Derrick Rose and the Windy City

Derrick Rose and Chicago are fighting again. The rest of the country looks on as the former hometown hero puts his foot in his mouth again and earns the ire of the city that was all too happy to chant his name just a few months ago as he sunk a three at the buzzer against the Cavaliers.

Chicago has never been the most athlete friendly city and it doesn’t take too much digging to figure out why. Chicago is and always has been a blue collar city. Since the days of the Chicago stockyards, most of the city’s inhabitants have been of the working class variety. The type of people who get up early, go to work, and come home tired. Taj Gibson’s monologue in a popular Bulls commercial get it right when he says he plays for the people “who wish they could live their dream out but couldn’t. “
Chicago is filled with people who dreamed big but were limited by the hand life dealt them. These are people who had to work to get what they have. They are people who had to make sacrifices, people who had to deal with adversity.

It is for that reason that Derrick Rose started out as the darling of the Windy City. In his own word’s Rose described himself as “just a kid from Chicago.” For a while that’s how the city and the world saw him, a young athlete that had made it out of one of the worst neighborhoods in America. That neighborhood’s name is Englewood and it saw three shootings in the last week.
Rose and his brothers were raised by their single mother. His father is not mentioned. Rose was kept out of trouble and away from the gangs that riddle that part of the city by his older brothers. They recognized his talent from an early and age and did all they could to protect it. When choosing which prep school for Derrick to attend, the amount of gang territories he’d have to walk through was factored in. That is not a childhood that I would wish on anyone.

Rose didn’t grow up with a silver spoon. He and his family scrapped and scratched until he had the best opportunity they could manage. They hoped against hope that Derrick’s talent would be his ticket to escaping the life that he would otherwise be doomed to. They got their reward when Rose became an All-American athlete and was recruited by Memphis to go play for a Hall of Fame coach, John Calipari.Rose blossomed in Calipari’s take on the Pepperdine “Dribble-Drive” offense. It was there that the prototype for the Derrick Rose of today was laid down and refined. While a Tiger, Rose and Calipari would lead the Memphis Tigers to the most regular season wins in NCAA history.

The following year Rose declared for the NBA draft and then the highly improbable happened. The Chicago Bulls had only a 1.7% chance of getting the first pick of the draft. Despite the odds they won it and elected to draft Rose ahead of Michael Beasley. It is hard to imagine what the NBA and the Bulls would look like now without Rose going to the Bulls. Had they chosen Beasley, that pick probably would have gone down as one of the biggest busts in history. Had they chosen Westbrook or Love the NBA landscape would be drastically different. In that moment, the city of Chicago was given the opportunity to taste the highest highs and the lowest lows.

In the years to follow, Rose won Rookie of the Year, became the first rookie to win the skills challenge, was voted to the All-Star game, dropped a historic first playoff game performance, and became the youngest MVP ever. Subsequently, Rose was awarded a contract so large the NBA named a rule after him for it. It seemed that Rose’s meteoric rise, much like one of his drives to the basket, could not be slowed, much less stopped.

Then the lockout happened. Many people point to Tom Thibodeau and overuse as the reasons Rose broke down. They probably contributed but it is just as likely that the lack of structured offseason conditioning and the absence of Bulls trainers contributed to Rose’s injury woes throughout the year. Many forget that he played only 39 games the year following his MVP season. The litany of injuries he suffered directly contributed to him going down in Philadelphia with the ACL tear that started Chicago down the road to where the city finds itself now.

Chicago and Bulls fans everywhere were more than willing to give their MVP some slack as he dealt with injuries all season. They were heartbroken when he went down in game 1 of the playoffs. The 2012 playoffs were supposed to be the best shot for the Bulls to get passed the Heat. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Despite this setback, the city still believed in Rose, still believed in the Bulls. They were willing to wait for another chance next season.

