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Rose MVP anniversary: Memories from those who were there

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
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Ten years ago Monday, Derrick Rose stood at a podium, accepting the Maurice Podoloff trophy as the youngest most valuable player in NBA history.

The season had begun at Bulls media day with Rose answering a question about personal expectations by rhetorically asking: "Why can't I be the MVP of the league?"

With his unlikely goal achieved, the hotel ballroom was packed. Coaches and teammates stood or sat off to the side, having just finished practice at the Berto Center.

Rose began his speech by thanking plenty of people. And then he eyed his mother, Brenda, the one who raised Rose and his three brothers as a single mother in Englewood.

“And last, I want to thank my mom,” Rose began, showing emotion. 

“Brenda Rose," he continued. "My heart, the reason I play the way I play, just everything. Just knowing 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."

 

It's an unforgettable moment from an unforgettable season. The Bulls finished 62-20 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. NBC Sports Chicago recently caught up with several prominent figures from that season for their reflections.

THE EXECUTIVE, JOHN PAXSON

“From an organizational standpoint, when a player says something like that [Rose’s ‘Why can’t I be MVP of the league?’ comment from media day], that’s a great thing to hear. It says that the player believes in himself and has the confidence to put that on the table. For us, he was the first player to confidently say something like that since Michael (Jordan). Trust me, we know how lucky we got in the lottery when Derrick was available. But to watch the subtle way he evolved over his first few years in the league and the competitiveness that he had and that will to win, that’s what I heard when he said that that day.

“Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) came in and did an unbelievable job with that group. And we had a bunch of winners. And what always struck me was how much they rallied around Derrick. Because Derrick wasn’t a vocal leader. But he was their guy in the locker room. Joakim (Noah) was very protective of Derrick in the way he acted and things he said.

“It was a grinding group. It started with the head coach. And the group just went along with it because they were committed to and serious about winning. All the attention was down south in Miami. But we just kept playing hard.

“Derrick was so gifted with his speed and his physicality. His quick-twitch reaction and jumping to the rim and his explosiveness and his confidence in himself was special.

“The hardest thing over the years to come to terms with -- but it’s what sports are all about -- is Derrick, because of the injury, not continuing on the same path. Because he could’ve been a multiple MVP-type of player. We were going to be good and he was going to be himself. And it’s really refreshing to watch him now where it looks like he’s at peace with himself, his game and where he’s at in this league. It’s wonderful to see him having a heckuva year in New York.

 

“I remember how genuine, honest and emotional that MVP speech was. When we had the opportunity before the draft to sit down and talk to him, he’s very quiet. But you saw humility and his genuineness. And that’s what came through in that speech. And to see any young person speak about their parent the way he spoke about his mom, you couldn’t help but be touched and also feel good about the person. Maybe you look back at a moment like that and then put together the pieces of all the adversity he has been through, and you can point to how he’s been able to manage that adversity. And his mom had a lot to do with it, I’m sure.”

THE AGENT, B.J. ARMSTRONG

“When I first met Derrick, it just became aware to me that he was this incredible talent. When I mean a talent, not just because he could score points, but he could get to any place on the floor.

“At the time, Derrick was very young in the league. And he was like a sponge. He would just absorb anything and everything you would tell him.

“It was hard for me because I wanted to keep him mentally engaged to not just be a scorer in this league but understanding how to manage the game. That was very important for any great player. I wasn’t that player myself, but I had observed the great players. I’m talking about the Magic Johnsons, the Larry Birds, the Michael Jordans, the Isiah Thomases. They all had this unique ability to to manage the game, the time and the score.

“He always thought about the team first. And within that (MVP) challenge (to himself), it opened his mind up to a whole new realm of possibilities.

“I remember how obsessed he became with that Bulls team and Bulls organization. His one goal was if I can just win a championship here, all the other things would take care of itself.

“Derrick loves Chicago. Derrick loves everything about Chicago. Derrick loved when the city of Chicago, like when he got injured and stuff was going on, he loved it. He loved the city. Because he was like, ‘They want the same thing I want.’ He loved the people there. For him, it wasn’t playing for Chicago, he was playing for the people. He still carries Chicago with him.

“Derrick didn’t need a pep talk. Derrick didn’t need to be fired up. No, he was like, ‘I got my people watching me. I gotta perform. And we gotta figure this out.’

 

“Everyone says Derrick doesn’t talk. That’s always been kind of funny to me. Derrick and Thibs are like the same person. Tom is gruff. Derrick is quiet. But they are the same person. Derrick and Tom just have this understanding about each other. And they just talk basketball. And that’s all they do. They figure out how to win. And Derrick just loves it.

“I remember when he won the MVP. Obviously, there was excitement. He was like, ‘I can’t believe it.’ None of us could believe it. It was one of those things I never talked to him about. I never said anything in the offseason. We all kind of knew it was a possibility, but we never talked about it. He said, ‘B, can I talk to you?’ And he was like, ‘Do I have to give a speech?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, it would probably be great that you have some words.’ He was like, ‘Man, that’s not what I do.’ And I was like, ‘Let’s work on something so you’re prepared.’ We worked on something, so he was comfortable.

