By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
It can take some effort to get Derrick Rose to be candid, but once you do there’s no lack of emotion that comes out of the South Side of Chicago native.
As he states in “Pooh: The Derrick Rose Story,” a documentary that premiered on the Stadium network Thursday evening, when emotion does come from Rose, it is mostly a byproduct of him remembering where he came from.
Where that is exactly is Englewood, one of Chicago’s most notorious and often forgotten neighborhoods. Rose at one point in life could have been seen as another child of the Wood destined to be forgotten as well, but through his determination to “save” his family and to realize his potential on the basketball court “Pooh” became a household name in our city and at one point its most beloved representative.
What the documentary — produced in part by Rose alongside collaborators like his agent B.J. Armstrong, Cycle media and Stadium — does best is detail, with great depth and intimacy, the love affair and break-up of a once in a generation athletic talent and the unique place he came from, a place where overwhelming love and unmistakable hate can come all at once given what decisions you make.
Rose both got the former and the latter over his eight years playing as a Bull. The emotion he provoked in the city, in Bulls fans was illuminating — so much could be learned by the observance of what fueled that emotion and what dividing lines were exposed as disappointment and frustration became twin pillars of Rose’s career as Chicago athlete of the moment.
What “Pooh” got most right in its 90 to 100 minutes of run time (its a easy two-hour watch with commercials on Stadium) regarded contextualizing Rose’s story as a Chicago story. It starts with elements of the Rose family’s story, his mother Brenda talking about moving to Englewood in 1973 pre-crack with dreams for the four sons she would go on to birth.
How To Watch The D-Rose Documentary (WatchStadium.com)
As those sons, the infamous Reggie and the scene-stealing “Greedy” among them, came of age during the defining ’80s period where in much of South Chicago violence became more random and street allegiances did more to define who would live long and who wouldn’t, they allude to doing things they’d rather not have to to survive.
During that same time, Chicago came to know a proto-Rose figure who went to the same school Rose would go to, who reached similar heights as a prep phenom and seemed NBA-bound but Ben Wilson couldn’t even reach out of Englewood himself due to indiscriminate violence.
In 1984 the city lost its innocence regarding protecting its most gifted athletes — if Benji’s story could end with cold slugs felling him in the street, it would take more structure, more resilience, more destined fortune to bring another from the soil to even tease more success and to inspire even more.
Rose would be that one. He was destined, but that destiny didn’t come with the continuation of a dynasty at the Madhouse on Madison. By 2016, he was in some post-modern nightmare of expectation, entitlement and media overwrought all while being caged by the connection he had to his city. A deeper connection he had to Englewood, and the people who knew Englewood and thus knew Pooh and what he stood for, was arguably exploited when he did his best. Respect was deserved of Rose simply for getting as far as he did and not enough people gave it to him.
Unfortunately, a ghetto boy done good story isn’t enough for many when the high stakes and money of the NBA are involved. Returns are warranted on the investment made on contracts like Rose’s $300 million contract with Adidas in 2012 and the max contract extension for five years and $95 mill made months after Rose’s triumphant MVP season in 2011.
In the face of increased responsibilities to the public and the ever-growing weight of carrying a franchise and a basketball-crazy town on his shoulders you would figure Rose would go only so far before stumbling, but no one would predict how bad his legs would give out underneath him and how much the fall hurt us all and how incredibly rude the response would be, showing such disdain for someone who did make the effort to carry, to advance, to inspire and who succeeded for so much longer than most have.
But that’s Chicago for you — as Greedy would say, evoking a classic Kanye line — its the “city of haters.” Still, by 2016 and his eventual trade to the New York Knicks, Rose was a mess when he was faced with the prospect of the era of his life as Chicago’s most cherished son ending and doing so with no rings and no defining moment of triumph to rival that seen in the Michael Jordan era. What was meant to be really wasn’t and as hard as it was for all us to take, it really did mean the most to him.
