Derrick Rose stood in a Las Vegas gymnasium almost six years ago and proclaimed his undying love for Chicago.
"I'm never [leaving]," he said. "Never."
The Chicago native was 21 years old -- full of joy, with the basketball world at his fingertips. At the time, he was training to become the point guard for Team USA as it prepared for the 2010 World Championships. But Chicago was always on Rose's mind. He loved the city, he loved the people and he desperately wanted to deliver a seventh championship to the place he called home.
So how did we get here, to a place where the forever Bull gets traded to the New York Knicks?
The easy answer is to point to April 28, 2012. That's the day Rose tore the ACL in his left knee. That's the day the course of the franchise was changed for years to come. Some teammates and coaches shed a tear for Rose that day, knowing that his professional life had changed forever. So did fans all over the city. The Chicago Bulls knew their future had changed in that moment in time. They just didn't know how much.
It can't be overstated how catastrophic Rose's knee injury was to himself and the Bulls. But that injury alone didn't lead to the end of his tenure. The more important date to focus on is March 9, 2013. That's the day ESPN's Melissa Isaacson reported that Rose had been cleared to play again by team doctors. It was the dirty little secret Chicago's front office had held on to for a while. Nobody wanted to push the former MVP back onto the floor, but they were hopeful Rose would decide that after 10 months of rehab, it was time to play again.
It's important to understand that before this revelation, Rose was almost universally beloved in Chicago, and for that matter, across the league. People adored him for becoming the youngest MVP in league history. Fans supported him as he made his way back from the ACL injury, believing it was just a blip on the radar for the city's brightest star.
But everything changed once that news came out. Rose's image took its first big hit as his undermanned teammates plugged along without him. The Bulls' front office, which continued to stand behind him publicly, wondered privately whether Rose was making his own decisions or listening instead to the advice of his brother Reggie and his agent, former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong.
For one of the first times in Rose's storybook career, he didn't have the full support of everyone around him. For an affable 24-year-old who was always trying to please everybody, he now realized that wasn't possible. Rose chose to sit out the entire season. His teammates stood behind him at every turn. So did the front office and coaches, even if some didn't agree with the decision. Rose made his choice and never wavered, but his relationship with the team and city he loves so much was never quite the same.
To understand Rose's fall from civic grace, it's imperative to understand how beloved he was in the city where he grew up. The Rookie of the Year award and the MVP honor a few years later were nice, but they are just pieces of a bigger tale. Rose's rise to fame and money represented hope for many people in Chicago, especially in underprivileged neighborhoods such as the Englewood community where he was raised. Rose's ability on the court and his easygoing demeanor off it connected with people of different races and creeds throughout the country's third-biggest media market. That's why the shy, soft-spoken basketball star was chosen to introduce President Barack Obama during an event in 2012.
Rose re-energized a franchise that hadn't been consistently successful since Michael Jordan retired. He embraced his role within the city and the mantle that came with being the face of the Bulls. He created millions of new Bulls fans and helped bridge the gap between the new supporters and those who cheered on Jordan a decade earlier.
Over the years, many fans have forgotten how transcendent Rose's game was when he entered the league. He could jump higher and move faster than almost any point guard who had come before him. Teammates watched in awe just as fans did. That January night in 2010 when he dunked on Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic? Teammates were so amped when he returned to the locker room after the game that they gave him a huge ovation.
A few weeks later, as Rose warmed up for his first All-Star Game, LeBron James and several other All-Stars watched highlights from the season on the larger-than-life screens hanging atop Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. When Rose's dunk appeared on the screen, James and his colleagues went nuts on the other end of the floor. They called out to the young guard with smiles and hollers. Rose nodded back politely with a little smile and went about his business.
Rose always believed he was the best player on the floor. He still does. That belief has been a blessing and a curse throughout his career. But in those early days, few players put on more of a show than he did on a nightly basis. Rose was special to watch, and everyone around him knew it.
When Rose finally returned in the 2013-14 season, pressure he had never felt before accompanied him wherever he went.
The fun was gone.
Rose was hell-bent on proving that he was still the same player. The problem was that while the speed was still there, the rhythm and explosion were not. Rose struggled out of the gate and played in only 10 games before tearing the medial meniscus in his right knee in November 2013 and missing the rest of the season.
That's when things changed again for Rose and the Bulls. The hope coming into the season was that Rose would return as king of the organization, but the reality was that his body wouldn't allow it on a consistent basis.
Things kept going downhill for all involved. Rose made some statements about his future and free agency that were interpreted as meaning he was no longer fully committed to the organization, angering fans and team personnel alike.
But, fast-forwarding to today, the broader perspective is that the goodwill the 27-year-old has built up over time has faded. He can't get back into the good graces of some fans because his body simply hasn't allowed him to perform at the same level. Rose, who has missed more games (201) than he has played (127) over the past four seasons, doesn't have the same clout in the locker room.
What became noticeable in his words and actions over the past few years is that Rose's passion for the game has changed. Having watched his basketball life flash before his eyes several times since that fateful playoff game in 2012, Rose doesn't look or sound like someone who wants to live and die with the game anymore. Some people in the city believe the money from his mega-max contract and 13-year, $185 million Adidas shoe deal changed him.
For his part, Rose has said that fatherhood and the bond he's formed with his son, P.J., have altered his outlook on the game. Whatever the reason, Rose evolved into a different player. Glimpses of brilliance were still there on certain nights, but the virtuoso performances were not.
Rose's legacy with the Bulls is sure to become one of the most polarizing topics in town over the coming weeks and months. Some people have stayed loyal to him and believe he should be given the benefit of the doubt, considering the trials and tribulations he's endured. Others lost faith in Rose when he didn't return in the 2012-13 season and never gave their trust back. Regardless, it's important to remember the joy he brought to the city before his injuries began. The excitement Rose created is undeniable.
In the end, that excitement wasn't enough to make the Bulls forget about the present. The time had come for both sides to move on, and everybody in the decision-making process knew it.
The fresh-faced kid who never wanted to leave Chicago is gone, leaving a legacy that won't soon be forgotten.