“I went over to his house that morning. He was getting dressed and he’s like, ‘I’m good.’ I handed him his preparation for his notes so he could be comfortable. And I was like, ‘Just be you. If you forget something, you can refer back to it. But just be you.’ He got really quiet. Normally you get a one-word answer. I couldn’t even get an answer. That entire speech was all him off the cuff. There was nothing prepared about it. That whole speech. The only thing he said to me, and he said a little joke to me before he was about to walk on. He said, ‘I know you don’t like me to mention your name for anything.’ He smiled and that’s all he said.

“I was like, where did that come from? That speech was all him, 100 percent. I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ That part about Brenda, she’s the anchor of that family. I love Brenda. And it was just her and Derrick in that room.”

THE TEAMMATE, LUOL DENG

“It was such a special year.

“You can be athletic in many different ways. But Derrick Rose’s athleticism was so powerful. It’s just different.

 

“I’ve seen guys that are athletic. But Derrick is the most explosive guy from A to B that I’ve ever been around. I think it’s what made it so hard to guard him. That first step was always so explosive that whoever was guarding him was behind him. And I think that’s what makes him so unique.

“Any player, you want to be around a player that wins the MVP because it just means that year was that special for everybody. You don’t just win a MVP while your team is not performing.”

THE COACH, TOM THIBODEAU

“He’d always ask questions, not only about what he could do better but how the team could do better. That always impressed me.

“I trust Derrick.

“Nothing he does surprises me.

“Once you get to know Derrick and learn the type of guy he is, you understand why he’s successful.

“I’m proud of what that team accomplished. We had a lot of toughness and commitment. And Derrick played at such a high level all season.”

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THE OPPOSING COACH, DOUG COLLINS

“Oh, man. Just an explosive player who loved to play. You could feel the force he played with.

“Two guards in the NBA that I’ve recently coached against -- Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose. Those two guys, when they would come down the floor, you could almost feel the force they were playing with when you’re sitting on the sideline.

“The way he would take the ball to the basket and his ability to stop on a dime, raise up. The ferocity with which he played every single night. Those are special traits.

Collins coached the Philadelphia 76ers the season Rose won MVP, and faced the Bulls in the first round of the 2012 playoffs when Rose tore his left ACL. The injury happened directly in front of the 76ers’ bench, and Collins was the first person to Rose’s side.

“It broke my heart when he hurt his knee because I saw what happened. It was right in front of our bench. I saw it was a non-contact injury. Since I had that injury, I looked at (assistant coaches) Michael Curry and Brian James and said, ‘He just tore his ACL.’ I remember walking out on the floor and just sort of touching his shoulder and said, ‘Hang in there.’ I was such a huge fan from broadcasting all his games. He was always such a respectful person to me. I knew what was going to be ahead of him. I knew the style of ball that he played. And I hoped he was going to make that kind of recovery that you’ve seen Zach LaVine make.

 

“The thing with Derrick now is he has reinvented himself. He has gone through all these injuries. And the amazing thing about it is usually when you go through a ton of injuries, it sort of saps your love for the game. Because all you’re doing is therapy. Rehab, therapy. And he has maintained his love for the game. And he has found a different spot.

“I just have huge respect for him. What he meant for the team and for the city of Chicago, that one of their homegrown guys would play at that level, be the MVP, it’s just a tremendous story.

“I love Derrick Rose and what he has meant to the NBA.”

THE BROADCASTER, NEIL FUNK

“I remember thinking at the end of Derrick’s first year, 'Oh my God, this freaking guy. The Bulls have someone who can control a basketball game. We haven’t had a guy like this since MJ and Scottie.' And he could control a game in a variety of ways. And that was in his first year when he was still trying to find his way.

“Since the glory years, the Bulls hadn’t had an athlete like Derrick. He was off the charts. He could run, jump, dribble, get to where he wanted to go. The way he finished, that’s what separated him. He was such an elite finisher when he got into traffic. You’d see him in this traffic and next thing you know he’s dunking on somebody or spinning it off the backboard. That’s something you’re born with and then on top of that, he worked and just understood how to play basketball.

“That MVP year, he was so dominant for a team that was constructed in a good manner. But when the season began, I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oh, they’ll win 62 games and get to the Eastern Conference finals.’ That year, they had good players on that team. But in a lot of ways, he just put that team on his back.

“And certainly, with the level of talent in the league, you weren’t at the beginning of the year saying, ‘Derrick has a chance to be MVP.’ He was so dominant as the season wore on.

 

“He had a great deal of athleticism, but he just knew how to play. He welcomed contact. He understood getting his teammates involved in the game.

“He was so competitive.

“Besides being really competitive, the bigger the moment, the better he played. And there just aren’t a lot of guys like that. Sometimes the moment is too big for them. Just look at what he did in the playoffs and that’s with teams having time to prepare for him and junk up their defenses. By that year, he was able to figure out, 'OK, they’re doing this. This is what I need to do.' And he was so athletic that he could do that.

“He was clearly the MVP. You take him off that team and how many do they win?”

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