The Bulls’ best moment of the decade didn’t come on the court.
It didn’t come when Derrick Rose dunked or Luol Deng sank a midrange jumper or Joakim Noah primal screamed or Tom Thibodeau fist pumped.
It came on May 3, 2011, in a suburban hotel ballroom. It came when Derrick Rose addressed his mother, Brenda, in an emotional and eloquent speech while accepting the NBA’s most valuable player award.
This is just one person’s opinion, of course. But anyone in that room, experiencing that raw moment, would be hard-pressed to forget it.
After accepting the award to become the youngest MVP in league history, Rose, then 22, thanked God for giving him his ability; the NBA for acknowledging him; his teammates and coaching staff for pushing him; Bulls ownership and management for signing “good guys” who “love each other”; Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen for establishing a foundation of greatness; his trainer, agency, fans and the city of Chicago.
After all that, he saved his most powerful words and acute awareness for his mother, who already was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue before Rose addressed her.
"Last but not least, I want to thank my mom, Brenda Rose," Derrick said then. "My heart, the reason I play the way I play, just everything. Just knowing the days I don't feel right, going to practice, having a hard time, I think about her when she had to wake me up, go to work and make sure I was all right. Those were hard days. My days shouldn't be hard because I'm doing what I'm doing and that's playing basketball.
"You kept me going. I love you and appreciate you being in my life."
The room was packed. Rose spoke to his mother like they were the only two people in the room.
The moment not only validated the hard work and sacrifice Brenda made to raise Rose and his brothers as a single mother in the trap-filled neighborhood of Englewood. It also represented all that was good about a special, albeit brief, era of Bulls basketball.
As Rose acknowledged, that team, which was less than two weeks away from advancing to the Eastern Conference finals, didn’t just produce great basketball. It featured togetherness. Players routinely spent time together on the road. They enjoyed each other’s company.
Rose’s speech also underscored an eloquence and genuine humility that was always present to those Rose knew well and trusted but which he often placed behind a shell once his knee injuries stacked up.
“I would hit him upside [his head] and bring him back down if he ever changed,” the shy and private Brenda told me, in an interview conducted for the Chicago Tribune, right after the ceremony.
That MVP season is when Rose would take the court, blow on his hands, acknowledge the opponent, tuck in his jersey and walk to the west side of the United Center. He would look to his family’s luxury suite and blow a kiss to his mother, whom he called his best friend.
“That’s just pure love right there,” Brenda said that May 2011 day. “I love that. It makes my heart swell.
“When Derrick and his brothers were growing up, I'd always say, 'You can't leave the house without telling me you love me.' I was raised to do that because that could be the last thing you would hear. So I taught my sons. ... That's the most important thing — love."
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