In the third game of the 1989 Bears season, a rookie running back for the Detroit Lions named Barry Sanders ran for 126 yards on 18 carries, scoring once in a 47-27 Bears win.
This was the fall of ’89, and even with the Cubs wrangling a division title, our emotion was locked square on our beloved Bulls. Only three months earlier, the young guns in red and black had dropped their second straight series to the hated Bad Boys. For Chicago fans in the late 80’s, nothing mattered like the Pistons.
And for the 2nd grade fellas of Orrington Elementary School, the pain of that struggle was exacerbated by our friendship with Aaron Wightman, Detroit-native. Regardless of the happenings at recess or in gym, we all knew deep in our souls that Aaron’s ties with the Pistons elevated him beyond the rest of us. No insult could touch him, not so long as Isiah, Laimbeer, Rodman, Dumars, and the Microwave were on the warpath.
So you can imagine my dismay when number 20 got his first crack at the Bears. Beyond unfair, I thought at the time, that Aaron should now be armed with this squirrelly, dominant tailback when he already had Daly’s crew. And then it hit me: “…and we have to watch him do this twice a season for the next ten years.” Ugh.
I had the same trembling realization in 2007 when a rookie named Adrian Peterson sliced us up for 224 and three scores in a Vikings win. Twice a year. Here we go…
Peterson has amassed 554 yards and 8 touchdowns in four career games against the Bears, and I’m not expecting Years Three through Eight to soften the blow. But while Sanders added to our Pistons grief, it has been Derrick Rose who has made everything OK in the city of wind. 82 times a year! Here we go!
It is our good luck that a point guard’s lifespan far exceeds that of your average running back. Sanders hung ‘em up after only ten seasons—Rose could easily be ours for fifteen. Of course, that all depends on contract negotiations and the team’s success, but Rose leaving Chicago before his 30th birthday would be a disaster, infinitely dumber (should we trade him) than shipping Brand, infinitely more upsetting (should he want out) than losing Maddux. I’m not one for long-term predictions, but the only obstacles to Derrick Rose playing ten seasons with the Bulls would be career-ending injury, death, or the fulfillment of the 2012 Mayan calendar prophesy.
Speaking of those 2012 Olympics, Team USA’s probable starting point guard, Chris Paul, was at the UC Saturday night. And though Paul greatly outplayed him, Rose’s stature is already such that a showdown with his position’s top man is truly a showdown.
Saturday was an off night for the man “From Chicago.” But more than the numbers or the wins, I’m watching for those wonderful moments that only the best athletic competitors provide. Like midway through the opening quarter, when Rose kicked himself into a second and then third gear on a routine drive to the hoop. At the top of the key he was covered. One blink later: uncontested layup.
For me, that’s enough. That one moment where greatness seems inspired, not assumed. Where the man who has done it all does it again in such a way that even his most weathered fans drop a “He just did what??!!!” at their highest pitch.
And that’s the thing about Derrick Rose: he’s full of ‘em. Full of those moments that make posters and youtube clips and give columns to the columnists. Wins and losses? They still matter, but not like they once did. I was seven turning eight in 1989. At that age, players aren’t players. They’re superheros and villains, mythical beings that exist in trading cards and video games and in each one of us every time we picked up a ball.
In that way, I missed out on the true brilliance of the 90’s Bulls. I wasn’t able to marvel at Michael’s dominance or Scottie’s versatility because I was not experiencing those games as acts of athletic competition. They were full-on battles between good and evil on which my very emotional well-being and quite possibly my status as a human hung firm. I was no more capable of appreciating the unique physicality of MJ’s famous “switch-hands layup” against the Lakers as you might be of Superman leaping a tall building in a single bound. That is simply what Superman does.
Now it’s just sports, just some dudes playing ball. Yet I watch Rose play now and I get to experience determination, joy, courage, leadership, frustration, beauty, and a whole slew of Well- Hot-Damn,-I-Don’t-Believe-I-Ever-Seen-A-Human-Do-That-Before’s. At seven, Rose would be a superhero, nothing more. At twenty-seven, he’s some kind of concoction: Iverson’s quickness with Kidd’s strength with Jason Williams’s sudden and crazed clutchness at Duke, or perhaps he is the 21st century evolution of an Isiah and Dumars backcourt fused into one body.
82 times a year?? For the next ten years??!!!
Copyright 2009, jm silverstein