Derrick Rose’s Leap from Inner-City Baller to the NBA

THE AIR UP THERE: His story starts in Englewood, one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, where, as an athletic prodigy, he was shielded from harm

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Rose talks with reporters outside the Bulls’ Berto Center in Deerfield.

 

Chicago has a way of corrupting its young basketball stars, showering them with far too much attention. “It’s right around grammar school where a lot of great athletes get an ego,” says Green. “The playgrounds are filled with old guys like Derrick who started well and got lost. They stopped listening to coaches and teachers and friends. They got kicked out of school. They became nothing more than legends in their own minds.”

But Rose’s mother and three older brothers wouldn’t stand for it. One of the most important family rules, Rose says, was that most people couldn’t contact him directly. Only close friends and family had Rose’s cell numbers, and everyone else—coaches, scouts, sneaker salesmen, older kids, so-called friends, anyone with the power to corrupt the young Rose—had to go through his family. “I’d give them [older brother] Reggie’s cell,” Rose says. “And he would handle it.” With hangers-on and distractions at a minimum, Rose says he was able to be a normal teenager, spending his free time doing nothing more than hanging out at friends’ houses and playing X-Box. “A lot of athletes grow up way too fast,” he says. “My family let me be a kid.” When it came to teenage pranks, parties, or staying out late, Rose “was always thinking ahead,” says Tim Flowers, a friend and teammate since childhood. “He always kept in mind: What would happen if everyone heard about this?”

The neighborhood pulled together, too, to shield its prodigy. While random violence and stray bullets remained an ever-present threat, gang members who typically would have tried to recruit or hassle a boy Rose’s age left him alone. “If you’re an athlete, they tend to give you a free pass,” says Donald Whiteside, an Englewood native who starred at Northern Illinois and played in the NBA. “For anyone else, it can be pretty rough.” Rose says that his family benefited from the protective ring, too. “They looked out for my mother,” he says. “They only do that for certain people, and we were lucky.”

Photograph: David Trotman-Wilkins/Chicago Tribune photo

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