The Chicago Bulls needed a superstar to rise after Michael Jordan retired and left a basketball void in the second city.
Luckily for Chicago, Derrick rose.
Hometown product Derrick Rose landed with the Chicago Bulls through improbable odds in 2009. The team had just a 1.7% chance to land the No. 1 pick in the draft that year. They picked Rose, a Memphis Tiger’s point guard who grew up on the mean streets of one of the South Side’s toughest neighborhoods.
He made it worth their while, leading the Bulls to the playoffs in his first year with the team, and every year since. The country got to know him when he became the youngest NBA MVP in history. Now he has a chance to introduce himself to the world through the London 2012 Olympic Games.
There’s just one problem:
"I still have to make the team first,” Rose said during a shoot-around at the Bulls training facility recently. “If I make the team, for me to represent the country it would be great, it would be an honor just to be on that team. They're great guys. Hopefully I learn something from them, learn some leadership skills. But, that’s if I make the team."
Rose has been on the 27-member Team USA national basketball squad since 2010. But only 12 members will be selected by coach Mike Krzyzewski to the Olympics team.
As fabulous as his record is, he is not a sure bet to make it to London this summer.
Rose has been injured for much of 2012, and other point guards like Derron Williams or Chris Paul could supersede him in the pecking order for the final roster.
The world would miss out on hearing a special story if Rose were passed over.
“I think when he's healthy, he's as good as any player in the NBA,” said Hall-of-Fame NBA writer Sam Smith, who covered Jordan and now covers Rose. “I mean, he's the MVP, right? I'm not sure who's the best. Is it LeBron James? Is it Kevin Durant? I'm not sure. But he's as good as any of them.”
Rose blossomed as a basketball player early. He won his first public school championship in sixth grade. He attended high school at the acclaimed basketball powerhouse Simeon Academy.
He played in 132 games for Simeon and lost just 12. Simeon won back-to-back state championships with Derrick and his skills earned him a spot on the McDonald's All American team, and springboarded him to a one-year college career at Memphis, in which his Tigers made it to the Final Four.
Before recruiting him, college coach John Calipari called Rose a gifted athlete and a good person.
"There are two things that are important about Derrick right now: He's physically gifted and he has the skill sets with ball handling that allow him to be exceptional," Calipari said to Sports Illustrated in 2007. "He's also the nicest great player I've come across. He doesn't act like some of these guys who think they can poop ice cream."
There's natural ability, in Rose, and also determination.
He was able to learn basketball skills during his humble upbringing in Englewood, one of Chicago’s most dangerous, and gang-addled neighborhoods.
His brothers, Reggie, Dwayne and Allen taught him the game on the courts of Murray playground. They also shielded him from the neighborhood. Legend has it that gang members in Englewood made a pact not to recruit Rose to their ranks because he had a chance to make it out of there.
Once he made it to the NBA, those same gangs agreed to call Murray Playground a safe zone.
“He paved the way,” one unidentified gang member told a Chicago paper in 2010. “It used to be called Murder Park. But when Derrick made it to the NBA, we made it better out of respect. He comes from this block, and he represents all of us.”
Rose tries not to forget his roots. He had Englewood tattooed on his forearms, after all. He knows what his success means to that neighborhood.
"I know it means a lot; giving kids hope, man,” Rose said. “There are people [in Englewood] that think that they can't get to where I am right now but I'm an example that you can. I'm proof that you can. As you see, I'm here, doing well and I'm just trying to stay positive."
Englewood gets its due, but, Rose is now the face of basketball in Chicago. And yes, he’s helped this city move past the last hoops legend.
“Now you can dream of a championship again and you couldn't do that since the Jordan era ended,” Smith said.