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Filed under: Chicago Bulls — Rick Moran @ 10:10 am


He is a quiet, unassuming young man away from the basketball court — polite, respectful, humble, a genuinely nice guy. He’s the kind of young man you hope your daughter brings home some day to announce her engagement. He carries himself with a dignity and grace that you wish more professional athletes would emulate.

But when this nice kid gets on a basketball court, he becomes a gargoyle, a demon, a whirling blur of power, motion, and speed that makes opposing players appear that they are standing in quick drying cement as he streaks by them on his way to another jaw-dropping finish at the rim.

Derrick Rose is not the best NBA player. There are better shooters, better rebounders, better passers. There are better 3-point shooters, players better at dealing out assists or stealing the ball, and better shot blockers.

But only 2 or three players besides Rose feature the entire package. And none, in my estimation can match the burning intensity of his will to win by doing what ever it takes, including sacrificing his body, to carry his team to victory.

Lebron James is, at this point, the best all-around player in the NBA followed closely by his Miami teammate Dwyane Wade. Both of those superstars feature the same kind of speed, power, and leaping ability of Rose. And both may be slightly better defenders than Rose at this point in his career.

That’s because at the ripe old age of 22, Rose has only been in the Big Show for 2 years. But his willingness to accept the coaching of first year skipper Tom Thibideau — a defensive wiz who has turned the Bulls into legitimate contenders virtually overnight — presages future years where the native Chicagoan will no doubt be a perennial first team all-NBA defensive team selection.

A former “Mr. Basketball” in Illinois, Rose’s path to the NBA was a difficult one. Growing up on the mean streets of the South Side of Chicago in the drug and gang ingested Englewood neighborhood, Rose’s father walked out on the family when Derrrick was very young. His mother, a strong willed woman with a determined sense of family, raised the youngster with the help of his three brothers who kept Rose off the streets and away from gangs.

As Rose became a teenager, the brothers shielded the young man from the worst that the basketball culture has to offer. There are so many charlatans, shoe salesmen, scouts, and hangers on for a talented young kid like Rose to avoid on the way up and his brothers performed that function magnificently. Most of us are unaware of the pressures that many of these African American kids from the inner cities of America are under if they have even modest basketball talent. Rose not only avoided scandal and controversy, he thrived in the structured environment offered by both his brothers, and his high school coach.

Winning two state championships with Simeon Academy, Rose went on to win a national championship with Memphis where after only one year, he entered the NBA draft.

Becoming the improbable 1st pick of the Bulls in the 2008 draft (the Bulls, the last lottery team in, had only a 1.7% chance of getting the first pick), he was named Rookie of the Year and followed that season up with a solid second.

Determined to improve his jump shooting, Rose spent the summer of 2010 in the gym practicing. Results of his hard work became immediately apparent as teams that had once dropped off the young star and clogged the middle to prevent his drives to the basket now discovered that Rose would simply rise up and drain 15, 18, foot jumpers. He has even improved his shooting beyond the arc although he has had long dry spells when trying to shoot the three.

With a 40″ vertical leap and a solid 195 lbs on his 6′3″ frame, the strength of this kid is incredible. His body control while in the air is amazing and more than once he has dunked the ball over much taller competitors.

But it is when the game is on the line that Derrick Rose shows his worth. Every great team needs a closer — a guy who can take the ball and put the team on his back, willing it to win. Since most NBA games are close affairs, the last 3 minutes of a game usually determines the outcome. This season, Rose has made sure that if the Bulls are ahead, they stay ahead, and if they are down, they more often than not catch up and surpass the opposing team in those final, vital minutes. He’s not the best closer in the game - yet. But in a year or two, the Bulls will lose few close games with Derrick Rose on the court.

What Rose has meant to the Chicago Bulls this year is incalculable. With the team missing players like Carlos Boozer (21 games) and Joachim Noah (31 games), the Bulls nevertheless have the best record in the Eastern Conference and a shot at the number one seed for the playoffs and home court advantage throughout. It has been Rose who has kept the team together, urging it on to greater effort, and supplying that killer instinct that all great teams need in order to prevail.

The Bulls will probably not win an NBA championship this year. They may not even get to the Eastern Conference finals. But there is no doubt that the league must once again reckon with the Chicago Bulls. For the first time since the Michael Jordan era, Bulls fans are delirious with excitement over their team.

And most of all, they are delirious over the hometown kid with the shy smile and the heart of a lion.

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