Welcome to the Greatest Moment series at Last Word On Pro Basketball, where we’ll present to you each NBA team’s greatest moment of the 21st century. From draft lottery luck, to a franchise-changing trade, to the sweet taste of a championship, every NBA team has had its own special moment to look back on.
In this edition, we will relive the greatest Chicago Bulls moment of the 21st century: hometown hero Derrick Rose winning the 2010-11 NBA Most Valuable Player award over the likes of LeBron James and Dwight Howard.
Greatest Chicago Bulls Moment of the 21st Century: Derrick Rose Wins 2010-11 MVP Award
After the Bulls dominated the NBA in the 1990s more than any franchise had since the ‘60s Boston Celtics, Chicago only made three playoff appearances in the 10 seasons following Michael Jordan’s retirement. The Bulls never even made it past the second round in that span. Chicago then selected Derrick Rose with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft. Rose helped the Bulls make the postseason in each of his first two years. Rose’s third season, though, was a lot more special. While it ultimately ended with Chicago being knocked out in the Eastern Conference Finals – by the team’s nemesis, LeBron James, no less – the 2010-11 season will always be dear to Bulls fans. Our story begins in the summer of 2010.
On July 8, 2010, ESPN switched up its regularly scheduled programming. Instead, it aired a T.V. special called The Decision. The night is mostly remembered for LeBron James uttering the words “taking my talents to South Beach” and Cleveland Cavaliers fans burning his jersey on camera. Lost in all the mayhem, of course, was how James’ decision to join the Miami Heat affected Chicago.
At one point, the Bulls had been the favorites to land James in free agency. Perhaps James had always planned to sign with the Heat, but many well-connected people thought that Chicago had a good chance at landing him. Regardless, he and Chris Bosh decided to team up with Dwyane Wade in South Florida. While Heat fans celebrated the forming of a super-team and the trio threw a welcome party for themselves, the Bulls had to scramble to recover. Chicago managed to sign Carlos Boozer, a decent (but disappointing) consolation prize. Nevertheless, the Bulls prepared for a season in which the odds were stacked against them, with Vegas projecting the Heat, Celtics, and Orlando Magic to win more games in the East.
2010-11 Regular Season
After all the hype behind the ‘Heatles,’ Miami started slow, with a record of 9-8 after 17 games. Oddly enough, the Bulls began the season the same way. While the Heat eventually righted the ship and cruised to a 58-24 season, Chicago one-upped them. The Bulls went 25-6 in the stretch following their slow start. They reeled off nine straight wins to end the season, snatching the top seed in the East with a league-best 62-20 record. Tom Thibodeau’s coaching certainly made an impact, as the team ranked atop the league in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). But despite a bottom-10 pace and limited offensive options, Chicago still managed to rank 11th overall in offensive efficiency. That is where Rose made his mark.
Take a look at this roster:
Does that look like a top-11 offense in the modern NBA? It was barren of shooters, save for Kyle Korver and John Lucas III – two reserves. Boozer, Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah were all good but limited offensive options. Boozer was a decent low post player, but he mostly depended on pick-and-pops to get his mid-range game going. Deng was solid all-around, but he did not exactly qualify as a great offensive creator, even then; he never averaged more than three assists per game over the course of a full season. Noah was an excellent passer who could create for others but not himself. That left the Bulls with one main offensive option: Rose.
Hometown Hero Comes Through
At just 23 years old, Rose put his city and team on his back. Coming off of an All-Star season in 2009-10, when he averaged 20.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game (on nearly 49 percent from the field), Rose turned it up a notch. Even with the addition of Boozer as an offensive threat, Rose’s scoring average jumped to 25 PPG. He refined his three-point shot, making 1.6 threes nightly, as opposed to a mere 0.2 in each of his first two seasons. Finally, Rose added 7.7 assists per contest, despite his team’s cramped spacing. He managed to find little slivers of space in between the defense and make his teammates better. No floor general could run a team quite like Chris Paul in his prime years, but during that regular season, Rose was every bit as great. He elevated his teammates and (pardon the pun) rose to the challenge of dethroning the prematurely-crowned Heat, at least by regular season standards.
Lasting Impact of Rose’s MVP
Rose put on some spectacular performances, had plenty of special moments, and was the most enjoyable individual player of the 2010-11 regular season. James’ first season outside of Cleveland will be remembered more, but only because of how avidly people hated him. Rose was the hero who came out of nowhere to save the day and ‘steal’ what could have been James’ third consecutive MVP.
“In a league of very valuable players, you are the most valuable,” said then NBA commissioner David Stern, as he handed the MVP trophy to Rose. Sure, one could argue that Howard deserved the award. Yes, James was a better player than Rose at the time, and he proved as much in the playoffs during the following two months. But guess what? Those things don’t really matter. Derrick Rose won the 2010-11 MVP award, and that meant everything to him and to Bulls fans. He was the youngest MVP in NBA history. He brought elite basketball back to Chicago, a city that was once on top of the world in that regard. And best of all, he did it for his hometown team.
The Aftermath: Rose’s Legacy
We all know what happened after that magical 2010-11 season. Rose suffered minor injuries throughout the following season. Those ailments may have been due to a lack of activity during the NBA lockout, which spanned the entire summer and took nearly two months out of the season. Rose then tore his ACL in the very first game of the 2012 playoffs, extinguishing another strong Bulls team and keeping him out for the entire 2012-13 season. He then tore his meniscus after returning for just 10 games in the 2013-14 season. Though he stayed healthy for longer during the following two years, Rose struggled on the court, unable to recapture his old magic. He has never returned to All-Star level play – let alone MVP level – since then. Finally, the Bulls traded Rose to the New York Knicks in June 2016, ending his tenure in Chicago on a sour note.
Fans will remember Rose as one of the NBA’s biggest what-ifs ever. He will likely become the only MVP in league history to not make the Hall of Fame, at least so far. Because of that, many people will consider Rose winning MVP to simply be an outlier. I consider it to be the greatest Chicago Bulls moment of this century. Take your pick.
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