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Rose to the top: Basketball’s back in Chicago

Today’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Rose to the top: Basketball’s back in Chicago

The WISCH LIST

April 23, 2011

During the summer, Chicago is a baseball town. During the winter, it’s a football town. And, last spring, as the Blackhawks showered the city with postseason glory, it was most definitely a hockey town.

But it’s been a while since Chicago was a basketball town.

Thirteen years, to be exact.

The last time the Windy City was truly captivated by the Chicago Bulls was in 1998 when some bald-headed dude was sizing up his sixth NBA championship ring.

But since the Michael Jordan era ended, the White Sox have won a World Series, the Bears have been to a Super Bowl, the University of Illinois has reached a Final Four and the Blackhawks have hoisted a Stanley Cup.

Heck, even the Cubs have been to the playoffs four times.

As a result, Chicago’s collective interest in the Bulls has waned. However, the city’s fandom now appears to be resurrecting itself – fitting, I suppose, for Easter Weekend – thanks, mainly, to one kid.

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose …

For seven years during my 20s, I covered high school sports. And during that time, I saw more prep games than I can count, watching hundreds of kids shoot hoops in both cavernous big-city arenas as well as crackerbox gymnasiums in towns where many people probably didn’t even know there was a high school.

Or a town.

Most of the players I saw were average. Some were good. A few were even great. But only one of them was Derrick Rose.

Back in December 2004, I saw Rose for the first time when he was just a high school sophomore playing in the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. On that night, the wiry point guard from Chicago Simeon was as raw as could be — Rose committed eight turnovers in the game — but he also flashed athletic gifts beyond belief.

And pulled off a dunk even more unbelievable.

While on a one-on-one fast break with a smaller defender attached to his hip the entire way, Rose sprinted downcourt appearing that he’d go in for a contested layup – perhaps a difficult one-handed dunk. But, instead, as Rose reached the basket, he erupted off the floor for the most unexpected two-handed slam that I’ve ever seen.

In fact, so startled was the crowd at Pontiac High School that the entire gymnasium audibly gasped in unison.

I’ll never forget that sound.

Better than MJ?

Earlier this week, during an online discussion about Derrick Rose, a friend of mine posed this question to me: “Why aren’t more people saying he’s better than Jordan was at this point in his career? Because he is.”

But I begged to differ.

At 22, Rose might be better than Jordan was at that age. Maybe. (MJ, however, did average 28.2 points per game as a 21-year-old rookie before missing much of his second season with a broken foot). But it’s difficult to compare, because – thanks to AAU basketball and entering the NBA at age 19 – Rose has much more overall game experience than Jordan did at 22.

I feel more comfortable looking at their respective third seasons. And as a third-year pro, Jordan averaged 37.1 points, 4.6 assists and 2.9 steals per game for an eighth-seeded playoff team. Rose, by comparison, averaged 25.0, 7.7 and 1.0 with a superior supporting cast for this year’s No. 1 seed.

Rose should win MVP this year. But, by Jordan’s fourth year, he was named MVP and the NBA Defensive Player of the Year.

At 22, Derrick Rose is truly great, but he’s not quite Michael Jordan.

Nevertheless, isn’t Chicago fortunate to even entertain such a debate?