SALT LAKE CITY — Just when it seemed an ordinary ceremony on an ordinary day, Derrick Rose charmed the room.
After being named Most Valuable Player of the NBA, last week, the Chicago Bulls guard thanked his mother as millions watched on TV. By the time he had finished his acceptance speech, it was a three-hankie affair.
The occasion wasn't sadness, but gratitude. The youngest MVP in league history nailed it by wrapping up his speech with a heartfelt tribute to the woman who raised him. There was no high-fiving, no dancing, no taunting and certainly no hanging on the rim. Just a humble man telling the world he would be nothing without his mother's love.
Tuesday was supposed to be a typical award ceremony, where a star shows up, gets his trophy and blandly thanks everyone with trite phrases like, "I'd like to thank all those who had a part in my success."
Often it's about what the player himself did to further his career. But Rose gave himself scant credit. He went through the usual checks and then, just before closing, said: "And last, I want to thank my mom."
And you thought he was a great finisher on the court.
"Brenda Rose," he began, almost reverently saying her name as tears glinted in both her eyes and his. "My heart … the reason I play the way I play, just everything. Just knowing the days when I didn't feel like I wanted to practice, having all the hard times, waking me up, going to work and just making sure I'm all right and making sure the family's all right. Those are hard days. My day shouldn't be hard because I love doing what I'm doing, and that's playing basketball. You keep me going every day, and I love you and I appreciate you being my mother."
The syntax wasn't precise and he rambled a little, but you can end the speech-of-the-year competition right there. He wins that award, too.
Rose is far from the only NBA player who loves his mother. Karl Malone sometimes wept when he talked of Shirley Malone, who raised nine kids in rural Louisiana. Many other athletes have credited their mothers. But few have done so with Rose's meekness.
Brenda Rose raised four boys in a rough Chicago neighborhood. Clearly, she was a good mom, and good moms keep their kids in check. While mothers are their children's biggest fans, they also lend perspective. Ask a random NBA player whom he most wants to please and he'll likely say his mother.
"I could win anything and she would be happy for me," Rose said. "It could be anything. She's just a strong lady and she just wants to see her kids do right."
That sounds like a lot of moms. Mine did something nobody else would do: read every word I wrote. After she died, I found many years worth of newspaper clips stored in the garage. They went back to my high school newspaper. I threw most of them away, knowing they would never mean as much to anyone as they did to her.
I figure without strong moms the NBA would have considerably less talent. They kept their kids in line so they could grow up and have careers. That doesn't mean Rose is perfect. A couple of years ago his name was connected with a college entrance exam scandal. I assumed he was just another sports knucklehead. It was irritating and disheartening. But after last week, I'm willing to give him some credit. When I saw Rose standing at the rostrum, voice choking with emotion, he had me hooked.
True gratitude can cover almost any imperfection.
Rose doesn't provide colorful quotes; he's not a comedy routine like Charles Barkley. But he is a kid who won me over with a few soft words as Mother's Day approached. Journalists aren't supposed to be fans of the athletes they cover. But in this case, I'll make an exception. Next year when he comes to Salt Lake City, I might even stand and applaud.