The Maurice Podoloff trophy stood in all its splendor. The new car from the award’s sponsor gleamed nearby. And everybody on stage kept gushing about Derrick Rose, who became the youngest most valuable player in NBA history on Tuesday.
For all the heights Rose routinely reaches — the acrobatic layups and breathtaking drives, the history-making performances and awards — it can be easy to overlook how grounded he is.
Rose reminded all before accepting the award, looking hilariously uncomfortable as the compliments from others piled up. And then again after rising to claim the prize, offering a heartfelt speech that belied his 22 years.
He thanked God for giving him ability. He thanked the NBA for the award. He thanked his teammates and coaching staff for pushing him to play with passion. He thanked Bulls ownership and management for signing “good guys” who “love each other.” He thanked his trainer, agency, fans and the city of Chicago.
He thanked Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen — who watched wearing his Hall of Fame blazer — for building the franchise’s foundation. And Rose also offered sincere appreciation for his friends and family, many of whom sat watching in the front row.
“You’re the ones who push me and make sure I stay on the right path, waking me up and making sure I get to practice,” Rose said. “I’m blessed to have you in my life.”
And then Rose turned to his mother, Brenda, who already dabbed at moist eyes with a tissue.
“Last but not least, I want to thank my mom, Brenda Rose,” Derrick said. “My heart, the reason I play the way I play, just everything. Just knowing the days I don’t feel right, going to practice, having a hard time, I think about her when she had to wake me up, go to work and make sure I was all right. Those were hard days. My days shouldn’t be hard because I’m doing what I’m doing and that’s playing basketball.
“You kept me going. I love you and appreciate you being in my life.”
This is the local kid made good, the youngest of four sons Brenda raised as a single mother on the South Side. This is the player who honed his craft playing pick-up at Murray Park in the Englewood neighborhood, exhibiting qualities Chicagoans appreciate like toughness and selflessness.
Starring in his hometown, Rose ran away with the voting, drawing 113 of 121 first-place votes and finishing with 1,182 points. The Magic’s Dwight Howard finished a distant second with 643 points, while the Heat’s LeBron James, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant and the Thunder’s Kevin Durant rounded out the top five.
“This ranks at the top,” Rose said of an already star-studded, three-year career. “This is something you don’t dream about as a kid. When I was younger, I just thought about playing in the NBA. I didn’t think about winning Rookie of the Year or this award. This puts me over the top. It makes you think anything is possible.”
Anything probably is considering the Bulls cashed in ridiculous 1.7 percent odds in the 2008 NBA draft lottery to land Rose. Jordan won the first of his five MVPs at age 25 after all.
“I’m not even touching that man right there,” Rose said sheepishly. “I’m far away from him. It would be great to get close to him. But this is a different team and different era. We’re just trying to win the next game.”
This mindset goes a long way in explaining the success of Rose, who helped lead the Bulls to a league-best 62 victories and became the seventh player in league history to average at least 25 points, 7.5 assists and 4 rebounds. Winning, not personal achievement, is what drives him.
“Whatever Derrick’s ceiling is, he will reach because of his determination and desire,” general manager Gar Forman said. “Going into that draft, I remember our feeling was this is too good to be true. We sit here today three years later and our feeling is still: This is really too good to be true.”
Coach Tom Thibodeau felt as much when first getting to know Rose, attending his practices with Team USA that eventually won gold at last summer’s World Championships.
“After each practice, he would come and ask questions, and the type of questions he asked really impressed me,” Thibodeau said. “They weren’t only about his own individual performance but also about the team and how he could do better. Immediately, that (interest) turned to our team in Chicago. He wanted to know how people were doing and what the plan was — immediately.”
Everything about Rose’s career seems immediate, from the breathtaking speed he displays on fast breaks to his rapid ascension to join the game’s elite. He’s the first third-year player to win the award since Moses Malone in 1978-79.
“It’s amazing,” Rose said. “I’m still learning about the game, still having careless turnovers. To be MVP at 22 makes me want to push harder, stay in the gym longer. I’m blessed to be in this position.”
Rose created such lofty expectations himself, asking why he couldn’t be the MVP on the eve of training camp.
“When he makes comments like that, he usually owns up to them,” Rose’s brother, Reggie, said. “He doesn’t crack. The will and push he has is off the charts.”
Added Derrick: “I wasn’t trying to be cocky at all. I knew I put a lot of hard work in in the summer and I just wanted to push myself.”
It worked. And when the ceremony died down, Rose got smothered in family embraces, a group hug for greatness.
