Rose met own challenge for greatness

CHICAGO -- It was practically cocky, seemingly out of character.

Answering a question about his expectations for the season on Chicago Bulls media day this past September with the question, "Why can't I be the MVP of the league?"

That couldn't have been our D-Rose.

But listening to the then-21-year-old Bulls guard that day, there wasn't a hint of cockiness about it.

"Why can't I be the best player in the league?" Derrick Rose said sincerely. "I don't see why [not]? Why can't I do that? I think I work hard. I think I dedicate myself to the game and sacrifice a lot of things at a young age, and I know if I continue to do good, what I can get out of it."

It was a challenge to himself and, we can see now as we look back, to his team. A challenge for greatness, yes, but a very reasonable goal as well.

Rose would back off it at times, the "Why not me" to an aw-shucks "That would be nice." As the Bulls focused on improving their playoff position, grabbing an unlikely No. 1 seed and then achieving the league's best record, he rightfully did not want to talk about it at all.

But it was there, the fire to achieve and achieve at the highest level, all along. And anyone paying attention since Rose came to the Bulls three years ago would have heard it then as well.

According to a source, Rose was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player on Monday in a vote by media members, giving him the distinction of being the youngest MVP, at age 22, in the league's history, unseating Wes Unseld, who won it in 1969 at age 23. It also puts Rose in the company of all-time greats such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

But a surprise? Certainly not.

As the season progressed, there certainly were those who felt James and Bryant also were deserving, shouts that Dwight Howard or Kevin Durant or even Russell Westbrook was being unfairly overlooked. But eventually, it seemed everyone fell in line behind Rose.

City to city, player to player, coach to coach, even Jordan, not given to raving about others, even those from his former team, put himself solidly in the Rose camp.

"MVP of the season," Jordan proclaimed after the Bulls swamped Jordan's Charlotte Bobcats in a 17-point win in early March. "He deserves it. He's playing that well. He deserves it without a doubt."

Rose told everyone who would listen that being named MVP would be not just for himself but for the team he loved, the franchise he grew up rooting for, the city he was from and which he felt a responsibility to make proud.

But let's be honest. Rose was the pick because he did not just play splendidly in averaging 25 points, 7.7 assists, 4.1 rebounds and 1.05 steals in 37.4 minutes per game. Although we should note that in doing that, Rose became just the fifth player in NBA history to score 2,000 points, 600 assists and 300 rebounds in a single season, joining Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Jordan and James.

No, Rose was anointed MVP because he embodied the true meaning of the award by picking up his team as its second- and third-best players, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, missed a combined 57 games, and effortlessly carried it to the point at which the Bulls were being talked about as favorites to go all the way.

After starting the season 10-8, the Bulls finished 51-12. The Bulls went 14-0 in January and were 24-4 after the All-Star break.

Rose was the only player in the NBA who ranked in the top 10 in scoring and assists. He had 23 double-doubles. At point guard, if we need reminding, he scored 30 points or more 23 times this season.

He made himself better, connecting on 128 3-pointers after hitting 32 combined in his first two seasons, and became an 85.8 percent foul shooter after averaging 77 percent the previous two seasons.

The Bulls have a category in their postseason media guide called Rosey Endings, which details the 22 times this season that Rose's fourth-quarter heroics propelled the team to victory.

No one mentioned third quarters.

After all but carrying his team despite suffering through some poor shooting nights in the first four games of the Bulls' first-round playoff series against Indiana, Rose did it with even more panache in the decisive Game 5. While still recovering from a sore ankle sprained in Game 4, all Rose did was return to the court with four fouls at the 6:17 mark of the third quarter and score 10 points in the Bulls' 23-8 run the remainder of the period, including three 3-pointers, two assists, one steal, one rebound and, for fun, a shot block of 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert.

Most valuable?

"He was just too much for us," said the Pacers' ultra-confident coach, Frank Vogel. "I don't know what you can do against him."

Said teammate Kyle Korver with a no-duh shrug:

"That's why he's the Most Valuable Player."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.