Sorrow blooms in Englewood over Rose injury
Diane Gaines walks past a Bulls mural featuring Derrick Rose at the Harold Chicken Shack at 79th Street and Western Avenue. Rose, a South Side native, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. (Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune)
Derrick Rose felt something pop as he drove to the basket late in Saturday's Bulls playoff opener against the Sixers, and across Englewood, fans knew exactly what that something was: the dream of a neighborhood hero leading Chicago to the NBA title.
As the Bulls built the NBA's best jordan 13 bred regular season record, nowhere did the dream of D Rose bringing home the first post Michael Jordan championship loom larger than the hardscrabble neighborhood where Rose first dribbled a basketball. Rose is beloved by Bulls fans for his stellar play and modest demeanor, but in Englewood, one of the city's poorest, toughest neighborhoods, his rise has been a rare and powerful affirmation.
Rose's torn anterior cruciate ligament tore heartstrings on the South Side, Steven Martin said Sunday as he watched pickup basketball at Murray Park on West 73rd Street, a few blocks from Rose's boyhood home. Rose is a role model, and his journey from Murray Park pickup games to NBA MVP and shoe contract millionaire has been a storybook saga for Englewood.
"He's meant a lot to the kids out here," said Martin, a security guard who coaches basketball at Randolph Middle School. "We had a lot of arguing over who was going to wear jersey No. 1 this year.
'When the playoffs started, I think everybody thought we were going to go all the way. They're a strong team. But now? I don't know."
Standing on the Murray Park court after an impromptu slam dunk contest bred 13s Sunday, 19 year old Carlos Johnson said he was speechless when Rose went down.
"He's the best player on the best team, and he's from my city," said Johnson, who said he's friends with one of Rose's cousins. "But I kind of lost hope. I don't know. I think they can make it to the conference finals."
Rose's awkward stumble in the lane was the latest bump in a career path that, until this season, had seemed charmed. Rose won two state titles at Simeon High School, then led the University of Memphis to the national championship game in his first, and only, college season (though the team later forfeited every victory because of a cheating scandal that involved Rose). He was the first player taken in the 2008 NBA draft, then was named Rookie of the Year. Last season, he led the Bulls to the best record in the NBA and was named league MVP.
In the minds of many Englewood residents, he clearly had ascended into the pantheon of the city's greatest hoops stars. Last year, the Harold's Chicken Shack at 79th Street and Western Avenue added a mural of Rose standing beneath the retired jerseys of Bulls greats.
As he waited for his order Sunday, Greg Lee Jr., 29, mourned prematurely for what might have been. "If the Bulls don't win it all this year, there will be nothing but what ifs. If they even get close, there will be what ifs. I thought this was their year," he said.
Lee, who tore his ACL playing pickup basketball as a teenager, worries that Rose's name might never hang from a banner in the United Center.
"I've felt that pain," he said, rattling off a list of promising NBA players whose careers faltered after ACL surgery. "Tracy McGrady. Steve Francis. Man, it makes me angry. . He was going to be the next Michael Jordan in this town"
This season, Rose signed a $250 million endorsement deal with Adidas, a contract that, as much as any trophy, marked him as one of the league's truly elite players. But he also missed 27 games with a variety of injuries over a season that was shortened and condensed by a players strike. With a patched up lineup, the Bulls won more games than any other team and seemed destined for a showdown with the star studded Miami Heat.
At It's Your Barbershop on West 63rd Street, owner Leonard Vessels expects that when he opens Tuesday, debate over whether Rose should have even been in the game when the injury occurred will make for some of the liveliest conversation in the 40 years he has been cutting hair.
Rose younger, more soft spoken and more accessible than Jordan has been a hero Englewood kids can relate to.
"When Michael Jordan was playing, you saw all the kids wearing the fancy Jordan shoes," Vessels said. "Since Derrick started playing, you see a bred 13s 2013 lot more kids dribbling basketballs."
Martin, the coach whose middle school team is sponsored by Adidas thanks to Rose, said he can also see Rose's influence in the way his players try to emulate the Bulls star's pass first, selfless play. Rose's tireless work ethic will allow him to overcome his injury in due time, Martin said, but the Bulls winning games without their star player could be an inspiration as well.
"To bred 13s for sale win one without your star player, without Derrick?" Martin said. "They might do it. That might be the greatest thing of all.".