Chicago is going to be telling stories about Derrick Rose for as long as any of us are alive, so on the morning after he suffered his third major knee injury, it only seems right to share a few of them.
1. This city has made celebrities out of star high school basketball players before. There was Isiah Thomas at west suburban St. Joseph's in the '70s, Ben Wilson at Simeon in the '80s, Ronnie Fields at Farragut in the '90s and Eddy Curry at Thornwood in 2001. From the moment word started to spread about him, though, Derrick Rose seemed different.
The newspapers talked about this explosive point guard from Simeon like he was an urban legend. He was the fastest player anyone had ever seen. Tales of the dunks he threw down in pre-game layup lines traveled quickly by word of mouth. High school basketball means something to a lot of people in this city. When Rose came along, they took notice.
The first time Rose played at the United Center was in 2006 for the CPS championship, with Simeon facing Washington. Rose was a junior and the hype machine was in its early stages. This might have been the first time he played on TV. On back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, he ripped two dunks that justified everything those who knew him were saying.
A few weeks later, Simeon faced Peoria Richwoods for the state championship. The game was ugly as sin: without a shot clock, Richwoods held the ball as long as possible. It went to overtime. On the final possession, with the score tied at 29, Rose cut down the middle of the lane and hit a floater to win the game at the buzzer.
Watch that play again. It was the exact same shot he would hit so many other times in his career. For both Rose and the city, this was the start of something special.
2. There was a point in the summer of 2010 when it seemed like the Bulls were the team set to rewrite the NBA. Rose was entering his third season, Joakim Noah was coming into his own and the franchise had enough money to sign two max free agents. A shadowy NBA power broker named Worldwide Wes said "LeBron James is going to Chicago, and Chris Bosh is coming, too." You know how this story ended.
Three months later, Rose showed up at training camp and asked a rhetorical question that was so outrageous it almost seemed existential.
As it turned out, Rose was a prophet. He averaged 25 points and eight assists per game while leading the Bulls to an NBA-best 62 wins. He was 22 years and six months old. He was the youngest MVP in league history.
3. Jonathan Watkins was changing the diaper of his 6-month old daughter in May of 2013 when a gunman approached and started firing. The young girl was killed. It was the start of another bloody summer in Chicago where too much of the violence was concentrated on the south side of the city not far from where Rose grew up. When the story of the killing started spreading around the news, Rose approached the funeral home on his own accord and offered to pay for the procession.
A year later, a 14-year-old girl named Endia Martin was gunned down over a fight that started on Facebook. The killing brought an outpouring of support from the community. In the back of the funeral home, there was Derrick Rose.
A month ago, a youth basketball coach from the south side named Drake Adams passed away. Once again, there was Derrick Rose.
Derrick Rose didn't give his time and his money with positive PR in mind. He did it because he cares deeply about his city. If you only know one thing about Rose as a man, know that.
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Something was markedly different about the feel of Rose's latest knee injury, which was announced in a press release late Tuesday night. This time, Chicago didn't get a visual to jump start the feeling of dread. He didn't collapse on the floor like he did at the United Center in April, 2012. He didn't hobble away like he did in Portland with a torn meniscus in 2013.
Those first two injuries produced the type of moment that stays burned into a person's brain forever. I remember where I was, who I was with, the music I listened to and how bad I felt the next morning from foolishly trying to drink away the grief. I won't forget any of that soon.
On Tuesday night, a text alert popped up on my phone and that was it. It didn't feel like heartache so much as a cruel joke.
Chicago seems overprotective of Rose to many who don't live here. They might be right. It would be hard to argue that Rose was among the 10 or 15 best point guards in the NBA this season before the injury. His shot selection was often terrible, his assists had dropped and his turnovers were on the rise. It was hard to watch at times. But you never took it for granted, because you knew how quickly it could be gone. After all, I've written this feature twice before.
The only way to really grasp the city's relationship with Derrick is to think of him as family. We've known him since he was a kid. We watched him leave home and fail on college basketball's biggest stage. We cashed in on a 1.7 percent chance in the lottery to earn the right to draft him. Ever since, the lows and the highs have hit with an equal amount of force.
At the same time, there are a lot of people in this city who turned on Rose as soon as the injuries arrived. It's easy to point to columnists and radio hosts who have spent the last three years attacking his character, but those aren't his only detractors. It's also your uncle and your neighbor, one or two of your close friends and almost certainly your father. That's what really hurts.
So many people saw all the money Rose was making with the Bulls and a contract with adidas that was twice as big and didn't think he gave the franchise everything he could have. They saw the way he refused to return in 2013 after team doctors cleared him in March. They saw the strange quotes earlier this season about wanting to preserve his body for graduations and business meetings 15 years in the future. For some, empathy might as well be a foreign concept.
When that text alert came Tuesday night, there was no grand moment meant to be remembered forever. It was a surprise, sure, but it wasn't exactly shocking. Chicago has been desensitized to this sort of thing. The feeling didn't swell, it was mostly just numb and cold.
Rose will be back at some point. The Bulls will be fine too, at least as much as they can be. The realities around the player and the team have changed again, and with it both will need to adjust. Rose wasn't counted on to be a one-man army this season, and it's likely he will never be that player again.
In a certain sense, that's fine. When it comes to Derrick Rose, it wasn't just about basketball.
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