Basketball is everything: Tracing the footsteps of Derrick Rose

 

One of the most exciting things we’re looking forward to this season is the return of the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose to the NBA landscape. And if we needed another reason to get hyped, adidas just gave us one.

Watching this commercial, which debuted today, made me reflect back on D Rose, where he came from and the remarkable tale of his journey.

At the conclusion of the greatest opening round playoff series the NBA has ever seen between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls back in 2009, folks couldn’t help but marvel at the exploits of Ben “Madison Square” Gordon, Ray “Jesus Shuttlesworth” Allen, Rajon “Better Call Us The Big 4″ Rondo, Paul “The Truth” Pierce and the dramatic unfolding of a spectacle that Hollywood script writers would have had trouble fathoming.

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But the one element that surpassed all others was the placement of a once in a generation talent, a 20-year-old point guard who earned Rookie of the Year honors, in the epicenter of the hoops universe. And although the Bulls succumbed to the Celtics in the series finale, the play of Derrick Martell Rose – which was consistently succulent throughout the entire year – made even the most exacting aficionado nod in sincere appreciation.

Derrick grew up on Chicago’s South Side, in the treacherous, gang infested Englewood area where murder and mayhem are the rule rather than the exception. The Rose that grew from concrete was nourished at Murray Park, where he often spent 8-hour days playing with his older brothers Dwayne, Reggie and Allan.

Early on, he would shoot around by himself until the older boys insisted that he run with them. In the harsh elements of the notorious Windy City winters, Rose and his crew would shovel mounds of snow and ice off the asphalt to get after it.

“I used to live in that park,” Rose told Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune. “It helped me. You get tougher. You can’t do a lot of things, things you can do with players your age, because they aren’t going to let you do it.”

His mother Brenda managed to keep her four boys away from serious trouble.

“My mom would walk down the street and drag us home if she heard we were getting into trouble,” Derrick’s older brother Dwayne told Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann in 2006. “Even the drug dealers, when they saw her coming, would stop dealing and tell her where we were.”

By the time he hit middle school at the Beasely Academic Center, the whispers about his blossoming game started reverberating around the local landscape. People started mentioning his name along with Isiah Thomas, Timmy Hardaway, Mark Aguirre, Antoine Walker, Juwan Howard, Nick Anderson and other Chicago natives who’d parlayed their skills into fame and fortune.

But other names also surfaced, like Benji Wilson, Ronnie Fields, Rashard Griffith, Thomas Hamilton and Leon Smith – guys whose potential was sabotaged by the suffocating, sinister and sometimes tragic forces of young basketball stardom.

As a 5-foot-11 eighth grader, his hydraulic springs and slam dunk repertoire opened eyes, yet the aerial acrobatics took a back seat – in the eyes of the game’s multi-generational enthusiasts – to his mature, exquisite assist game.

A resulting avalanche of street runners and unsavory AAU types stampeded to get in Derrick’s ear.

He was already being hailed as Chicago’s greatest point guard prospect since the Baby Faced Assassin, Isiah. And that’s when his mother told his brothers, who had all attended college, to circle the wagons.

“His brothers knew basketball, I didn’t,” Brenda told SI’s Dohrmann. “I told them to handle it.”

The Rose boys formed a protective shield around their younger brother, escorting him through the Chicago basketball maze filled with potential pitfalls. Things worked relatively well. Until he got to high school, that is.

While everyone pushed for Rose to compete on the varsity, his brothers insisted that he play with his classmates. They also insisted that the media give him his space.

“We didn’t want to single him out from the other freshmen,” Reggie told SI. “Kids start reading about themselves too much and get an ego.”

As a 9th grader, he led Simeon’s JV team to the city championship. Rose wore #25 in honor of Benji Wilson, the former 6′8″ Simeon Wolverine Super-Duper star. In 1984 as a junior, Wilson led the school to a state title. With a Magic Johnson-esque skill set, Benji was the country’s top-ranked high school player.

Wilson – who teamed with Nick Anderson on a crew that was being compared to the greatest high school squads of all time – was murdered during a school lunch break before his senior season, felled by a hail of gang banger’s bullets.

Benji Wilson

Ben Wilson

His killing brought tears and sadness to many, shedding a national spotlight on the carnage that was claiming young, black, inner city lives during the Reagan Era. Ben Wilson is considered by many to be the greatest talent the Windy City ever produced. His death continues to haunt Chi-Town’s basketball tapestry.

Wrapped within the insulation of his older brothers, Derrick was unburdened with the muck that permeates the underbelly of the game. The hierarchy of the AAU team that he’d played for since the sixth grade seemed to change overnight, as an assortment of unsavory characters materialized out of the woodwork.

“All of these people got put on staff, and I couldn’t understand where they came from,” Derrick’s brother Reggie told SI.

Taking matters into his own hands, Reggie took nine of Derrick’s AAU teammates, which included current New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon, and started his own team.

“People were just beginning to really look at how they could make money off Derrick,” Reggie told SI. “If we hadn’t kept those people away, he could have ended up like Ronnie Fields.”

