason I played the way I played.” Chicago will always be a part of him.
By Mo DaKhill