CHICAGO -- The old neighborhood basketball court looked new again, thanks to Derrick Rose and a handful of his sponsors. Murray Park on Chicago's South Side neighborhood of Englewood, where the Chicago Bulls' point guard grew up and began to carve his path to the NBA, got a complete makeover for Rose and the community to see.
A hundred students from Randolph Elementary School, which Rose attended, and even more people from the neighborhood, old and young, gathered on Tuesday for the Derrick Rose Renovation Project. The project resurfaced, repainted and expanded the old basketball court, replaced old backboards with new ones, installed padded goal posts and aluminum benches, and injected a feel-good vibe to one of the city's most violent and economically challenged areas.
It put smiles on the faces of children, brought many from the neighborhood together, as hundreds lined the perimeter fencing at the 82-year-old park, and put Rose in a time warp, bringing him back to his not-too-distant childhood days that were dotted with late night basketball, picnics, barbecues and more basketball at Murray Park.
"This is the only thing in our neighborhood that keeps us together," Rose said.
So much more has kept it apart.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Englewood has a 20 percent unemployment and 46 percent poverty rate. And according to the Chicago Police Department's crime statistics, Englewood still has some of the highest criminal activity in the city, with the most murders (41) and violent crimes (1,531) from January through August 2011.
Rose doesn't make it back to Englewood often, but when he does, on days like this one, he still refers to himself as a member of the community. He repeatedly used the word "us" when talking about the community's residents, and while he no longer lives there, he still remains true to where he comes from.
"If it was up to me I wouldn't have any security over here because I feel comfortable," Rose said, as some nearby locals voiced the same sentiment. "I don't need it. Just knowing that I came back here, you have some people who look at you different but I'm still Pooh from the neighborhood to them, so I'm not worried about that."
While Rose acknowledges the hardships that have plagued his neighborhood, he instead looked to the future. He spoke with a lot of hope on Tuesday, as if the youngest MVP in NBA history feels it's his civic duty to give back to where he spent his childhood.
"Hopefully I can change that, knowing that this is the base," Rose said about Englewood's reputation. "You never know in a couple of years, not only me but what some other people can do to this neighborhood. I'm just looking to change it. People look at Englewood as a bad neighborhood but to us, it's everything to us."
When addressing the Randolph Elementary School students during a question-and-answer session, Rose said he noticed a lot of familiar faces in the crowd, people both from his past and present.
Flanked by his family and a security detail, also in attendance on Tuesday were Illinois Senator Jacqueline Collins, Illinois General Assembly House Member Mary Flowers, Alderman Latasha Thomas, and Rose's agent, B.J. Armstrong.
Rose's sponsors included Powerade, which donated $20,000 to the restoration; Wilson Sporting Goods, which pledged $5,000 to new benches; Wasserman Foundation, which donated $5,000 to landscaping; and McDonalds, along with help from the Chicago Parks District and Parkways Foundation.
"I've been in this neighborhood all my life," said Rob Perkins, 30, who has been coming to Murray Park since he was 11. "This court used to be alright. It was playable but it's nicer now since they've got the rims up. You've got 94 feet, the NBA sized court now so there's action. We come up here and get runs all the time. It's good."