As I have alluded to in a number of posts to date I have developed somewhat of an unhealthy affinity for a younger man.  Read into that what you will.  I’m not talking about anything we need to alert the authorities about (yet) but stepping back for a second, it is remarkable how fascinated and awestruck I am over the exploits of a 22 year old kid whom I share similar chromosomes with.  Even creepier is the fact that I know I’m not alone in this matter.  Hundreds of thousands of men aging from seven to seventy-seven have all found themselves smitten with a quiet kid from the Southside of Chicago and the skills he brings to the hardwood, and the personality and humility he presents off of it.  I guess this is a microcosm of the sporting culture in general where young men gifted with a particular “skill” garner more respect and attention from the media and world at large than our political and business leaders combined, but that’s a whole ‘nother diatribe that I’ll save for a different day.  Today I am here to celebrate a boy among men that plays like a man among boys, whose skill level and acrobatics with a basketball captures the imagination of the youth of America, and his team first, shy away from the spotlight mentality remind our country’s elder statesmen of a golden age of sport they’ve complained about missing since the arrival of entourages, cocaine, and cable television.  The person I obviously am speaking of is Omer Asik…. errrr… Derrick Rose.

I am going to get this out of the way now as the remaining paragraphs are going to get a little awkward quite frankly, but it needs to be stated that Derrick Rose is not infallible.  Obviously I don’t know him personally so for all I know his jaw clicks when he eats or maybe he doesn’t replace the toilet paper roll in the bathroom – or worse yet, when flying Southwest he sets his bags down on one of the comfy chairs with power supplies and arm rests at the gate and then proceeds to walk around the terminal until boarding time essentially wasting the perfectly good seat and relegating me to sit on the floor (can you tell I travel a lot?) – but I digress.  From the outside looking in the tarnish on the statue has to do with his college experience at Memphis. 

As you would assume Mr. Rose was quite the high school prospect coming out of Simeon and I’m sure every NCAA program in the nation had him on their radar.  There was a brief period in 2006 where the University of Illinois was hot on the trail of Derrick as well as Eric Gordon (out of Indianapolis and currently starring for the Los Angeles Clippers and Team USA last summer) in an attempt to create a super backcourt to return the Illini to the promise land.  Gordon actually committed to Illinois (only later to rescind that commitment and go to Indiana instead) but Derrick never apparently never took U of I seriously due in large part, per the rumors at the time, to Illinois’ athletic apparel agreements.  Wait, what?  Yup, the word on the street was that Derrick Rose was an Adidas guy and U of I was a Nike program and that’s the end of the recruiting process.  I don’t pretend to nor do I want to know half of the seedy underbelly that goes on within America’s AAU programs – the non-school sanctioned travel basketball teams put together and run by guys with the words “Sweet”, “Cash”, and “Fast” incorporated into their names – that historically are corrupt to the core in putting teenagers in touch with agents and shoe companies outside of the world of NCAA and High School sanctions.  Again, I don’t know any particular details here but while Derrick Rose was still in high school a kid like me that really only learned about this stuff through the Chicago Tribune and (fairly mainstream outlets) knew Derrick was tied to Adidas and lo and behold he found his way to Memphis (an Adidas sponsored program) and then upon turning pro signed a lucrative endorsement deal with… you guessed it.  Does this make him the anti-Christ?  I wouldn’t go that far.  Apparently this is the way these things work and he’s hardly alone in having dots along these lines connect so easily, but it still needs to be said that if proven true, none of the above is exactly allowed, encouraged, or potentially even legal.

The second serious blip on Derrick’s otherwise immaculate portfolio is the whole matter of whether he really took his SATs.  Minor detail I know.  Apparently Mr. Rose, after reportedly failing the ACT three separate times, allegedly had someone else take his SATs for him so that he could get into school.  Again, I’m no investigative journalist so you can read for yourself the details here.  So that whole 38-2 record at Memphis completed with a loss to Kansas in the NCAA Tournament title game?  Never happened.  Just like Reggie Bush was not the best player in college football in 2005.  Not exactly a real bright spot on the résumé and even the biggest homer will have trouble defending that one but I’m not going to sit here and bring clouds to an otherwise sunny day…

