There was a vacuum when Michael Jordan retired, followed by a frenzy that would have been perfect for reality TV if reality TV was already a thing then, and I am sure they will name it The Next Michael Jordan, or something close or similar, but nonetheless labored and cheap.
It was a weird time, when everyone is naming every superstar, every rising star, Jordan’s heir—the “Air Apparent.” The need for someone to occupy the vacated throne was imperative, and more importantly, it felt like they wanted a new Michael Jordan not for Chicago, but for the NBA.
Nobody was looking for the next Jordan in Chicago and why would they? That is heresy. And the lack of players with superlative talents suiting up for Windy City made ending the search easy.
Many came close—at least, that’s what they wanted to believe.
But I think the Bulls never had someone else great enough, talented enough, promising enough, and mature enough to assume stewardship of the franchise Jordan left behind in a manner at par with how Jordan did it during his time. No one came close to being Jordan-esque.
Not Derrick Rose, and no disrespect: talent-wise, Rose is more like peak Allen Iverson, relying on his quickness to compensate for his being short. And if anything, Rose resembles the younger pre-championship MJ—always attacking the rim, very fast, very athletic, and totally unafraid.
But Rose—explosive as he was, feared as he was because of his fearlessness and aggression and athleticism like MJ in his early years with the Bulls—lacked the gravitas that MJ, even in his young age, carried with him. Rose, despite his talent, wanted to be an amiable teammate;
MJ was a demanding teammate from the time he knew he had leverage. He demanded focus, and a commitment from teammates that they display the same high level of competitiveness to the point that his teammates both feared and loathed him, but it got the job done.
Rose, the nice guy that he is, was not able to overcome the obstacle created by what is generally a positive human trait. It wasn’t his fault. It was no one’s fault. It was just not meant to be.
To his credit, Rose made a name for himself. He didn’t need the crown and the kingship to be loved and appreciated (a ring would’ve been nice though), during and even after his stint in Chicago.
And just when the search for (and the interest in) the Air Apparent has completely died down, along came DeMar DeRozan.
There was nothing about DeRozan’s path that suggests he was even trying to become the next Michael Jordan—he was good, standing on his own two feet and holding his own in Toronto and San Antonio, not trying to wear another man’s shoes.
When he came to Chicago, he was just happy to be recruited by a team who believes in what he can do in the role of main gunner, and relieved it didn’t take long for him to prove he is capable, considering the doom foretold by faithless soothsayers that called DeRozan a washed-up vet, the pre-season’s “worst signing” who will never be a great fit in Chicago.
This year’s Chicago Bulls are young, talented, and loaded, although it remains to be seen if they can really become a championship unit like the victorious Bulls teams in the past. What is becoming more and more noticeable is how DeRozan is looking more and more like Michael Jordan without even trying (and I think that is the interesting part). The similarities are undeniable if you watch closely.
Observe how DeRozan moves to shoot (ignore the head and shoulder shake + fadeaway move, this is a tool many players carry in their bag of tricks). Notice that deceptively slow, calm, deliberate dribbling towards a favorite mid-range spot around the keyhole. Notice how he never seems to want to dribble fast or fancy, the same ball handling style of Jordan. Notice that jump shot of his, body ramrod straight in his vertical ascent. Notice how this style seems to lull their defenders into a false sense of complacency, convinced that the man is an easy cover, until it is too late and the defender is caught one step slower, one step farther away, hypnotized into forgetting an essential task in defending Jordan (then) and DeRozan (now): never jump a head fake. They fail again and again, and Jordan (then) and DeRozan (now) always make them pay.
To be, without question, the major factor as to why Chicago is winning. To be the reason why defenders—despite scouting and game reviews—still end up frustrated. To be defeated only by a bad shooting night (which is seldom, so far)—tell me that is not Michael Jordan, only in cornrows and a number 11 jersey.
He is King of the Fourth. The next mission: A King with a Ring
Maybe then, we can finally say that the heir to the throne is here.