This would not come to pass. The Bulls entered into the 2012-2013 season with the optimistic belief that if they could just stay the course until Derrick returned they could take another shot at the hated Heat. To their credit, the Bulls gritted out the season and made the playoffs. This was when Rose was supposed to join them. He never did.

This is the exact moment the relationship between Derrick Rose and the city that loved him began to strain. News had leaked that Rose had been medically cleared to play. Bulls fans, basketball fans saw this and hoped. Derrick Rose is one of the most electrifying players to watch play. Rose being on the floor makes the Bulls and the NBA better. Yet, he never set foot on the court.
Chicago felt betrayed. How could someone they had invested so much in turn their back on the team, on them? How could someone who was supposed to be just like them walk away from a whole season? The math just didn’t add up. If they got hurt and then were told by a doctor they could go back to work could they just say “Nah, I don’t feel like it?” Of course they couldn’t. That’s not how the world worked from their perspective. It’s certainly not how it worked when you got $95 million dollars. This was not the only factor that lead to the public’s discontentment with Rose. Never a gifted speaker, Rose made several gaffes in the press and was not helped by his brother or agent.

You see the people of Chicago are not equipped to pity the rich. In fact, most of the country wasn’t. This happened during the height of the economic recession, a time when the 99% had to tighten their belts. Athletes got a pass because they offered people a chance to escape the negativity that surrounded their lives. Athletes got a pass when they allowed people to hope for some joy in their life.

Some people will point to the Cubs and ask, “If that’s the case, why aren’t the Cubs more reviled then?” The reason is that the Cubs were not supposed to win. They never won. After several terrible late season collapses only the diehard fans believed the yearly refrain of “next year.” The Bulls on the other hand were supposed to be good. They had the MVP! They had Derrick Rose!
It is not fair to lay all the blame at Rose’s feet. The Bulls should’ve made the prudent decision to declare Rose out for the season instead of allowing fans to be strung along. They should have gotten out in front of the media circus that Rose’s injury turned into. They didn’t. Whether it was just poor judgment or fear over lost ticket sales, who knows?

The fact of the matter was Rose got an undeserved reputation of being selfish. Today, most people would disagree that his reputation is not deserved. They are wrong. Derrick Rose’s stock in trade is his body. He is a basketball player in the NBA so long as he can compete in the NBA. Is there anyone out there who would put their biggest asset on the line for the enjoyment of others? If there are, they are few and far between.

The indisputable truth is that Derrick Rose does not owe Chicago anything. Why would he? He wasn’t successful in the NBA because of his fans, his fans were his fans because he was successful. That is the extent of the relationship between the masses and Derrick Rose. He entertains them and they love it. Or they used to, at least.

Rose’s relationship with the fans had seemingly hit rock bottom. Then the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Chicago had new heroes now. Their names were Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They were hockey players that could take a hit, players who delivered on the hopes and dreams of Chicago. They were more relatable and better on camera. Now the fans had shining examples to point to and say “this is what you’re not.”

The problem for Rose was that the public was right. He wasn’t good on camera, just on the court. He wasn’t open and relatable with his fans, just his family and friends. He didn’t win big post season games, just regular season. Derrick had a lot to prove while he stood in the shadow of two dynasties and the Greatest of All Time.
Following what can only be described as the most ill-fated sports marketing campaign in recent memory, Rose returned to a cautiously optimistic Chicago. He was finally back on the court and by his words and others’ better than ever. It was said that he was bigger, stronger, and more explosive. The problem wasn’t with his body, it was with his head.

The body and by extension the brain is a funny thing. Despite knowing that his repaired ACL was stronger than the one he had torn, Rose’s body still favored his other knee. It cost him a torn meniscus. Bulls fans watched as their hopes went up in smoke again. They had been fooled once more by the man seemingly made of glass. Oh the humanity…
Rose lost another season, another opportunity to prove to the city that, despite everything that has been said, he can give them what they want. What he wants. Derrick Rose is not a human being that can be discouraged easily. If he was, we wouldn’t be talking about him. To Rose, this injury was just another obstacle to overcome.