So those negatives aside let’s talk about all the good this young man has brought into the world.  My goal here is not to compose his Wikipedia page, but here’s a brief history that has brought us to today:

  • Derrick was raised by his mother and three brothers who famously saw his gifts at an early age and protected him from the outside temptations and dangers of growing up in a dangerous neighborhood on the Southside.
  • Rose led Simeon to two state titles his Junior and Senior seasons.  In the state championship his senior year, despite averaging 25 points per game during the season, he only scored two points in the final making every effort to make his friends look good so they would be recruited and receive scholarships to college. 
  • In the college season that never happened, Derrick spent the first half of the year deferring to older teammates.  At one point coach John Calipari famously told Rose, “you’re our best player, now play like it” and Rose took over from there and led his team to the National Championship game where they lost on a last second shot to Mario Chalmers and Kansas.
  • Derrick was the first pick overall in the NBA Draft despite the Bulls already having Kirk Hinrich on the roster and Kansas State’s Michael Beasley posting a 26.2/12.4/1.2 (pts/rebounds/assists) average with 1.3 steals and 1.6 blocks to boot in his lone year of college at the power forward position, a.k.a. a huge position of need for the Bulls at the time.  Basically, Derrick was good enough at what he does that the Bulls took him when they already had a starter at his position and had a huge hole at the spot the next best player in the draft could fill.
  • Year 1: Averaged 16.8/3.9/6.3, NBA Rookie of the Year, won the NBA Skills Competition at the All Star Game, led the Bulls to one of the most memorable playoff series in NBA history taking the Boston Celtics to 7 games.
  • Year 2: Averaged 20.8/3.7/6.0, selected to his first All Star Game, led Bulls back to the playoffs where their 2nd best player was Joakim Noah’s foot that didn’t have plantar fasciitis, led Team USA to World Championship in Turkey.
  • Year 3 (this year): 25.1/4.1/7.9, started his first All Star Game and elected team captain, led Bulls to best record in the Eastern Conference and 1 game off of the best record in the league as of this writing.  Front runner for NBA MVP and routinely hears M-V-P chants at road games.

The beauty of Derrick Rose is that the stats above only tell half of the story.  What is lost in the numbers are the stories behind them.  Remember those teammates in the state championship game his senior year of high school?  They’re now his roommates and keep him on the straight and narrow by accompanying him to the Berto Center at all hours of the night to shoot hoops and play horse.  That’s what you did for fun when you were 22 right?  Apparently in these late night games Derrick brought a swagger that bordered on cocky while he picked apart his friends and eventually they asked, “why don’t you do this in real games?”  Those night sessions at the Berto Center led to Rose asking the media, “why can’t I be MVP?” as training camp began last fall.  He knew the work he put in and he was confident in his abilities.  Whether it was the sessions with Team USA last summer where the practices were the equivalent of all star games, or the games against the World’s best talent on the biggest stage this side of the Olympics, Rose had found a new gear mentally.

Finding a new gear for him by the way is like adding a 6th gear to a Ferrari.  Derrick long has had the drive to continue developing his game.  Coming into the league he could get by whomever was assigned the unenviable task of guarding him, but his game ended in the lane or at the rim.  While a pure natural talent, he was hesitant to speak up and take control as I think even he would admit he did not feel that the Bulls were his team yet.  Last year to his arsenal was added the 15-18 footer that kept his defender within the same zip code as well as the clutch shooting we’ve come to love this year.  The maturation was setting in as Ben Gordon was no longer aboard to take the shot as the clock clicked to zero.  This past summer, despite everything else going on (commercials, World Championships, you know, normal stuff for a 21 year old on summer break) Derrick introduced the three point shot to his game for real (after a noticeable uptick in attempts after last year’s All Star game) via a literal 1,000 shots per day, driving to the hole looking for contact, and daily injections of (Russian accent) alligator blood in his veins.  Working with Rob McClanaghan in Santa Monica, Rose, along with Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, pushed himself to the limit starting in May (two weeks after this playoff ouster to Cleveland) six days a week for the past three summers to improve his game in whatever facet he saw lacking.  It’s no coincidence that those three all played for Team USA last summer and all have had breakout seasons (beyond their already high levels of achievement) in the League this year as well.  Derrick was the only one I’m aware of that called McClanaghan after the World Championships trying to get in two more weeks of sessions prior to starting training camp.  Are you picking up on a sense of drive with this kid?         

