The Rose That Grew From Chicago Concrete

Last Wednesday, the media had a field day with the story alleging that Derrick Rose never actually took the SATD Rose 3 himself. It was also alleged that the University of Memphis provided extra benefits to his older brother Reggie in the form of travel on the teams charter plane and hotel accommodations to the tune of $2,260.Read More

The very next day after this story broke, both the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune reported that during Rose’s final semester of high school at Simeon Career Academy, someone with access to his transcripts changed a D grade to a C and submitted the bogus transcript to colleges. The grade was then changed back to a D a month later. This same fraud also occurred with three of Rose’s high school teammates.

Shocking? Hardly. Surprising? Not in the least. But to those enamored with the NBA’s recently crowned ROY, this story was very disheartening. But in order to understand my lack of “shock and awe” that a lot of people seem to have felt, I’ll need to give you a Chicago basketball history lesson so that you can get a very clear picture of Derrick Rose’s importance to the city in general and to the south side in particular. I’ve told this story before, but it’s definitely worth telling again.

Have you ever heard of Ben Wilson? If you’re not a hoop head or you grew up outside of Chicago then chances are you probably haven’t. But before Derrick Rose and Simeon became synonymous, there was “Benji”. He was the one who put Simeon on the basketball map and was the original pride of the south side. He was 6’8″ with all around skills that had never been seen in someone his size before. Sound familiar? Former high school teammate and Orlando Magic star Nick Anderson called him Magic Johnson with a jump shot. He led Simeon to the state championship in 1984 as a junior, the first in school history. The summer before his senior season he went to the Nike All-American camp unranked. He came back the #1 player in the country, the first ever from Chicago. 

On November 20, 1984 one day before the start of his senior season, he was shot outside of Simeon on his lunch break and passed away at St. Bernard hospital a few hours later. He was 17 years old. In his honor, the top spot of the ’84-’85 player rankings was left blank. The school also retired his jersey and later renamed its gymnasium after him.

21 years later, enter Derrick Rose. He was from south side. Just like Benji. As part of Simeon tradition, he wore #25. Just like Benji. He wasn’t the #1 ranked player in the country, but scouts had him ranked as the #1 point guard. We’ll take that. He led Simeon to a state title during his senior year, something most people feel that Benji would’ve done.  And just like Derrick Rose was the #1 pick in the draft, had Benji gone to the University of Illinois as planned, his name probably would’ve been the first one David Stern called on draft day too. Two people couldn’t have lived more parallel lives.

For over twenty years a black cloud hung over the south side because of Benji’s death. Promise and greatness both senselessly taken away. A legacy left unfulfilled. Everyone around here knows the story of Ben Wilson, and Derrick Rose represented what could’ve been. What should’ve been. So it wasn’t just his brothers Reggie, Dwayne and Allen who could see that he was travelling in the exact same lane and wanted to protect him. This was bigger than family. This was community. Everyone at Simeon from the students to the teachers, his coaches, everybody in the Englewood neighborhood where he grew up, the entire city of Chicago and especially the southside wanted to protect him. We all wanted to see him make it.

So if it took someone getting a fake id and posing as Derrick in order for him to get a qualifying score on his SAT, so be it. If it took someone inside of Simeon with access to his grades and a password to change a D into a C, so be it. If it took his brother Reggie moving to Memphis to watch over him 24/7, so be it. He was one of us and we all had a vested interest in his success. 

It’s so easy to judge if you don’t know the story. Without knowing the story it’s impossible to understand what was at stake. You can’t accuse Derrick and Reggie of wrongdoing without accusing us all. We were all like Malcolm peering out that window doing whatever it took to protect one of our own. Derrick Rose was going to make it. He had to make it. By any means necessary.

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