Sports
4:19 pm
Sat October 26, 2013

NBA's Biggest Rivals Go Head-To-Head For Season Opener

Originally published on Sun October 27, 2013 1:20 pm

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Tuesday night, two of the NBA's biggest rivals go head-to-head in this season's opener. The Chicago Bulls take on defending champions the Miami Heat. But this year, the Bulls have their star player back. After sitting out for over a year with a knee injury, Chicago's beloved Derrick Rose returns to the court. As NPR's Daniel Hajek reports, Bulls fans are excited about this highly anticipated return.

DANIEL HAJEK, BYLINE: Few players in the NBA are as fun to watch as Derrick Rose. Like when he performs a tomahawk dunk, as seen in this game from 2012 against the Boston Celtics, announcers Neil Funk and Stacey King from Comcast SportsNet can hardly contain themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

NEIL FUNK: Oh, Derrick. Yes.

STACEY KING: Get up or get out the way. That toe look fine to me, Neil Funk.

HAJEK: The Chicago Bulls star point guard is in a league of his own.

STEVE KERR: He's one of those guys who just seems to lift the level of his play with the moment and plays at a really high level when that's needed.

HAJEK: Steve Kerr is an analyst for TNT sports. He's also a former Bulls guard and five-time NBA champion.

KERR: His athleticism is off the charts. I mean, he jumps through the roof.

HAJEK: And that was before his injury. Now, Rose claims he's added five inches to his vertical leap. But it's been awhile since Bulls fans have seen Rose on the court. In game one of the 2012 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers, Rose drove to the basket, planted his feet hard on the floor and suddenly stumbled to the ground. You can hear it in the voice of Kevin Harlan on TNT: this was serious.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASKETBALL GAME)

KEVIN HARLAN: Uh-oh, uh-oh. Rose came down bad on his left foot. See him? Holding onto his knee. Holding onto his knee and down.

HAJEK: Rose had torn the ACL in his left knee. The agony on his face said it all - his season was over. KC Johnson covers the Bulls at the Chicago Tribune. He was covering the game and says the crowd in the United Center fell eerily quiet.

KC JOHNSON: There was a sense of the severity of the injury almost immediately, and Derrick hobbled off into the locker room and out of sight for the next 17, 18 months.

HAJEK: The anticipation of his return has been mounting ever since, especially with talk that he is better than before. Steve Kerr says it's a lot of attention for a guy who doesn't like the spotlight.

KERR: He's an introvert. There is Derrick in front of the world performing these amazing feats and yet, you know, trying to shy away from the media attention.

HAJEK: His genuine modesty has captured the hearts of Bulls fans. He's a real Chicagoan who grew up in Englewood on the South Side, one of the city's most gang-torn neighborhoods.

ROBERT SMITH: You know, it's a tough neighborhood. I mean, a lot of poverty. But he's one that survived it.

HAJEK: Robert Smith was Rose's high school coach back when he attended Simeon Career Academy. Smith says he saw his potential the moment he stepped on to the court.

SMITH: He said, I'm going to be a professional basketball player. I said, you know, there's millions of people who say that and don't make it. He said, well, I'm going to be one of those that does.

HAJEK: And Rose followed through. The Bulls drafted him when he was 19. He signed a multi-million dollar deal with Adidas. And by 22, he was the youngest MVP ever in the NBA. Johnson from the Tribune says he feels like he's witnessing history every time he watches Rose play.

JOHNSON: Invariably, each game, he delivers one move that makes you just look up from the normal mundane aspect of covering an NBA game and go wow.

HAJEK: Now, Tuesday night will be Rose's moment to show he's still Chicago's front man.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADIDAS COMMERCIAL)

DERRICK ROSE: It's time to show the world that I can still do this.

HAJEK: His sponsors have been building up the hype too. This is from the latest ad for his new line of Adidas shoes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADIDAS COMMERCIAL)

ROSE: I'm all in for Chicago.

HAJEK: Kerr says his return Tuesday night will get Bulls fans on their feet.

KERR: When Rose gets the ball in transition, you can hear the crowd start to murmur. And I used to hear the same sound when Michael Jordan would get the ball. And when Derrick's at the center of it, you can just feel that something special is about to happen. And when it does, the place goes nuts.

HAJEK: Tuesday's season opener will be a glimpse at how this year will pan out for the Bulls. With Rose back, they have a real shot at an NBA championship. The last time that happened for Chicago, Michael Jordan sunk a game-winning basket against the Utah Jazz in 1998. Daniel Hajek, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.