Chicago has been in national headlines for all the wrong reasons for the past two years. Though http://ebony.com/news-views/enough-keep-chicago-out-your-mouth-343#.UnEEBxCdXiEI continue to take issue with the ways (and reasons) that my city's violence crisis is reported on, I'm also not going to deny that we're in peril. Just weeks ago, the FBI reported that Chicago had more murders than any other city in the U.S. An epidemic of youth violence has erupted in the Windy City’s roughest areas, leaving a trail of tears, broken hearts and fractured homes.
As a shining counter-narrative to inner-city violence, Derrick Rose is the quintessence of the potential that every inner-city kid can achieve. The pride that Chicagoans have for him is far from disingenuous or surface level. When he tore his ACL last year, Chicago’s heart dropped with him. But his return as the floor general of the Chicago Bulls is more than just a chance at a better record, or a possible shot at the title: it’s a glimpse of hope in a city that desperately needs it.
As far back as 7th grade, the talk around Chi-town was that this special Rose was destined to grow from the concrete jungle. The city watched Derrick grow from a high-school phenom to the number one pick of the 2008 NBA Draft. Along with his loving mother and older brothers, we nurtured, protected him, and kept him focused so that his story would not be another Chicago tale of unfulfilled potential like the larger than life Ben Wilson or the freakishly athletic Ronnie Fields.
And in turn, our humble superstar has more than returned the favor by developing his immense natural ability, and staying dedicated to his dream (our dream). He lets us now how much the city means to him as well. Though he often shies away from the spotlight, Rose understands what not only his career, but his life means to the city of Chicago. The prime example of his humility is in the catharsis of joy and pain of his tears during his 2012 shoe unveiling.
“It’s truly a blessing man…with all this stuff that’s going on in this city, a kid from Englewood got something positive going on…That makes me feel so good, man…I’ve went through so much…It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to my family, because we ain’t suppose to be here, at all.”
We’ve been walking this road right with him, which is why we get so emotional when it comes to him. And though Chicagoans try to lighten the weight of the city on his strong shoulders, his significance to our town isn’t going anywhere soon. Fans like Southsider Steve Ward, who played against Rose back in high school, knows how the hoops star's presence in the city means much more than just basketball.
“D. Rose embodies humility, hard work and is always positive. He is damn near the poster child for 'rags to riches' in the Chi.”
Many Chicagoans feel that Rose’s return to the court will have a renewing effect around the city, inspiring some to trade in their nights on the streets for evenings of rooting for Bulls as they take on the rest of the league.
“His return means a new, positive focus for the media,” says diehard Bulls fan Andrew Harris. “If he can carry Chicago to the championship, people will be off the streets and in front of the television watching their own”.
The full impact his return has on the community has yet to be seen, but Rose has already begun sending shockwaves throughout the league. In his first game back, he was noticeably still shaking off the rust of inaction for so long. But his pre-season debut against the Indiana Pacers was full of bright spots, including several powerful drives to the rim, a couple acrobatic layups, and a fast-break jam. At the Bulls and Rose’s first homecoming, the deafening roar of the crowd filled the United Center as soon as the announcer introduced him with “from Chicago." Rose lead the team to an impressive 96-81 win against the Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls, who look to be a contender in the Eastern Conference, ended the preseason with a perfect 8-0 record. The former MVP averaged approximately 20 points and 5 assists close to 50% shooting in just 27 minutes per game. Derrick’s signature blinding speed and explosion were on showcase throughout the preseason, as he got to the basket with ease, and absorbed contact with the added muscle to his frame. You could hear the gasps all the way from Madison Street anytime he took a fall, but also the sighs of reliefs every time he got back up unscathed. With the Windy City’s prodigal son back on the hardwood, this year’s season is gearing up to be one of the best yet. And though their first game of the season against the Miami Heat didn't go as well as one would have hoped—falling 107 to 95, with Rose only scoring 12 points—the hometown hero's signature humility and resilience seem to be back in effect mode. "I don't think it was rust," he told reporters. "It was just me missing shots. I've had worse shooting nights than this. If anything, I'm going to have amnesia about it and we play in two days."
To be clear, Derrick Rose’s presence won’t solve Chicago’s problems. Our problems are bigger than the bounce of a ball or the brilliance of one of the games’s best players can directly alleviate.
But he gives us hope. And that is one of many great starting points in a team effort to purge the Chi-town from the immense amount of negativity with which the city has been saddled. This isn't about inspiring another generation of young people to see sports as the only way 'out,' but rather, a Black man in the public eye who is gracious, humble, determined and hard-working—and in love with his city.
There will be a whole city behind cheering on #TheReturn. But those cheers will be coming from a much deeper energy than just the goading of sports fanatics. If you’re not from Chicago, you just might not understand. Because is he more than a basketball player to Chicago. Derrick Rose is family.