It’s hard not to be jaded.
Professional athletes disappoint us all the time. We hold them up to unrealistic expectations, and when they fail as role models, we shrug that we’re not surprised.
It’s hard not to be spoiled.
For a city that often wears its sports frailties as a badge of honor, we have a Stanley Cup, a World Series championship, a Super Bowl trophy and six NBA titles over the past 25 years.
Likewise, it was probably hard for some Chicago Bulls fans to give more than a passing glance to Tuesday’s announcement that Derrick Rose had been named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. Not only was it the worst-kept secret in town, but the Bulls are coming off an ugly Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals and Rose’s sore left ankle would seem to be of more pressing concern.
And maybe it is.
But on Tuesday, it took “a little kid from Englewood” to remind us how lucky we are.
Not just because Rose made history in becoming the youngest MVP ever at age 22, a stunning feat accomplished with an undermanned team for most of the season. But because he did it as a bona-fide hometown hero, taking on that responsibility without flinching, and with a humility and grace we simply do not see in our sports superstars without questioning either their sincerity or how long it will last.
“And last, I want to thank my mom,” Rose said quietly in the conference room of a suburban hotel.
And that’s when half the place lost it.
We’ve heard “Hi Mom,” plenty. In the annals of sport, they might just be the two most common words coming from the mouths of victorious athletes smiling into the nearest television camera.
“Thanks mom”? Not as often, but at the end of a speech it’s always a nice touch.
But when Rose struggled to keep his composure, his eyes tearing up as he searched for the right words, it was one of those moments we should not let pass without acknowledging how rare and special it was.
“Brenda Rose,” he began. “My heart, the reason I play the way I play, just everything. Just knowing [about] the days when I didn’t feel like I wanted to practice, having all the hard times, waking me up, going to work and just making sure I’m all right and making sure the family’s all right. Those are hard days. My days shouldn’t be hard because I love doing what I’m doing and that’s playing basketball. You keep me going every day and I love you and I appreciate you being my mother.”
Brenda raised four boys in a section of Chicago where the odds of surviving with sound judgment, good morals and personal safety are not great.
“We were a tight-knit family and we tried to keep them safe, that was the main thing,”
Said the woman who still cared for her baby when he suffered through painful stomach ulcers this year.
The love was clearly unconditional.
“I could win anything and she would be happy for me,” Derrick said. “It could be anything. She’s just a strong lady and she just wants to see her kids do right.”
Rose said he generally did right growing up because he didn’t want to have to answer to his brothers — 16, 14 and seven years older — because he did not want to hurt his mother.
“Even if Derrick didn’t win this award, we’d still be proud of him,” his brother Reggie said. “He still listens.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the same thing Tuesday, telling the story of Rose at practice for Team USA in the world championships last summer,
“asking questions not only about his own individual performance but about the team and how they can do better. … Great questions.”
Like most children, Rose had dreams but they were not, he said, of one day playing in the NBA All-Star Game or winning the rookie of the year or, lord knows, the MVP.
“You just think of playing in the NBA,” he said. “This award makes me think anything is possible.”
Being the youngest winner “is amazing,” he said.
“This is only my third year and I’m still learning things about the game. I’m still having careless turnovers and things like that. But it’s the MVP, and I’m 22 years old. It makes me want to push harder, work harder, stay in the gym longer.”
If there was added pressure because he was the No. 1 draft pick in his hometown, Rose doesn’t show it nor does he even acknowledge it. It gives him pleasure, he says, to perform for Chicago fans, to play before friends and family, to be able to blow a kiss to his mother, as he does before each game.
He limped off the court Monday night, walked into practice Tuesday morning and said he felt “great” Tuesday afternoon.
Most of his teammates followed him to the Lincolnshire Marriott, some still wearing workout gear as they stood in the back of the room, quietly watching as Rose thanked them, telling those assembled, “These are all good guys. … We love each other.
“We play tomorrow,” he said later, “and they could easily be doing something else or taking care of business, but they’re here giving me support. I’m blessed to be on this team.”
He’s not the only one.