By Joshua A

My first love was hoopin. In my younger days, all I wanted to do is play basketball.

I would go for walks around the neighborhood, dribbling the ball for miles. My friends and I spent hours in my driveway on 105th & Wood playing endless pick up games. In the summer, I’d wake up to the sound of the guys shooting on my rim. I’d throw on some shorts and a tee to go outside to ball with them, pretty much the entire day. There were several times we even conquered the elements by playing in the pouring rain, or shoveling the snow so we could ball in Chicago’s freezing winters.

When my friends weren’t around, I ‘d practice for hours at a time. I’d shoot jumpers, yelling “Kobe” on the release, or work on my go-to-moves, imitating Scottie Pippen’s between the leg change of pace blow-by. I’d get angry at invisible defenders talking trash to me, getting a sense of revenge when I blew past them. I would work on my left hand, wanting to be like Michael Redd. I’d practice either until my mother said it was dinner time or until she told me to stop because she wanted me to be mindful of the neighbors.

I had some friends who were in gangs and were doing some things (won’t get into that), but for the most part, no one tried to get me to join a gang or get me into trouble, because I was a hooper. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that if you’re a good student or if you play sports, you get a free pass. People leave you alone.

Working on my game was fun to me. I didn’t see it as work or practice. My drive-way court was the only place I could be myself. It was my domain. Without basketball, I would have stayed inside my shell; stayed so reserved, and wouldn’t have nearly as many friends.

So many of my crucial life memories are tied to basketball. When my best friend got ran over by a drunk off-duty cop the day before my 16th birthday, he was leaving my house after we played basketball. The only way any of us knew how to mourn his death, was to hoop. The only real stress reliever I’ve had in my whole life; the only thing to get my mind off my problems, and convert pent up emotion into action was through basketball.

Basketball was the only area in my life where I got  from it exactly what I put into it. In its high moments, I never got a better feeling like hitting a game winning shot. At its low moments, it left me with a crushing, utterly defeated feeling inside. But over all, basketball was fair when everything else in my life seemed unfair. I loved it, and it loved me back. It was natural, spiritual even. It was the only place I could move mountains.

But although I loved it and still love it, I tell my friends all the time that I think God knew exactly what he was doing when he didn’t make me taller, because I wouldn’t have tried to develop any of my other gifts. That’s how much I loved basketball.

Tupac: “A rose grew from the concrete.”

The summer before I entered 7th grade and my older brother entered high school, we played on this AAU basketball team called “Ferrari”. We went to a tournament somewhere on the north side of Chicago to face off against some of Chicago’s top AAU teams.

My team won our first game and had some free time before our next one, so  we decided we should go support the other Ferrari teams and watch their games. Since my brother’s age group was in a different gym, I went to go see our 14-and-under team play.

The gym was three courts wide, with spectators looking from the backboard level high balcony, but it was packed. The talk around the tournament was that our 14-and-under Ferrari team had the two best players in the city (maybe the state), and one of them was a lock to one day go to the NBA.

I figured it might be possible, but I was skeptical, seeing as I was a huge Will Bynum fan growing up and couldn’t see anyone from the Chi being better than him. I hadn’t seen this dude play before either, because it was my first time being on an AAU team, and our age groups practiced in different places.

Ferrari was beating the team they were playing by about 60 points. I was glad they were winning, but I was kinda like “………..damn” (lol), because I knew one of the players on the other team from when I used to live on the westside.

As I’m watching this blow-out, a player on our Ferrari team gets the rebound, blows pass literally everyone on the court, waits for his teammate to catch up, and they connect on a reverse dunk alley-oop. The gym erupts!

On the very next play, someone from the other team brings the ball up the court. The two players I mentioned before trap him at half, steal the ball, and the one who received the first oop throws the ball off the backboard, while the other one finished with one of the hardest, yet smoothest dunks I’ve ever seen in person. The roar of the spectators probably shook the foundation of the building.

Those two players went to school at Beasley Academic Center. One of them was Tim Flowers, a monster in the post, and funny dude off the court. The quiet one everyone was saying would go to the NBA one day, that was Derrick Rose.

When I got to high school, I hooped for Morgan Park. Derrick Rose balled for our rival, Simeon (though it ain’t much of a rivalry when one team has Derrick Rose and the other doesn’t). I never got to play against him though. When he was a senior, I was just getting to varsity, but a coaching change and torn muscles in my ankle forced me to sit out the season. But I still went to MP games. Mostly home games, and especially when they played Simeon.

Watching from the bleachers, I remember keying in on Rose in the lay-up line. Physically, his body was much more defined than the vast majority of high-schoolers I’ve ever seen or played against. One of his teammates passed him the ball after a rebound, and he went up for a reverse, double pump, Dominique Wilkins jam. His head was well over the net, and he smoothly flushed the ball in, barely touching the rim. I was speechless. Even though he was on the other team, you had to respect the fact that you were watching something special. I couldn’t hate him like an opposing fan should, because on the court, he was so quiet. It seemed like he never spoke, unless he was talking to or cheering on his teammates. No trash talk, all ball. And even off the court, I never heard anyone say anything bad about him.

When the game started, I couldn’t tell if more people were looking at the opening tip, or focusing on him.

Probably him.

That game, he had probably about 11 assists, 9 rebounds, a couple steals, and a couple blocks. He did have 25 points, but it was the quietest 25 points that I’ve ever seen in my life. The whole time you were watching the game, you couldn’t help but think “He could score 50 right now if he wanted to”.