The devastating sequence that acts as “Pooh”‘s emotional center shows Rose in tears while getting the news from Armstrong that he is on the verge of being traded to the Knicks. Rose contained himself just enough to offer his thoughts in the moment to the documentary crew, trying to stay positive but not able to hide his devastation at that level of rejection, something he likely never faced before, something he never would have expected to face from the team that helped define his love of the game.
So many felt that Rose didn’t care as much as Chicago wanted him to care while he was dealing with his series of injuries starting with his devastating 2012 ACL tear, which derailed a No. 1-seeded Bulls team hungry to avenge their elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals the season before.
Given how well the team was constructed, how much the Bulls outworked teams under Tom Thibodeau with or without Rose and how vulnerable even LeBron James could look when he had to deal with the Bulls at full strength, what most of Chicago wanted was at least a little more effort, more of the so-called grit and lunch pail effort that may have defined previous eras of Chicago heroes or heroes in other sports, but for many real reasons Rose just couldn’t provide that at the time. Post 2012, only a glimpse of the untouchable D-Rose would appear in the 2015 playoffs, but what became inevitable soon after that was that both Rose and Chicago would have to move on from each other.
In his involvement with the documentary process it seems Rose knew years ago he would have to tell his side of the story eventually as image mishandling came to define his relationship both with the Bulls and the media who covered them. That said, Rose and the team behind “Pooh” deserves props for being as open as they were in telling in this story. Most of the voices staffed to fill out the story are positive, but none were afraid to state moments of doubt they’ve had with Rose, from Stacy King saying he preferred the Bulls taking Michael Beasley prior to the 2008 draft to David Kaplan completely questioning Rose’s will as a Bull only several years after stating Rose was the best high school player in America at the IHSA state finals.
Other valuable media voices included 670 the Score’s Laurence Holmes and Vinnie Goodwill currently of Yahoo! Sports and formerly of NBC Sports Chicago who spoke to the social and historic depths Rose’s story touched within Chicago. Their commentary along with that of those who grew up with Rose and grew up watching Rose — family, former coaches, Jabari Parker and Chance the Rapper among them — provide a great deal of context that makes “Pooh” a fine study on what it means to obtain wealth and fame in Chicago and to represent this city whose fault lines of contention are ever shifting and can swallow up the most well-meaning figures.
Also standing out among the commentators was Joakim Noah, who as Rose’s closest teammate gave a lot more of the story from behind the locker room door. Particularly revealing was Noah’s take on the how miserable the prime injury years of 2013-14 were in spite of the Bulls remaining competitive and Noah playing the best ball of his career.
Both Randall Hampton and Ryan Allen (Tony’s brother), are heard from in “Pooh.” As friends of Rose’s they are significant, they are also significant because both were mentioned in the lawsuit brought to Rose in California saying that the three gang-raped an unidentified accuser. Fallout from the case, in which Rose was found not liable in 2016, has soured many on Rose even through his reclamation as a ballplayer and public figure within the past year.
To the doc’s credit, it does bring up the case, but it only does so within the film’s final 15 minutes — Rose states again that he wouldn’t harm a woman like he was accused of, neither Hampton or Allen speak of the case nor does any reporter or commentator who would have pushed against the narrative running from Rose’s camp.
“Pooh” is not a warts-and-all dive into Rose’s life, it wasn’t promoted to be, though it comes close in a controlled way, much like how revealing but selective Dr. Dre and Ice Cube were in the details they as producers allowed to stay in “Straight Outta Compton.”
Still, this film is a valuable source of information into who Derrick Rose is and what made him, which is primarily Chicago. That so much of Rose’s professional legacy, one that was for a while being defined by missed opportunity but fortunately today looks like it could turn back around, is tied into his hometown made for a naturally dramatic tale of devotion and disappointment and survival. Along those lines, “Pooh” is a 2009-like breakaway dunk of an effort.
Maybe a more objective, third-party take on the arc of Rose’s career and life is in order down the line but for now “Pooh” stands alongside the likes of “Hoop Dreams” and the 30-for-30 effort “Benji” as valuable representations of Chicago’s deep relationship with the game of basketball and the unbreakable connection we have with those who represent our city and risk everything for glory on the court and salvation off it.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR