I was in Bloomington, Indiana at the Adidas May Classic basketball tournament held, as usual, at the University of Indiana. I was a junior in high school, so it would have been May 2006. I was playing for the Cincinnati Royals and we were playing well coming out of pool play heading into the tournament.
Some of my teammates had just begun driving so some of them left the facility between games but most of us stuck around to watch other teams play. I was slouched in the bleachers at the first court on the other side of a long net dividing the place in two. In school, I was taking Physics at the time and my end-of-the-year project was coming due. I decided to use my weekly basketball tournaments to my advantage and was approved to study the physics of dunking a basketball.
I sat in the bleachers with a camcorder that I borrowed from my best friend’s parents. I found out quickly how hard it is to record a game and enjoy it at the same time. What made it even harder was that the point guard for this team out of Chicago was ridiculously quick. I watched him change direction and zoom up the court and figured he would be good to use for my physics project.
After about three minutes of trying to record, I missed two dunks and decided that I would just observe. The point guard on my team, Julian, joined me shortly after tipoff. Julian was a shifty, quick six-foot white boy with dangerous handles and a clutch jumper. He was also active with recruiting and knew a lot of the players that we went up against.
“Do you know who that is?” He asked.
“No, who?” I replied.
“That’s Derrick Rose.”
The Chicago Meanstreaks were known as a good program in the Midwest for as long as I had been playing competitive AAU basketball, since 2001. I knew they had solid guard play but never went up against them. This was my first time seeing them in person.
I was actually more impressed with the small forward on the Meanstreaks. Whoever he was, he was on the receiving end of several Derrick Rose highlight plays. The most stunning of them all was one I’ll never forget.
Derrick received the ball at the opponent’s coaches’ box on an outlet pass after a rebound. The other team was pressing at the time so, like any good point guard does against a press, he looked to the middle. Rather than passing, he took the ball himself and in the snap of a finger was at half-court standing on the logo.
Already with a full head of steam he did a subtle, shifty in and out move with the ball in his right hand. There was a defender between he and the basket and I was anxious to see how it played out.
I had seen people get dunked on from there but never by a point guard. I sat up in my chair and wished that I hadn’t given up hope as a cameraman.
He approached the rim and gathered to take off with both feet, a move often indicative of a poster-worthy attempt at the ultimate basketball disrespect, the I’ll-just-go-through-you dunk. As he left the ground, and this part evaded my physics report since I couldn’t scientifically explain what I saw but, he slowed down and changed direction at the same time and as the defender also leapt to meet him in the air, he spun. He pulled a three-sixty in the air, barely avoiding the defender and rather than dunking it or spinning it with perfect English off the glass, he just extended the ball out with his left arm and left it dangling there like a piñata.
Out of nowhere came that six-seven small forward that I mentioned and he too gathered to take off with two feet, snatched the ball out of the air and slammed it through the rim. Eyes stunned, mind blown and awestricken, I, along with everyone else who saw it, erupted in astonished applause.
In my Physics presentation that week, I referenced the Adidas May Classic but I left out the most athletic assist I’d ever witnessed. Not only was it hard to explain, but expecting anyone in my Physics class to share my fascination of the event was a long shot at best. Retroactively speaking, I’m sure I could have sparked some fascination informing my peers that this player would eventually be the first pick in the NBA Draft, NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA MVP but my DeLorean was out of gas that day.