Derrick Rose: Man, Brand, Myth
Why Adidas and Powerade will never pull their endorsements.
I remember where I was the first time it happened.
Like most Bulls fans, I figured the first game in the 2012 Eastern Conference quarterfinals was a lock. Chicago was up late in the fourth, and the Derrick Rose was still running up and down the court to secure an important Game 1 win. So, watching a TV at the dusty YMCA lobby of my hometown in Chicagoland, I saw Derrick rise up for one of his typical explosive drives.
And then it happened.
I remember where I was the second time too. Sitting in a coffeeshop in Boston in 2013, reading tweet-after-tweet, thinking, “it was just a limp in the Blazers game… How could this happen again?”
By this time, on Tuesday, I had to physically sit down on the ground where I was.
When we watch our heroes fall, when we’re reminded that our idols are mortal, it crushes a part of us. The part that believed that winners win and losers lose.
The part of us that believed in fairy tales.
Hearing the air come out of the collective lungs of the city of Chicago and the cries of despair and perceived betrayal by basketball fans all over the world for a third time, it would be easy to just assume we’ve all given up on Derrick Rose. That the Shadenfreude-ridden social media commenters on a quest for sensation tell the whole story. That we’ve done this before, and we just can’t do it again.
But then you blink one more time and realize… We can’t help ourselves.
The mythos behind Derrick Rose isn’t entirely new, particularly within the Bulls franchise. We’ve seen countless athletes suffer incredible loss, injury and beyond, only to rise above the trials and fight on. Gatorade put all their chips on Michael Jordan overcoming his consistent doubters, the death of his father, and even in-game sickness because of his ability “win from within.” Nike has since taken our international fascination with Jordan’s success and sold the ability to “be like Mike” to millions for decades now. The Jordan brand has gone on to be Nike’s best selling to date.
But Derrick’s story is all his own because of his unique relationship with loss. His story isn’t one of “what if?” We know what he’s capable of, stealing a coveted MVP trophy in an era dominated by LeBron James. You can’t really call it a “comeback” either — Though Derrick has fought tooth and nail, one knee injury after another, just to prove he has the heart to go on, he isn’t any closer to a championship than when he started. Derrick was never the “chosen one” — history has reminded us how narrow an escape from Englewood, Chicago can truly be.
Nothing was ever given.
Rose’s story is the kind that inspires a sensation of physical and emotional loss amongst his greatest friends and greatest foes alike. It’s only those who haven’t looked at the whole picture that can pass his indomitable spirit, his decision to carry onward through every hurdle, and his trials and tribulations off as a lack of a will to win.
Challenger brands spend millions trying to manufacture that kind of story. They’ll write humble accounts of their origin stories and grandiose brand manifestos trying to convince you that they get it. That they’ve been down and out before. That they know what it’s like to fall down and get back up time and again.
In that way, as Gatorade and Nike are to Michael Jordan and his inherent greatness, to those who are destined to climb the mountain and reach the summit of victory, Adidas and Powerade’s continuous embrace of Derrick Rose locates their brands instead deep into the trenches, down into the dark valleys where everyone else fights for a chance to rise. With Adidas, you have the chance to take what was never given to you. With Powerade, you’re reminded that you’re more powerful than you think.
Derrick is the ultimate challenger brand; the kind you can’t fake. He’s the fighter inside all of us.
For every fall, for every damaged petal that is added to Chicago’s Rose, we are only reminded of why he is celebrated. We are reminded why the little Bavarian shoe company born from a war-torn factory thought they could run with the giants of Portland. We are reminded why Coke’s little-known sports drink division had a thirst for success in spite of the beast growing out of Gainesville.
Adidas and Powerade won’t give up on Derrick Rose because we haven’t given up on Derrick Rose. Because we are the roses.