Youngest In Charge

by May 04, 2011

by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford

1.7 percent.

That’s how slim the Chicago Bulls‘ chances were of getting the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NBA Draft Lottery. The odds were stacked all the way against the Second City, but Lady Luck decided to smile on us all and give us the first pick.

And then, on the night of June 26, 2008 at Madison Square Garden, David Stern approached the podium and uttered the words that would change this city forever.

“With the first pick in the 2008 NBA Draft,” began the Commissioner, “the Chicago Bulls select…” the player who went on to be named Rookie of the Year, an All-Star Game reserve and then a starter back-to-back, and now, the youngest MVP in the history of the League. All in just three short years.

Derrick Rose, ladies and gentleman.

While Chicagoans were celebrating his momentous achievement yesterday afternoon, there are still a lot of people from other parts of the country who still don’t feel that he’s deserving of this honor. The same thing happened last year when Rose was named an All-Star for the first time.

But the MVP award is so much bigger. It means a whole lot more. Therefore, a larger contingent of people weighed in and gave their opinions. His candidacy and his status as a frontrunner was the hot-button topic for months and caused a rift as wide as the Earth is from the moon between the “watch the games” sect and the stat community.

Rose was not only criticized numerically, he was also peppered with every negative superlative you can levy against a basketball player, both online and in print. He’s been called inefficient, a ball-hog, a chucker, a 2-guard in a point guard’s body, devoid of basketball IQ, you name it. Some have even gone so far as to call him selfish, something he’s not and has never been.

But just like his signature drives to the basket, Rose exploded past his detractors, avoided the negativity and still finished strong. Receiving the Maurice Podloff trophy in such convincing fashion (113 out of 121 votes) is evidence of that.

And it is because of this unwarranted criticism and the fact that so many people have seemingly gone so far out of their way to be critical of him, I feel, more than anyone else, that Derrick Rose deserves the title of this year’s Most Valuable Player. Yes, it is a basketball award, but his value isn’t something that can be measured just by what he accomplishes on the basketball court. It’s so much bigger and deeper than that.

Derrick Rose’s value stretches through the entire South Side of Chicago. Through the Englewood neighborhood that protected him. Through Murray Park, where he played, and down 73rd Street, where he grew up.

His value goes through the halls of Simeon High School and is reflective of the legacy of Ben Wilson, the player who had the skills and ability to achieve similar accolades, but tragically fell victim to street violence, leaving a dark cloud over this city and a cautionary tale that still resonates to this very day.

His value goes through a franchise and a city that dynastically reigned supreme and sat atop the basketball totem pole in the ‘90s, and then it all came crashing down and Chicago became hoops irrelevant and an afterthought for six consecutive years.

You see, in a basketball crazy town such as this, Derrick experienced the highs of celebrating Michael Jordan’s MVP awards and winning those NBA Championships just like the rest of us. He may have been young, but he knew what it meant. He also experienced the lows that came from having to watch his hometown team go from being dominant to a doormat. He understands that all too well.

And hitting much closer to home, he’s witnessed guys with all the talent in the world never see their pro potential fulfilled for a variety of reasons, and he made the choice not to become a statistic.

Derrick Rose’s value isn’t because of the trophy he received yesterday, the one that will be on display tonight as he hoists it up to the adoring cheers of his hometown crowd. No, his value is in spite of it. His value is rooted in the pride that we all feel as Chicagoans in seeing one of our own reach these heights, and the pride that comes from being relevant in the game of basketball again.

We had that before with Jordan, but MJ flew here. DRose grew here, and therein lies the difference.

Derrick Rose is Chicago. Derrick Rose is truly one of us.

As a Chicago native who has played and followed basketball in this city for well over half my life, the pride that I feel in seeing someone not just from the same city as me, but also from the same neighborhood receive these awards and honors gives me a feeling that words can’t even express; a feeling that differs from that of an ordinary fan.

As someone who has had to navigate the same pitfalls as he did growing up in Englewood, it feels good to see someone blessed with such extraordinary talent not get swallowed up by the streets like so many others who came before him, and become a symbol of hope, an icon, and a measuring stick for so many of those who will come after him.

So while Derrick Rose may not be “your” MVP, he’s certainly “ours.”

Congratulations, Pooh! You deserve it. It’s all love and Chi-Town has your back, all day!