Physically I can’t come up with a comparison to Derrick in the league today, if ever.  In a recent interview with Nick Friedell, John Paxon admitted that when drafting Derrick they had no idea he’d be this good, but the organization just felt like they couldn’t pass up a kid that big and that fast at the point guard position.  In Pax’s words, “I don’t think the league has ever seen anything like him.”  Stacey King has made a t-shirt ready catch phrase from his impromptu too big, too fast, too strong, too good! line when describing Derrick, but can you think of a better summation of his skills?  Particularly in today’s game of no hand checking, where guards can build up a head of steam without the clutching and grabbing of the Jordan Rules era, there is no one on the planet that can stay in front of him off the dribble.  No point guard can put a body on him in the post (reportedly the focus of this summer’s efforts will be on post moves – LeBron James should take note) and he’s solid enough that he can absorb whatever contact may find him when he gets to the hole while he finishes.  It took the refs the better part of the first forty games to start recognizing the beating he was taking this year and his free throw attempts have increased accordingly.  The fact that he had to carry the ball like a running back between the tackles prior to shooting didn’t tip them off?  How can you blame the refs though when this kid continues to finish at the rim when other point guards are sent flying upon arriving in the land of the trees?  There was a point in Derrick’s rookie season – during a pre-season game no less – where a reporter was talking to Mark Cuban who was in the stands as the Mavericks were in town and he was flirting with buying the Cubs, and the reporter asked, “what’s new with the NBA this year?”, right as Derrick was on the receiving end of an alley-oop, and Cuban deadpanned, “well your point guard’s head was just above the rim, that’s new.”  The kid’s skill set is just filthy.

Physical freakishness aside, what makes Derrick more special than anything is his make-up.  Every year there’s a Tyrus Thomas that can jump out of the gym (or in the NFL Jarron Gilbert can jump out of a pool) but I don’t think your kids will know either of their names.  Derrick’s skill that sets him apart from any other, particularly in todays day and age, is his humility and team first outlook. 

When asked about his summer bootcamps – “a lot of guys work hard in the summer, it’s my teammates that have made our success possible.”

When asked about whether he should be the league MVP – “I’m not even the MVP of my own team, Luol Deng is our rock.”

When asked how it feels to be the league MVP – “oh, don’t say that.  I haven’t won anything yet.”

He’s handled the weight of being the #1 pick on his hometown team.  He’s shined the light on everyone in the organization other than himself while making Jordan’s shadow a thing of the past.  He takes every big shot, makes every big decision, has improved his defense, and followed every direction of his first year head coach setting a tone for the entire team this season.  When your best player falls in line and puts up MVP numbers while never so much as drawing attention to himself with a chest thump, it’s hard for anyone to do different.  Have you ever seen a 20-10 player like Carlos Boozer not complain when he’s put on the bench in crunch time for defensive purposes?  Has Luol Deng every played through pain the way he has this year?  Has a team every fallen in line behind their leader in such lock step before – well probably yes in history, but it’s 2011 damn it and we need to make everything sound like it’s the greatest EVER.  Regardless, Derrick embodies the personality of this team, one in which everyone in the NBA, including fans of rival clubs, have embraced as the definition of all that can be good in sports.  Pay attention Chicago because history is being made.

So that’s my wrap.  Basically, if I had a daughter I’d want her to bring home a kid like Derrick.  If I had a son, I’d want him to embody Derrick’s inner drive and exterior personality.  In fact, when this whole thing gets sorted out I think Derrick and I should get an apartment together.  Well, maybe not that, but mostly because I don’t want him waking me up at 2am to go embarrass me at the Berto Center.  While the stat geeks will flood the internet with win share and shooting percentages that aren’t good enough for an MVP, just think to yourself what the word valuable means to you.  If it means putting a team, an organization, and a city on your back at the tender age of 22 and recognizing that it’s your responsibility to carry them all to greatness and the actually doing it, well, I don’t know how you can bring more value to the table than that.              

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