“It’s tough growing up where I grew up,” Rose said. “My family is very small and really tight. Just being around the neighborhood, my brothers were always around.
“I didn’t want to be in any trouble because I knew my mom or brothers would find out. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. I just tried to do everything right. When I was in high school, they built a wall around me. It was all love and would pay off soon.”
As Rose spoke, Brenda stood close by, eyeing the trophy she heard her youngest son say he wanted.
“That’s his dream,” Brenda said. “Go for it. That’s what happened. He went for it. And he got it.”
It’s rare when you see Derrick Rose uncertain, hesitant, overwhelmed by the moment, when his cool, stoic exterior is rocked by emotion.
Not to say he doesn’t experience normal, human feelings. Though too often we view our sporting heroes, the Olympians of our society, through a prism of dispassionate cool and even tempered separation, that the Herculean sporting tasks they are empowered to perform raise them beyond us, to divine level.
But they bleed and they burn, as well. Many of us who are around sporting stars are asked what they really are like, what beats and stands behind that curtain of eminence.
Rose was presented with the award late Tuesday afternoon, and in his remarks thanked, “God for giving me the ability to go out and play the way I’m playing.”
There will be a pregame presentation Wednesday before Game 2 with Atlanta.
Rose thanked his teammates, friends, the Bulls management, his trainers, representatives, the former Bulls and coaches and fans.
He talked fondly about his family, his brothers who guided and shielded him through the rough times growing up on the South Side of Chicago.
“You are the ones who pushed me every single day, made sure I was on the right path, made sure I got to practice and stayed on the right path. I’m blessed to have you in my life,” Rose said.
And then he talked about Brenda Rose, his mother.
Rose stumbled as he began to choose the words, an uncertainty we never witness in his basketball. The memories whizzed by in his head like the fast breaks he so mesmerizes the sporting world with.
“Thanks to my mom,” Rose said, stopping, trying to draw a breath, his eyes welling. “Brenda… My heart, the reason why I play the way I play… Just everything… Just knowing the days I the days I didn’t feel like going to practice…”
Rose stopped again, his mind obviously racing back and leaping from one day to another, to crisis and incident, and mom always there, always with the firm hand and kind word. When you grow up in that area without a two parent family, with the violence and poverty surrounding you, it’s not only difficult but debilitating.
But Brenda was strong when others weren’t and she worked harder and longer to provide for her family, and for the kid, Derrick. We see that loyalty and humility in Rose, but also the strength and resolve that comes from a model of stability and perseverance.
“Me having a hard time waking up, she had to go to work to make sure all of us were all right,” said Rose. “Those were hard days. My days should not be as hard.
“You,” Rose said looking into his mom’s eyes in the front row, “kept me going every day and I love you and I appreciate you in my life.”
Everything that is Derrick is Brenda, and everything that Derrick ever has goes to Brenda. Though Rose did laugh when he asked his mom, who proudly embraces the evidence of what is becoming a Hall of Fame career, to let him keep the MVP trophy for a few days before she gets it.
“I want to have the trophy a couple of days before she steals it,” Rose said with a laugh. “Give me two or three days, Mom.”
This is a big deal, and not just because of all the MVP chanting all season and this being the premier NBA award. Rose becomes the youngest ever to win it in a landslide over runner up Dwight Howard. Rose received 1,182 points and 113 first place votes to Howard’s 643 points and three first place votes. Dirk Nowitzki was second in first place votes with five. Everyone who won the award before 2000 is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, and none of those since are eligible in being active or recently retired. This is an historic talent the Bulls have once again and one Chicago can embrace like never before.
Rose joins Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Larry Bird, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade among those only able to average at least 25 points, 7.5 assists and four rebounds in a season.
This is a Chicago kid. Born here, growing up here, playing here and with just a year stop at the U. of Memphis being part of the fabric of the community. He represents more about Chicago and basketball than anyone who has come before him for his roots and his dedication and current success with the Bulls. He’s handled the pressure of playing in your home town with the same confidence and self-effacement that endeared him to so many while growing up and empowered him to reach the standards he’s achieved at such a young age.
Here was a kid who in an age and era of ostentation and bombast, quietly demurred on the court with lesser personal statistics so others could get scholarships in high school, had a better chance at a pro contract in college. You serve and you sacrifice, lessons he learned watching his mom and his small, tight family.
Derrick doesn’t speak that much, never has and still doesn’t.
But he watches.
“When I was younger,” Rose said, “I only thought about playing in the NBA. I didn’t think about rookie of the year or All-Star, only playing in the NBA. This award puts me over the top. It makes you think (you can do) anything. I’m the type of guy who feeds off anything. I’m quiet. I watch a lot of things. I watch you the whole time you are around me.”
We like to develop psychological profiles of our sporting stars, our politicians, entertainers, imbue them with larger motives and ambitions.
Not to say Rose didn’t have dreams and desires like anyone else. But he is mostly a simple and pure young man dedicated to a discipline and homage.
It truly is a rare combination these days, where talent, dedication and lack of entitlement meet, where those who watch him are fortunate and those who know him are prosperous in their own personal inventory.
Of course, this award comes not for decency but basketball brilliance. And Rose has been all of that from the day in preseason he asked—not predicted—why he couldn’t be the league MVP, a moment now often looked back upon with amusement and awe.
“I was saying I wanted to be the MVP,” Rose explained, as if those of us there didn’t long know. “I wasn’t trying to be cocky. I knew I had put in a lot of hard work in the offseason. I wanted to push myself. That was it.”
Why not me? Why not now? Don’t let others decide who you are and who you should be.
No one thought that could be Rose, not with LeBron and Wade and Kobe and Durant and Howard and Dirk. Heck, Rose wasn’t even considered one of the top three point guards. But it’s a great lesson even if Rose would never pose it that way. You take what you have and apply it within your universe and why can’t you. No, all the work Rose may do won’t likely help him find a cure for cancer. But if you select a discipline and work, it doesn’t matter what they think. Only what you do.
Rose being from Chicago also understood better than others what sporting success means here.
“Coming from Chicago, Chicago has been waiting being in a drought, waiting for something to happen,” said Rose. “It feels good when you go out to hear people chant for you, hear your teammates talking he way they are treated the same. You can be me or the last person on the bench. The fans are great.”
Rose understands Chicago, the Second City mentality, the Midwestern flyover zone. He knows about seeking success, but something that always struck me about Rose was when he talks about the Bulls championships of the ’90s. Of course, he was young. He remembers some, but what he remembers more was while the games were on he was at the park playing. That is Chicago, really. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. It’s not about the celebration as much as the journey and the satisfaction of achievement.
And doing so as a group, with friends and family.
Rose was asked about being the hunted now, and he acknowledged. No matter, he said.
“I’ve got my teammates behind me,” he said. “I’m all about winning. My teammates are great. They don’t think about how many points they score. Management picked great guys who are winners. I love them.”
That is Rose as much as anyone. I’ve always also been struck not only by his eagerness to improve, but an amazing, sincere desire to help. I hear countless times from teammates and coaches how when Rose comes out of games his questions always are what he can do to get someone going more, to help someone struggling, how he can change his game to help the group.
Really, it’s what a family does, and a team, at heart, is a family. You do what you can to help your brothers and sisters because when they are happy you can be happier.
“Growing up where I grew up I stayed on the right path because of my family,” Rose reiterated. “I did not want to get in trouble with by brothers and my mom. So I made sure I did the right things.
“My family is very small, very small,” said Rose. “Being around the neighborhood, my brothers always were around. I didn’t want to be in any trouble. I knew my mom and brothers would find out. I didn’t want to hurt my mom or brothers’ feelings. When I was in high school, they built a wall around me. Knowing it was all love I knew it would pay off.”
For many players, it’s too much playing where they were raised, but Rose says he loves the pressure, if that’s what it is. Not really for him. As he always says, he’s a baller. It’s ballin’.
“I want the pressure as a player,” Rose said. “It makes you perform better playing here every night. This is where I’m from. Bringing the excitement back to the city means a lot.”
No matter the circumstances, the thrilling win or debilitating loss, I’ve rarely seen Rose any different.
It’s always about the next time, a view he shares with coach Tom Thibodeau and which has driven this overachieving Bulls team this season. If you put in the work and prepare, you have nothing to be ashamed about but to go out and compete again.
Rose agreed winning an MVP at such a young age is an honor, but only motivates him.
“Winning at 22 makes me want to push harder, work harder, stay in the gym longer,” said Rose. “I’m blessed to have an award like this now.
“It’s a learning process,” Rose said about basketball, if also life. “You go out and have some bad games and bad times, but you have to fight through it.”
It is life in most any big city, anywhere, really. You work and persevere for the good of the group.
“It’s paying off being a gym rat,” Rose said. “I just try to play the game hard and play smart. And I’m from here. It makes you feel special when you are out there. It makes you play harder.”
Derrick Rose is Chicago and Chicago is Derrick Rose. He’s regarded as the best in his chosen profession, at least for now. But the man he represents makes a winner of us all.