At their most basic level, sports are just games. But the old cliché holds true. If you’re a fan, if you’re a player, if you love sports, it’s much more than a game. The game is only an element of sport, only a variable in the equation. What makes sports more than a game are the stories, the dreams, the people, the personalities. The glory, the honor, the triumph and tragedy. Sport manages to capture the dramas of life and encapsulate them in a bunch of people running around chasing a ball. There’s a difference between games and sports, and that’s what makes Derrick Rose leaving such a hard thing to swallow.
Trades are a part of sports. All teams make them, players get traded all the time, it happens. But everything surrounding Derrick Rose was everything that made basketball more than a game to Bulls fans. He had the story. Rose is a native son. He grew up in Englewood, one of the more notorious neighborhoods in the city of Chicago. He won a state championship for his high school, Simeon. When he returned to Chicago, he came as a 19-year old rookie picked first over all. The city dreamed of a return to the glory days of the Bulls dynasty, this time captained by one of its own. And Rose was no average player. He became Rookie of the Year, won the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award, and led the team in some incredible seasons. Derrick Rose’s success was not only his; it was Chicago’s. The entire city swelled with pride that a kid from a rough neighborhood could rise to such heights.
Derrick Rose was also the ideal player for a city like Chicago. The City of Big Shoulders has little tolerance for divas. Occasionally, when Rose said that possible future soreness in meetings prevented him from playing as hard as he could, he came across diva-esque. But really, Rose was the image of poise and humility, a young man who handled immense success and fame with grace not often seen in professional sports. When he won his MVP award, he was the youngest basketball player ever to win an award that is totally about individual play and individual achievement in a team sport. But when he won this award, he thanked those who helped him get to where he was, particularly his mother, who raised him on her own. To paraphrase John Donne, no man is an island unto himself, and Rose understood his success was a mix of his incredible talent, his work ethic, and the people that helped him along the way. Rose was a great athlete to watch because of his trademark humility and stoicism. He was not a leader because he was the loudest or the most excitable. He was a leader because he was composed, cool, and for a while played some incredible basketball. But after many years, Rose had had too many knee surgeries, taken too many ill-advised three’s, and had too few rings. In what many predicted to be a year of transition and reformation for the Chicago Bulls, he became a part of the past to be washed away.
Now, even as Rose has legions of loyal fans, many in Chicago are cheering the departure of this native son. So is the world of sports. Derrick Rose came home as the Bulls’ number one draft pick with the hopes of returning to the glory days of Michael Jordan. Alas, hopes were crushed like Rose’s knee ligaments on many an occasion, and now the goodbye is somewhat tainted by those who are filled with glee to see the man go. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the Bulls needed to change something. All the sports broadcaster’s I’ve listened to during the past few days have said the Bulls may not be any better or any worse than they were before this trade, but they are different, and that counts for something. Change was needed. But it is still a bit hard to stomach for a kid who fell in love with basketball with the rise and fall of Derrick Rose. A little bit of the magic of sports is lost for Chicago fans as Rose packs his bags for the Big Apple. Derrick Rose was special for the reasons sports are special, and that’s what makes his fall all the more tragic. But life goes on, and it is just a game. So I’d just like to take the chance to say thank you, Derrick Rose, for what you did for this city, and good luck in New York. And if the basketball gods decide to smile down, cure your knees, and bring you back a-la LeBron for a title, that’d be swell.