Again, he went through the media wringer. Questions like “should he have his meniscus removed or repaired” were bantered about by talking heads, armchair surgeons, and internet doctors. Rose returned again. The first people saw of him was with Team USA and his old coach Jon Calipari. His play on Team USA was far from perfect and showcased just how much rust can accumulate on a player’s game after two major injuries and surgeries. That didn’t stop people from seeing glimmers of the old Rose here and there. A drive to the basket would kindle old memories of the electric MVP season where Rose wasn’t guardable, a time when Rose struck the lane like lightning.

As Team USA rolled to another FIBA victory, Rose took a backseat to the other point guards. This didn’t stop people’s optimism. The fans were coming around again. They had forgotten what it was like to watch him play. They had forgotten what they were missing. As the preseason began, the hype soared to new levels. Could the Bulls beat the Cavs? The same Cavs who had just added Lebron and Kevin Love?

Watching Rose play against the Cavs in the preseason was like going back in time. Rose moved like he used to, drove like he used to, finished like he used to. He even dunked. Yet, there was an edginess that most fans felt while watching them. Every time Rose drove or went down, people wondered if they were doomed to disappointment again. Fortunately, Rose made it through the game. He made it through almost half of the season when disaster struck again.

Rose was diagnosed with another torn meniscus and once more groans and sighs were heard throughout Chicago. There was still an inkling of hope left. Reports came out that Rose might only miss 4-6 weeks. Bulls fans everywhere took a cautious step back from the ledge. There was still a chance. Despite Rose going down, despite Noah’s bad play, despite the disappearance of first rounder Doug McDermott, and all the rest of the nagging injuries that seemed to always plague the Bulls, there was still a chance. Rose had chosen to have a portion of his meniscus removed. He would return before the playoffs and that is what mattered. In that moment, Rose saved his legacy. Neither the Bulls nor Rose could afford another season lost. He made a tough decision, he made the right decision.

Rose returned 20 games later, just 10 days before the playoffs. Working on a minutes restriction he put up just 9 points in 19 minutes. That didn’t matter. He had gone down and come back. The playoffs began and Rose stepped onto the court in the post season for the first time in years. He finished the game against the Bucks with 23 points and 7 assists on just over 50% shooting. During the rest of the series against the Bucks rose averaged 21.5 points a game. The Bulls finished off the Bucks with a 54 point blowout. The hype train was leaving the station.
The Bulls faced off of against a Cavaliers team featuring Lebron, an injury hampered Kyrie Irving, and a missing Kevin Love. The two teams, evenly matched, traded games 1 and 2. Then in game 3 Derrick Rose returned to his buzzer beating ways with a bank shot over Lebron James. Had the season ended on that note this article wouldn’t exist.

Winning fixes everything in Chicago. If a team is winning its players very rarely can do any wrong. It is by that standard Chicago holds its teams. The Bulls’ job is to win. That is what Derrick Rose must do. His legacy will never be what it could’ve been had he not gone down with all those injuries. Those are opportunities he will never get back. That is why the present is so important.
Once again the news is rife with Rose injury news. This time Rose sustained a broken eye socket delivered by an inadvertent elbow from Taj Gibson. People openly question if he just can’t take the abuse of the NBA or if he is simply one of the least lucky people on the planet. In this case, it doesn’t matter. He is back on the court without a summer’s worth of rehab for the first time in years.
Time is running out for Rose. He needs to show Chicago what he can do right now to save his legacy. People around the city doubt his commitment. They doubt his toughness. They look at his decisions and see selfishness where there is none. Chicago doesn’t trust him.

Well, trust this. Rose did not ask to tear his ACL or his meniscus. He didn’t ask to get hit in the face. He certainly didn’t ask for his sex life to be dragged into the public eye. All Derrick Rose wants is to win. Through winning he can accomplish all his other goals.

Through winning he can get the city where he grew up to see him not as a bitter disappointment, but as a hero again.

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