Players trickled onto the fading and cracking court at Murray Park in
Englewood around 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, about five hours before the tipoff of
Game 5 between the Bulls and Atlanta Hawks at the United Center.
For at least a year, the two white backboards didn’t have baskets.
‘‘We were kind of salty,’’ said Sherman Ransom, who grew up near the park. ‘‘I asked around [about fixing the rims], and they said, ‘Talk to your alderman.’
About nine miles south of Willis Tower, Englewood is the most challenged of Chicago’s neighborhoods in terms of crime, education and employment.
The 2010 U.S. Census lists Englewood’s poverty rate at 46 percent and its unemployment rate at 20 percent, both more than double the national average.
And from January through March of this year, based on statistics from the
Chicago Police Department, the 3.1-square-mile neighborhood experienced more robberies (208), aggravated assaults (92) and aggravated batteries (123) than anywhere in the city.
Derrick Rose, 22, keeps Englewood on the local map and has put it on the national one. His recent selection as the youngest most valuable player in NBA history compelled local pastors and leaders to celebrate his accomplishment at Murray Park, where — lo and behold — the rims were replaced. And Powerade, one of the national companies Rose endorses, pledged at least $15,000 to renovate his original home court.
‘‘He’s the biggest thing to ever come out of Englewood,’’ said Harvey Hampton, one of Rose’s AAU coaches and the father of one of Rose’s closest friends. ‘‘They love him here.’’
And there don’t seem to be any exceptions.
A member of the Gangster Disciples, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said local gangs earmarked Murray Park a safe zone because of Rose.
‘‘He paved the way,’’ the Gangster Disciple said. ‘‘It used to be called ‘Murder Park.’ But when Derrick made it to the NBA, we made it better out of respect. He comes from this block, and he represents all of us.’’
Rose doesn’t take such comments lightly.
‘‘It means a lot,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s why I show so much homage back to Englewood. They’re the reason I’m this person I am right now.’’
A way of life
Englewood has a history of violence.
At 63rd and Wallace, northwest of Murray Park and just east of Kennedy-King College, Dr. H.H. Holmes opened a hotel — nicknamed ‘‘Murdle Castle’’ — in the late 1880s. In it, he teased and tortured guests in windowless rooms, murdered them in assorted ways, then disposed of the bodies in the basement. Holmes later confessed to 27 murders, but some think his body count might top 200.
Englewood’s population was almost entirely white until an influx of African Americans migrated from the South in the 1950s. Within 20 years, the African-American population jumped from about 10 percent to 96 percent, and the crime and unemployment rates spiked.
In 1999, Mayor Richard M. Daley announced an investment of
$256 million in the neighborhood, mostly for Kennedy-King College. A month later, President Bill Clinton pledged $25 million to Englewood as part of an initiative designed to lure investors to some of the struggling areas of the city.
But children lacked sanctuaries, such as community centers or YMCAs, and Murray Park was one of the few public places where people in the neighborhood congregated.
Murray Park had a modest-sized playground, one basketball court and space for a baseball field. If kids wanted to play basketball, they did so during off-peak hours, usually when it was dark, raining or snowing. But the adults took notice of a quiet boy with a high basketball IQ.
Rose then was known around the neighborhood as ‘‘Pooh’’ — a nickname given to him by his mother, Brenda — and was allowed to run with the men, along with friends Tim Flowers and Arsenio Williams.
Except for a quick lunch break at Rainbow Carry Out on 71st and Ashland, they would play at Murray Park from sunup past sundown, even though the court didn’t have any lights.
‘‘Our parents would have to drag us off the court,’’ Williams said.
The boys, then about 11 years old, embraced the style of play that ruled the court, most notably that ‘‘foul’’ was a foreign word.
‘‘If we called a foul, they kept the ball because our calls weren’t respected,’’ Williams said. ‘‘You just had to get tougher.’’
Rose said that’s why he so aggressive in taking the ball to the basket.
‘‘It was hard, but that’s the reason why I don’t flop when I go to the hole now,’’ he said. ‘‘My whole life, I’ve been taught to play through fouls and make the shot. Flopping isn’t in my game.’’
The games sometimes were interrupted by gunshots.
‘‘When there’s a shooting, people usually run,’’ Rose said. ‘‘But in our neighborhood, it was kind of regular, so you’d keep on hooping.
‘‘I know that sounds crazy.’’
Rose and his friends learned a lot from the talented players at Murray Park, but one player fascinated them. His name was Lester ‘‘Poke Dog’’ Calvin.
‘‘He was in all the legend stories we heard about,’’ Williams said. ‘‘He would cross halfcourt and say, ‘Whose house is this?’ When the people watching said, ‘Poke Dog’s,’ the ball would be sailing through the net.’’
Calvin is still around and was hanging out Tuesday in the parking lot of Rainbow Carry Out.
‘‘I’m a legend,’’ he said. ‘‘I taught [Rose] how to play.’’
Calvin said he never played college ball because of injuries, but others insist street life derailed him.