But his scoring total was so subtle because of the way he deferred to his teammates. He would blow by defenders with lightning speed, but instead of shooting, he’d pass it to the corner for open threes. He’d be so high in the air on a layup that he could easily dunk, but he’d either politely lay it up, or dump it off to his big men. And every now and then, he would score on whoever was guarding him. But him deferring wasn’t Derrick Rose shrinking for others, it was him rising to the occasion. He knows how gifted he is, so he rather use his talents to make his teammates better.

While at Simeon, Rose was once asked why he doesn’t dominate every game like we all know he could, and he said “I know I’m good, and I’m probably going to the NBA. But for some of my teammates, high school will be their last time playing. So I just want them to have fun. I want them to be able to look back when they’re old and say they had fun.”

That’s who Derrick Rose is.

Derrick was blessed with athletic gifts that the majority of the people on Earth don’t have. But we love him for how he uses the gifts he was given. He didn’t take them for granted. He cultivated and developed them. Then he dimmed his light, just a little, so the world could see the others around him shine; values taught to him by his loving mother and older brothers.

And when it comes to his personal ambitions, no matter how great he is, he still wants to get better. He’s hungry to be the best player and person he can be. He desperately yearns to utilize his gifts to the fullest of his abilities. He wants his output to be as close to his immense potential as possible.

I remember watching an interview of my favorite player, Kobe Bryant. The Black Mamba commented on Derrick Rose. He said “You can see improvement in his game. The scary thing is he’s just starting to hate losing. Once he is gets that hunger to be the best, and hates to lose…….scary.”

At a press conference the same year, we all remember Derrick Rose exclaiming “I want to be the best. Why can’t I be the best? Why not me?”.

And that year, he won the MVP Award.

The city was overcome with joy when the Bulls got the first pick in the 2008 NBA draft. I know for me, it was one of the happiest moments I’ve felt since Jordan as a Bulls fan. Not necessarily just because it meant our team would be better, but because it gave me so much pride in being a Chicagoan. The humble hometown superstar coming to play for his city. Who wouldn’t love that story, especially if you’re from Chicago.

On a larger level, Derrick is a reminder of why billions of people love sports. Athletic competition is probably the closest thing to a meritocracy that we have on this planet. Some are blessed with height or speed or size or vertical leaping prowess or some of the above or all of the above. But regardless of the talent, it takes dedication and the refining of your individual talent into skill. Even with these gifts, many don’t make it.

Athletes are artists. It’s something technically masterful about the way Derrick Rose weaves to the basket to finish with double clutch reverse layup. It’s exhilarating to see a game-winning goal in soccer, or magical to see a Tom Brady hail mary pass, or breathtaking to see the aesthetics of LeBron taking off of one leg for a fast-break jam. And as far as Ray Allen’s form on his jumpshot goes, someone is probably painting it as we speak.

But on a more personal and local level, for me and many others, people like Derrick Rose serve as a great role model for kids in the city, and across the world. He gives kids a shining example of how it is possible to be great, but still remain humble. Being competitive doesn’t mean you have to be brazenly arrogant. He makes it cool (not soft or lame or whatever people usually say) to have a good-heart. He is easy to root for, and so hard to root against.

When I would play pick up games at the AFC at UVA, people gave me the nicknames “Chi-Town” and “D-Rose”. I’m unassuming off the court, but once I get on, I transform. I’m fast, and pretty athletic for my height. Even though I’m only 5’10, I can windmill (for those who don’t believe me).

But the reason I was honored to even be compared to Derrick Rose is not his game (because I’m obviously nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooowhere near as good as him). I was honored that people saw the same humility in me as they see in him.

Violence has always been in the city, though it is now just getting national media attention. Kids killing kids needs to stop, and we all need to do our part, big or small, to change things. Our kids deserve to live. Period.

That’s why I’m frustrated when people reduced D-Rose’s tears at his unveiling of his new shoe this month as merely tears of joy. That’ why I get mad when sports analyst go on ESPN and say that Derrick Rose needs to “lighten up a little bit”.

No one can understand the pressure of a 23-year old being the best thing to happen to Chicago since Michael Jordan, and being branded the savior of the city since he was in 7th grade. They don’t understand what he had to go through to get to where he is; the lives he saw lost along the way to his ascension; the myriad to tragedies that preceded and will come after his success story. They don’t understand the polarized feelings of being so blessed while others in his city are suffering; the pressure of an entire city being placed on your back.

But in the midst all the despair many of us in the city feel, there are things and people that give us hope. And we need hope. That’s why Quentin Richardson, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, Isiah Thomas, Father Michael Pfleger, and others throwing a “Peace Tournament” means so much to us. It lets all the teachers, philanthropists, volunteers, parents, counselors, non-violence advocates, politicians, etc., know that their efforts aren’t meaningless, and there are those out there reaching back to help them help others. It lets us know that there are people out there who genuinely care.

Very few athletes, or any person in the public eye for that matter, handle themselves with the amount of humility and class that Derrick Rose does. And I for one am so glad that he can be someone who kids look up to. More kids will believe that they can make it. Because he did.

And with Anthony Davis being the number one pick this year, and Jabari Parker most likely being the number one pick whenever he chooses to take his talents to the NBA, the future of Chicago is looking a little more bright each day.

I don’t expect Derrick Rose to be the savior of Chicago. That would be dumb, because no one person can be. And there are definitely so many things in life that are way way way way way more important than basketball. But inspiration is inspiration, no matter where it comes from. You never know how you can affect someone’s life by what you do or by simply being yourself.

There are so many ways to shine your light in the world. I just wanted to take the time to pay tribute to one of them. Thumbs up to Derrick Rose.

A rose is one of the only flowers on Earth that can survive in the extreme cold.

Derrick Rose is my city. I just want my city to win. I want my city to stay strong and grow, whether it is through the good weather, or the cold.

Roses OutShine Everything

We Out Here,

Josh A (Follow me @iRockJoshA)