Carlos Boozer grew up playing basketball in Alaska. Jimmy Butler is from the Houston, Texas area. Joakim Noah is the child of a former Miss Sweden and a professional tennis player; he learned about the world and the game of basketball in New York City. Luol Deng spent various moments of his youth in the Sudan, England, and New Jersey.
Those players are from four very different parts of the world but when they put on the Chicago Bulls jersey, the United Center is their home. Chicago, Illinois is where they belong. The city is what embraces them like so many cities and NBA teams around the league. It's an NBA player's duty to embody the city in which they live, fight for it in organized basketball competition, and be loyal to a place they may have never thought would end up being their home.
The loyalty to an athlete's city of occupation is an expected part of receiving large sums of money to play a sport for a living. If you want the rewards of the lifestyle and opportunities afforded to you through your athletic prowess and talents, you're expected to defend your place of residency in the process. If you don't and you want to move on to a new team/city, you're rejected as the outsider you likely were in the first place. If you accept it and do everything you can to win in one place for your entire career, you're adopted as one of the city's own.
For Derrick Rose and the city of Chicago, it's a rare occurrence. Rose is the star of a storied franchise in a historic city that he actually grew up in. His experiences in the city of Chicago now are worlds apart from his experiences growing up there; however, the team he plays for is the city he's represented and defended his entire life, save for a few months away at the University of Memphis. He's been built up by Chicago and has been fortunate enough to bring back glory to a once proud franchise that the city is obsessed with supporting.
The existence of Derrick Rose as a Chicago Bulls franchise player extends beyond the pride one from Chicago might take in seeing him doing positive things for the city both on and off the court. The return of Rose to meaningful games in the NBA after an 18-month absence ramps up the competitiveness and drama of the league exponentially. Just a couple years ago, Rose was the reigning MVP at this time and trying to take claim to leading one of the best teams in the league back to championship glory.
Now his return to the court for the 2013-14 season marks an attempt to put the two-time champion Miami Heat on notice. That notice being the Heat won't even have the luxury of a tough road through the Indiana Pacers last year as their biggest obstacle to returning to the NBA Finals for a chance at a three-peat. Instead, there is another contender back in the fold; a team to go through with a tough defense and a superstar that is the only player in the NBA the last five years to win an MVP award that isn't named LeBron James.
The NBA gets one of its best players back in action and his game is a golden goose for marketing the league worldwide. The speed, power, and skill that Bulls fans boast about after highlight plays are rarely an exaggeration; he's that dynamic. The return of Rose means the return of showing out against the top stars in the league and letting them know that the route of going it alone and not recruiting help may not be the easiest road ahead, but it's a noble one of confidence and perhaps some naiveté mixed in. That's the path Rose has chosen to journey down for now and it's on him to let his fantastic team and unrelenting coach to help support his greatness to put the game in his hands on a nightly basis.
The thing about Rose coming back to meaningful games isn't necessarily that we get to have a cool superstar back in front of our eyes. It's that defiance to conform when met with incredible skill and a finely tuned engine can slap teaming up with other stars in the face and challenging it to a duel. Whether that duel is winnable for Rose and his Bulls isn't the important outcome. The important outcome for us is the drama and moments that unfold from such an endeavor.
And that's where Derrick Rose's return brings us. We get the old school era of basketball challenging the trends of the current NBA. We have a do-it-yourself mentality going against a generation of peers that recognize the importance of legacy, which we'll ultimately use to judge their place in history. Only with Rose it's not just about challenging that mindset with his own stubborn beliefs on competition in the NBA; he's doing it all while representing his home and putting the pressure and expectations of an entire city that helped mold him into the fiery competitor he is.
Many players will roll through the NBA, be adopted by a new city, and make their mark in a way we've seen so many times before. That's what is to be expected from professional sports. You're rarely representing your home; you're usually asked to represent your house. Derrick Rose watched the greatest legend in NBA history build the Bulls' current house in Rose's home. To reignite that tradition of bringing titles back to Chicago, the rebuilt Rose will have to be better than he was the last time we saw him.
The return of Derrick Rose means the return of contention for the Chicago Bulls. This is both great and terrifying for the league because the best-case scenario is a title. To do that in the place he grew up wouldn't just be doing it for a city that adopted a superstar as their own; it would be doing it for an extended family that has been waiting to see him play for a very long time.