In Englewood, where 67 percent of households are headed by a woman, the male role models were often drug dealers.
‘‘Any men around me were already selling drugs,’’ said Andre Hamlin, who thinks he squandered a chance to play college football. ‘‘That’s who I had to look up to.’’
But the gangs gave ballplayers a pass, said Bulls guard Jannero Pargo, who also grew up in Englewood.
‘‘They kind of took me under their wings because they knew I was trying to play basketball and they knew I was trying to stay away from those things,’’ Pargo said. ‘‘In other communities, they try to pull guys in who are trying to do right.
‘‘The people I grew up with who were into that thing kind of kept me away from it, so I give them a lot of credit for my accomplishments.’’
One of the most credible people in the neighborhood was Rose’s older brother Reggie, who starred at Hubbard High School and
played college ball at Idaho. As Derrick’s game and reputation blossomed, Reggie monitored those who interacted with his brother. If gang members approached Derrick, Reggie asked them not to recruit him.
‘‘It’s respect,’’ Reggie said, ‘‘and we know most of the them.’’
The Rose family was so well-regarded that neighborhood gang members would warn them if there was imminent danger.
‘‘Someone might come by and say, ‘You need to tell your mom and everybody to go inside the house,’ ’’ Reggie recalled. ‘‘Sometimes you don’t hear anything, sometimes you hear 25 gunshots.’’
But Reggie, 36, also mentored Tim Flowers, Arsenio Williams and a handful of others, guiding them on and off the court. Williams just earned a degree from South Carolina State, where he played basketball, and Flowers is finishing at Kennedy-King and hoping to play basketball at Chicago State next fall.
‘‘Reggie was a big role model,’’ Williams said, ‘‘but we had different people who made sure we didn’t have too much extra time on our hands, to make sure we were at the gym or on the court. That was the safe haven.’’
Hope for Englewood
Reggie, who runs 11 AAU teams, marveled at his little brother’s impact in Chicago.
‘‘When I was growing up, everyone wanted to ‘be like Mike,’ ’’ Reggie said, referring to a popular Gatorade commercial about former Bulls star Michael Jordan. ‘‘Now when I go to the parks, they’re practicing the new Derrick Rose moves. It’s crazy.’’
Derrick and his family eventually moved out of Englewood, but he would come back to visit friends and an aunt against the wishes of his brother and bodyguard.
‘‘I’m like, ‘You can’t be in Englewood by yourself,’ ’’ said Hamlin, who once coached Rose and now works as his bodyguard. ‘‘He will keep it real.’’
But Rose heeds that advice now, partly because Hamlin said there are more ‘‘wild cards’’ in the neighborhood, noting there are rumored to be shootings among members of the same gang.
‘‘It’s not the Wild, Wild West,’’ Reggie said, ‘‘but in that neighborhood, there’s that ‘What do we have to live for?’ attitude.’’
Flowers returned to Englewood for the first time in months Tuesday, and he was pulled over by four Chicago police officers while driving one of Rose’s sports cars. Then, 20 minutes later, he warned his group to take cover inside Rainbow Carry Out when he sensed a shooting was about to take place. Moments later, six gunshots were fired from across the street.
Within minutes, Englewood normalcy resumed. The shooter screamed toward his targets, then walked into an alley.
‘‘This is what the MVP made it through,’’ Flowers whispered.
Still, Rose stays connected to the community. Hamlin, with a gift from Rose, helped organize a ‘‘Block Club Party’’ in September to hand out more than 50 backpacks to students. Two rivals in the neighborhood worked to resolve their differences at the United Center, courtesy of tickets to a Bulls game from Rose. And when one of the regulars who played at Murray Park died of alcohol poisoning last year, Rose paid for his burial.
‘‘He does a lot of little things people don’t talk about,’’ Ransom said. ‘‘There won’t be any jealousy of ‘Pooh’ because he’s family.’’
But Derrick and Reggie hope to do much more. They’ve started discussions with the Chicago Park District about redoing Murray Park, having someone paint a mural of Derrick on the court and possibly renaming it after the Rose family. The brothers even have discussed building a school and naming it after their mother.
‘‘I want our family to leave a legacy,’’ Reggie said.
But Derrick and Reggie insist their focus won’t solely be on sports.
‘‘Bouncing a ball, catching a football or hitting a baseball isn’t the only way out,’’ Reggie said.
Derrick embraces the responsibility of being a homegrown star.
‘‘After all this is said and done, I’m going to be living here, so you just don’t want to rub anyone the wrong way,’’ said Rose, who has tattoos on his arms that read, ‘‘Englewood All Star.’’ ‘‘You want to do everything right and be the best role model you could possibly be.’’
Englewood is usually cast in a negative light, something that bothers Rose. But therein lies one of his grandest goals.
‘‘Everything you hear about Englewood is totally bad,’’ Rose said. ‘‘But my biggest thing is I can help one day change that perception, so you can go back to the neighborhood and it’s safe.
‘‘It’s going to take a lot of hard work, but it can be done.’’