No one even thought to try to find a TV. That's the first thing I remember about what's very possibly my happiest moment as a sports fan. I was sitting in a dark office a floor above the Sun-Times newsroom on a Wednesday night in May during the 2008 NBA draft lottery. The Bulls were slotted eighth. I remember telling friends I was rooting for Seattle to get the No. 1 pick so Derrick Rose could play with Kevin Durant. That's how impossible the Bulls' chances were.
I'll never forget the backpage of that newspaper the next morning. There was Rose soaring above the skyline. Michael Beasley would have made this a real discussion for No. 1 anywhere else, but not here. The Bulls' choice was made for them.
To a certain segment of this city, Derrick Rose was already a legend even before those fateful pingpong balls were set in motion. Prep reporters talked about him like a tall tale, a point guard so fast and so strong he defied comparison. He had won the state championship his last two years at Simeon and he was a couple free throws away from winning the national championship in his only year of college ball at Memphis. He wasn't just a prodigy, he was our prodigy. Now he was coming home. It all seemed too good to be true.
I kept coming back to the beginning when news broke on Wednesday that the Bulls had traded Rose to the Knicks. What good is a superhero without an origin story? For Rose, it made all the difference. It's why he resonated with this city on such a deep level when he ascended to become the youngest MVP in league history and why it hurt so much when injuries robbed him of what once made him so special.
It was always different with Derrick. Who else was announced with their hometown instead of their college? Who else gets drafted into a city with the skyscrapers already tattooed on their hands and a neighborhood scribbled across their arm? Who else shows up to funerals of murdered children they never met just because he could relate a little too well?
Rose was singular in every way. You'd have to be completely ignorant to think this was Mark Prior redux, because it was so much more. For better or for worse, Derrick Rose is Chicago. And now he's gone.
The truth is the Bulls' breakup with Rose started well before Wednesday. Both parties tried to make it work, but it didn't. Not after the injuries, not after Jimmy Butler became the team's best player. From a basketball perspective, the Bulls were right to make this trade. They even did well with what they got back. That's why today shouldn't be a cause for mourning as much as it is a celebration of everything Rose was and will always be.
We're left with the moments burned into our brains forever. The Rookie of the Year run punctuated by an incredible playoffs debut against the Celtics. The dunk that made Goran Dragic famous ("Do you know who this kid is? He's from Chicago"). The time he refused to dance next to LeBron at the All-Star Game, the time he carved up the Hawks for 44 points in the playoffs, the moment he reached peak Stink Face after he sunk the Bucks at the buzzer.
The highs and lows with Rose were so dramatic it was impossible to separate them from your own life. I remember being at party when Rose hit his first game-winner against the Rockets and getting thrown across the room out of pure jubilation. I remember jumping on my furniture when he dunked against the Knicks. I remember passing around whiskey pulls with my friends and watching the saddest music videos we could think of when he suffered his second season-ending knee injury in Portland.
There were some truly bizarre moments. The way he refused to play in five-on-five games in the summer. His unwillingness to recruit in free agency. The comments about meetings and graduations 15 years from now. The time he talked about being motivated by his next free agent contract when that was still two years away. It always felt like a symptom of his upbringing to me, a time when he had to keep his circle small and his family close just to stay alive. Reggie was overprotective, but he got him this far. He was never a villain.
Derrick Rose brought the city back to the Bulls after Michael Jordan, but he was never MJ. He couldn't have been. At this best, Jordan was more of an idea than a man, a standard of excellence no one could live up to because it was barely footed in reality. The Michael Jordan those of us growing up in Chicago knew was nothing like the real man. It was a sleight of hand trick and a corporate veneer meant to distract you from everything you weren't supposed to see.
Chicago was blessed with Michael Jordan, but he never really felt like ours. He was too big for that. Where Jordan belonged to the world, Rose belonged to the city. There was no cover up with Derrick. He was human in the best and worst ways, always stubborn and often embarassing but at his peak, truly mesmerizing.
He was an avatar for a city segregated by race and class and the athlete who drew those lines into focus. He was the hometown savior bitten by bad optics and worse luck. He was too good to be true until he really was. He was family. Other athletes in this city will come and go. D. Rose can never really leave.