I sat down to lunch at Pitzer last Friday and opened TSL to an article that upset my Chicago-ness. Jay Chung’s article, “Would A Rose By Any Other Name Win MVP?” was well-written and well-researched, but it was dead wrong in its assertion that Derrick Rose does not deserve the MVP Award for this season. I put down my chicken taco to recover from the shock to my pride for Chicago’s latest and greatest sports hero, the kid from Englewood whose jaw-dropping acrobatic drives and humble leadership have pushed the Bulls to the closest they’ve been to a championship since the glory days of Michael Jordan.
You see, I’m from Chicago, where we take great pride in what we are and what we do, from salting and shoveling our way through five months of Lake Michigan winters to riding to work each day in shaky train cars perched atop century-old trestles. And we can take the greatest pride in our cultural, political, and sports icons: planner Daniel Burnham, settler Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, musician Buddy Guy, basketball god Michael Jordan, and young superstar Derrick Rose. So you can understand, reader, how concerned I was to read an article that threatened my city’s collective pride like Midwestern thunderstorm clouds on a hot summer day.
To understand why Derrick Rose deserves to be MVP, you’ve got to understand the Bulls as a Chicagoan. Chicago was the basketball world’s capital during the 90s, when Jordan was as well known as Al Capone to visiting tourists. When Jordan and the gang played, the Bulls finished first in their division every year. Every Chicagoan faced a rude awakening in 1999 when the Bulls lost their star roster, plunged overnight from 1st to 8th in their division, and lost their indispensable coach to a certain Southern California city. From everything to nothing. Bulls games ended after the regular season, the United Center empty of Bulls fans by May.
Now imagine the excitement of watching a player on TV who graduated high school in the same year you did, 14 miles south of where you went to school. This player, after leading Simeon High School to consecutive city and state championships, left to play for the University of Memphis. A year later, he came back to the city he loves, to play for the team of his childhood idol. He immediately distinguished himself, inspiring his teammates through two lukewarm seasons and bringing pride back to a wounded city by challenging the Celtics into triple overtime in 2009. He was also remarkably humble, supportive of his teammates, and determined to improve every aspect of his game, from free throw to jump shot. His name? Derrick Rose, wearing Bulls jersey #1.
Today, the Bulls are the hottest team in the league, with a 62-20 record, four games ahead of the Three Henchmen and six ahead of Doc Rivers's squad. The Bulls haven’t had a regular season record this good since 1998, when Jordan reigned supreme on the West Side. They’ve accomplished all this thanks to a tough-love new coach, a deep team with strong defense and great chemistry, and D-Rose’s growing offensive talent and quiet leadership. Rose’s gravity-defying layups and two-handed dunks are now the stuff of late-night sports TV, and I wear my 90s Bulls hat with renewed pride, especially around my Boston friends.
Sure, you might say I got to love D-Rose because I’m a Chicagoan. You might say, too, that the MVP Award should be about more than city pride. Maybe I love D-Rose too much. Maybe you’re right. If I was in South Beach or hanging out around Disney World, would I think differently about the Most Valuable Player? Jay Chung digs up some impressive statistics about why Howard, LeBron, and Kobe deserve better consideration. Yes, LeBron “leads the league in PER, a rating of a player’s per-minute productivity, with 27.2, while Derrick Rose is eighth in the league with 23.6.” And maybe Rose really is only the “fourth best player in Florida.”
Or is he? Derrick has some Chicago steel-hard statistics of his own: he’s only the 7th player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 7.5 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game. Lately he’s given us a taste of what he’s capable of by twice scoring a career-high 42 points. We’ve all watched Rose deliver impossible baskets as he cuts through three Celtics players on a crossover, or marveled at his vertical as he swats down balls like birds colliding with the Sears Tower. He’s also grown immensely as a player, jumping from 16.8 points per game as a rookie to 25.1 today. As Stacey King would say, Rose is an “elevator”—he's only going up.
But basketball is more than just about the stats and moves: it’s about leadership, hard work, team play, and simple love of the game. The MVP award is not for “Best Performing Player,” it’s for Most Valuable Player. If it were the former, we wouldn’t need to recognize Rose’s humble style of leadership that has built a strong team and transformed the franchise. We’d ignore the focus he displays after each scored shot, which stands out in welcome contrast to the egoism of “the King.” We wouldn’t need to look at #1 red and black jerseys everywhere on streets of Chicago, or see how he inspires guys like Noah, Boozer, and Deng to new levels of play.
No, we wouldn’t need to. We could ignore every NBA game and calculate an MVP winner by crunching NBA numbers in Stata. But who wants that? We like watching amazing basketball, talented players, and dedication that pays off. It’s not just the media that admires Rose. It’s us, anyone who has watched D-Rose light up the United Center on a Tuesday evening.
So to answer your question, Jay, there is not a Rose by any other name. Not Kobe, not LeBron, not Dwight. Only Derrick. So feel the Chicago pride and love for the league’s most dedicated, most inspiring, and most valuable player. Give Derrick Rose the MVP Award. I know he won’t brag about it.