To understand what Derrick Rose’s return will mean to the city of Chicago, you need to understand what it is to be a Chicagoan. You need to know that Chicago is like no other city in the country. It is both a great and horrible place to call home.
If you want to drive somewhere, prepare for an awful experience as you crawl through traffic. Whether you go local or take the highway, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. If you make a three-mile trek in less than half an hour, you count yourself lucky.
If you take the side streets, you end up in one-way-street hell, which will inevitably lead you back to where you came from, driving over countless, barely visible speed bumps that seek to tear out the bottom of your car.
All the buildings are brick and three-stories tall wherever you go. The skyline is something you grow accustomed to never seeing, which is fine because it would take forever to get there anyway.
You can take the bus, and stare into icy-cold winds that freeze the tears to your eyeballs as you wait. And as you close your eyes to thaw out, you think, “Why on earth do I live here?”
You can take the train, where regardless of where you sit, you will be accosted by a homeless person asking you for money. And if you have the nerve to try to read, no doubt there will be someone talking loudly enough for people on the next train to hear them.
The politicians are corrupt, but we bear with it as long as they get the job done. We know our U.S. Attorneys by name. Political leaders being prosecuted isn’t news—it’s the norm.
Our summers are too hot. Our winters are too cold. Our autumns and springs are too short.
Our gas is the most expensive in the country.
And that’s the easy part.
There were 532 people murdered, and 2,670 shot in Chicago in 2012, bringing the worst the city has to offer into the national limelight.
Even our nickname is sad. New York is the Big Apple, the Greatest City on Earth. L.A.? We love it!
Chicago is the “Second City.”
We’re always second, never first. We thought we were going to get the Olympics, yet had that snatched away when we finished second.
And then there are our sports teams. The Chicago Cubs are the crowning achievement of Chicago—apparently, over one hundred years of losing isn’t enough to satiate one aggrieved goat.
The Bears won a Super Bowl in 1985. We pretend it happened yesterday.
The White Sox finally won a World Series after only 88 years in 2005. The Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup of 49 years in 2010. They were both one-year wonders.
Northwestern, the closest thing we have to a major college, has never made it into the NCAA tournament.
The one thing we had was Michael Jordan and the Bulls. With six championships in eight years, Chicago was the envy of the basketball world for the better part of a decade. Then owner Jerry Reinsdorf blew that whole thing up.
This is what you need to know about Chicagoans: We embrace adversity. We eat it for dinner and ask for seconds. And we have to.
That’s how we get from one day to the next. And that’s what we want and need our athletes to do.
If they don’t, they get the Jay Cutler treatment. Many fans felt that in the 2011 NFC Championship game, Cutler should have given more effort—if not on the field, then at least on the sideline.
Some teams have “bandwagonners.” We don’t allow that. We reject bandwagon fans. If you haven’t suffered, you’re not allowed to use the “we” word. If you weren’t a fan when we were losing, you’re not allowed to lay claim to the title while we’re winning.
We do have what I call “dump-truckers.” If fans don’t feel an athlete is all-in all the time, they’ll dump on him quicker than you can sneeze. It takes effort just to live in Chicago, so if you’re not putting forth effort playing for Chicago, you’re not representing the city, and we expect our athletes to represent.
That’s because what comes from all of that overcoming adversity is a human decency that makes any Chicagoan proud to lay claim to that title.
Here’s a personal story to illustrate my meaning.
As I was driving a friend to Midway Airport with my wife, my car stalled right as I got off the intersection. We were heading into one of the less reputable parts of town. Three very large, baggy-pants-with-t-shirt-wearing men were running toward my car.
Before I could think or react, the largest of them requested, “Put it in neutral.” And then they pushed me uphill, for two blocks, to the nearest gas station. Being young and perpetually broke, I didn’t have any money on me to buy the required antifreeze to put in my radiator to get me home.
They paid for that and refused to let me take their address down to refund them the money.
Kindness is not foreign, even in the bad neighborhoods of Chicago, regardless of what you’ve heard.
There’s a decency to Chicago you don’t hear about in the news, but that decency is why Derrick Rose is so loved here. He’s the diamond in the rough produced by the pressure of living in the worst that Chicago has to offer: Englewood. He’s all that’s good and right about being a Chicagoan.
He, along with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, were involved with “Ballin’ for Peace,” part of an effort to stop gang violence in Chicago. It’s a true sentiment to him, not something he merely lends his name to as the video below attests.
Derrick Rose loves Chicago as much as Chicago loves him. We have a symbiotic relationship with him. We carry him and he carries us.
It’s because he is the best that comes from Chicago, out of the worst of Chicago. Even in the most dangerous, volatile and murderous neighborhood in the nation, this remarkable, generous and humble man has been produced. He is the best of us.
We understand he’s not perfect. But we also understand that he’s overcome adversity just like we have. He’s not just from Chicago. He’s not merely playing for Chicago. Derrick Rose is Chicago—to his core.
When he went down, the air went out of the city. The reason #thereturn commercial, “Wake Up,” rendered so much impact in Chicago is that it was so close to being literally true. The city stopped and held its collective breath. We felt his pain. We agonized with him.
Rose’s return is not merely about chasing a title. That’s not likely to happen with the way the Heat are playing this year. It’s not even about just the basketball of things.
When Rose sets foot on the court again, and his name is announced, he’ll be announcing that he took one more plate of adversity, ate it up and pooped it out. And when the United Center is going full-on nuts and you see grown men in tears, it’ll be because we did too.