Fields was once a legend at Farragut Academy, where he teamed up with Kevin Garnett in 1995. Fields – a 3-time Parade

Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields

Kevin Garnett and Ronnie Fields

All American selection with a vertical leap rumored to be in the neighborhood of 50 inches – averaged 34 points, 12 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals, and 4 blocks a game in high school.

Yet, many believe that he was swallowed up by forces that did not have his best interests at heart.

Only immediate family and close friends were allowed to call D Rose on his cell phone. All others – sneaker company people, college coaches, AAU team reps that wanted to fly him around the country, distant family and neighborhood associates – that had the motivation to want to corrupt the athletic prodigy, were kept at a safe distance.

“I’d give them [older brother] Reggie’s cell,” Rose said in Chicago Magazine. “And he would handle it.”

Derrick’s number got leaked at one point and in a few hours, he had 60 messages and 40 texts.

“There was a message from this [AAU] coach from California trying to get me to play for him,” Derrick told SI, “and someone from down south saying he’d help my family move so I could go to school there.”

“When people asked Derrick for his number, he would just give them mine,” Reggie told SI. “Then they’d call and I’d ask, ‘So, what do you want with Derrick?’”

Those intent on exploiting Rose for his talent accused his brothers of doing the same.

“They’d say we were looking to make money off our brother,” Reggie told SI. “I told them, ‘No one is going to pimp Derrick.”

Gang members, who would normally step on anyone in their path, also made sure that Derrick and his family were not messed with.

“For anyone else, it can be pretty rough, ” Rose told Chicago Magazine’s Noah Isackson about growing up in Englewood with all eyes on him. “They looked out for my mother. They only do that for certain people, and we were lucky.”

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In his highly anticipated varsity debut, he put up 22 points, seven rebounds and five steals in a packed-to- capacity gym brimming at the gizzards with the cream of the crop of NCAA coaches. While averaging 20 points, five rebounds, eight assists and two steals, he led the Wolverines to a 30-5 record.

As a junior in 2006, Simeon won the City and State Championships. They repeated the feat during his senior year, becoming the first Chicago Public League school to win two straight state championships.

I was among the many who tuned in to the January 2007, nationally televised match-up between Simeon and undefeated Oak Hill Academy. And Man-Oh-Manischewitz! did the young fella deliver.

Going against Brandon Jennings and future NCAA champ Nolan Smith of Duke, Rose piled up 28 points, nine assists and eight rebounds while holding Jennings scoreless in the first three quarters.

Rose chose to play his one college season for John Calipari at Memphis. The prospect of being mentored and tutored by assistant coach Rod Strickland, a 17-year veteran of the league (and one of the best, most under-appreciated point guard geniuses the world has ever seen!) played a huge part in the decision.

With D-Rose pumping the accelerator, the Tigers flew out of the gate to a 26–0 start and claimed the number one ranking in the country for the first time in over 25 years.

They strolled into March Madness at 33-1. In the Final Four victory against UCLA, Rose had 25 points and nine rebounds while applying some stalker-chick pressure like Jennifer Jason Leigh in the movie Single White Female on Darren Collison, the Bruins’ mercurial point guard.

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Against Kansas in the National Championship, he scored 17 points, snatched six rebounds, handed out seven assists and was named to the All-Final Four team. He averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists for the tournament. And although Memphis was upset in the final, they would not have had the best season ever in school history without Rose running the show.

The #1 overall pick in the NBA draft, Rose got acclimated to the pros as a member of the USA select team that scrimmaged against the Olympic Redeem Team of Chris Paul, Jason Kidd, LeBron, Kobe and Carmelo.

Throughout his sensational Rookie of the Year campaign, he averaged 17 points, six assists and four rebounds. It all coalesced in his playoff debut when he recorded 36 points on 63% shooting, 11 assists and four rebounds as the Bulls defeated the Celtics in a Game 1, 105–103, overtime win. The 36 points tied the great Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s record for points scored by a rookie in his playoff debut.

We’ve seen the rest of the script play out, from Rookie of the Year to All-Star to NBA MVP at the tender age of 22, surpassing the inimitable Wes Unseld as the youngest player ever to win it.

Hopefully, he’ll come back stronger from the ACL injury that removed him from the landscape for an entire season. The beautiful thing is that Rose is still at the very beginnings of what promises to be a brilliant career.

Without the love, care and concern of his brothers, Derrick Rose might have ended up as a story of unfulfilled promise.

But instead, we get to enjoy one of the greatest young talents the game has ever produced, a young man who is the antithesis of the caricature of today’s spoiled, rich young athlete when he says, “Let me tell you something. If you took away the money, if you took away the fame, the spotlight, if you took away the lifestyle and all the things that come with it, if you took away all the flash, what would you have left? Everything.”

LeBron, D Wade, Paul George, Carmelo and the rest of the East better be getting their work in. Because Derrick Rose is coming back to do some owrk of his own this year. Believe that!

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