By// Jerry Bembry
Way back in training camp, even before the Chicago Bulls had played a preseason game, a member of the Chicago media asked Derrick Rose whether he had a shot of being the league’s Most Valuable Player.
“Why not,” Rose answered. “Why can’t I be the MVP of the league?”
Back in October, I would have described that comment as a bold statement by a wet-behind-the-ears young’un. As he, seven months later, becomes the youngest player in NBA history to accept the award, there’s this chatter among basketball experts about whether the 22-year-old Rose is truly deserving of the honor.
Which leads me to my question: “If not Derrick Rose, who?”
You could make the argument for Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder forward who led the NBA in scoring for the second straight season. I love Durant’s game, and think he’s emerged as one of the most potent offensive players in the game. And he would have been my pick as MVP had the Thunder finished the season as one of the top teams in the league (Oklahoma City had the fourth best record in the Western Conference, and the seventh best record in the NBA).
You could make the argument for Dwight Howard, who won the league’s best defensive player award for the third straight season, while also averaging 14 rebounds and a career-best 22 points. Take away Howard, and the Magic would not have won 52 games and might have had a hard time making the field of 68 in this year’s NCAA tournament. The team’s MVP? Yes. The NBA’s MVP? Hardly.
You could have made the case for Lebron James, whose 27 points, 7 assists and 7 rebounds demonstrated he remains one of the most versatile players in basketball. But his numbers were down from a year ago, when he was the league’s MVP on the NBA’s best team. Besides, can you be the MVP of the league when you’re not even the MVP of your own team?
Derrick Rose, who had the MVP award wrapped up by the All-Star break, deserves the trophy. He put up an impressive stat line, averaging 25 points, and seven assists. He became just the fifth player in NBA history to finish the season with at least 2,000 points, 600 assists and 300 rebounds (Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan and James are the other players to accomplish that).
But the most important measure of his greatness this season: the Bulls were winners. With Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah missing numerous games this season with injuries, Rose was the common thread in helping the Bulls finish the season with the NBA’s best record. That the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are having their dream matchup in the second round of the playoffs is due to the greatness of Rose this season.
Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan recognized his impact. “He deserves it, without a doubt,” Jordan said earlier this season. “And if he doesn’t get it, he’ll see how I felt a lot of years.”
Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers witnessed his dominance. “If I had a vote,” Rivers said. (Rose) is the MVP.”
And even Chris Bosh and Juwan Howard — two teammates of James in Miami — have weighed in, saying Rose deserves the honor.
The award caps a great season for Rose, joining an impressive group of recent winners such as James, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash and Tim Duncan.
But true greatness is measured by championships. As Jordan said, there were many seasons where he didn’t win the MVP award, but he left his stamp on the game by winning six NBA championships. And as great as Bryant’s been the past decade he only has one MVP trophy, but he has five NBA titles.
When the Los Angeles Lakers visited the White House last December to be honored for their second straight NBA title President Barack Obama — a die-hard Bulls’ fan — had a warning for Kobe:
“Derrick Rose may have your number.”
“If he calls that number,” Bryant responded. “I’ll be sure to pick up after the fifth ring.”
With five rings — and his eyes set on six this season — Bryant’s fully entrenched as one of the greats to ever play the game. I once polled NBA players about who was the one player they feared in taking the last shot of a game, and Bryant was the overwhelming selection.
One day, Rose may be looked upon by his peers as that guy. To get there, he’ll have to add at least one NBA ring to that MVP Trophy.
Rose is a great player, with a great demeanor. And the fact that he’s an MVP at the age of 22, leaves little doubt that he’ll eventually reach that status.
But he won’t get a chance to rest on his laurels of being named the league’s best player. He’s got a difficult, immediate challenge in getting his team through the second round of the playoffs.//
— Jerry Bembry is an award-winning journalist and a video producer.