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The day of the NBA draft this past June, about 200 people showed up in Murray Park, a small outdoor basketball court in Englewood. When the Chicago Bulls selected Derrick Rose with the first pick overall, the crowd erupted and the sound of horns honking could be heard throughout the neighborhood. Rose was an Englewood kid; he had learned to play basketball right where they were grilling hot dogs, spinning noisemakers, and eating gummy bears, the latter a tribute to the youngster’s sweet tooth. Even in winter, Rose and his friends had shoveled ice off the concrete and played with a wet ball.
Almost every inner-city kid who hits it big has a playground where people breathlessly recount his feats, and Murray is where Rose became Chicago’s next basketball prodigy. Spend enough time in Murray Park, though, and you will hear gunshots. From January to August 2008, 28 people were murdered in the neighborhood that surrounds it—a crime wave that garnered citywide attention, particularly because some victims were children caught in gang-related crossfire. (At presstime, the Englewood, South Chicago, and Gresham police districts had the city’s highest murder rates for the year.) “This is a tough community to grow up in, and we’ve got to celebrate someone like Derrick,” says John Paul Jones, a community activist and one of the event’s organizers. “Derrick represents the fact that you can get past the violence and destruction and still make it.”
Rose, 20, was an Englewood legend long before draft night. When he was a child, players twice his age begged his mother, Brenda, to let him play another game. As a 5-foot-11 eighth grader at Beasley Academic Center, Rose dunked and made it known that, unlike most me-first teenagers, he preferred to pass the ball. “Everyone wanted to play with him,” recalls Thomas Richard Green, Beasley’s assistant principal and head basketball coach. Soon enough, fans were jamming into tiny elementary school gyms to see his game. Not long after, the Rose name was appearing in recruiting magazines and prep sports columns.
Illustration: Courtney Wotherspoon; Photograph: Charles Cherney/Chicago Tribune photo