When Derrick Rose dunked on Goran Dragic, it seemed like an ominous start to the decade. Looking back, it probably was. It was also one of my favorite moments of the decade. Probably not why you think.
It was any January night in 2010, dark and cold. The Bulls were playing the Suns in Phoenix. Derrick Rose was in his second season—a year before being named MVP of the regular season—the youngest player in the history of the NBA to be so.
Rose’s game was simple enough: attack. Attack at all times. Total aggression. It was Heavy Metal basketball. So knowing what Rose was going to do wasn’t the problem, it was trying to stop him that was problematic.
The Suns were never really in this game. Former two-time MVP Steve Nash was having a bad night, being at a point in his career when players like Rose and Russell Westbrook were to athletic and could overpower him. Maybe they always could. So the Suns were down late in the fourth quarter and making a late push to pull within six. At this point Nash was out of the game. In his place was a young Slovenian point guard by the name of Goran Dragic, also in his second year.
The ball was in Jason Richardson’s hands when Taj Gibson stripped it from him. It ended up in the hands of Tyrus Thomas’s. Seeing this, Rose immediately started his break, sprinting down the court. Jarred Dudley and Goran Dragic ran back to defend but Dudley was never going to get there. Dragic however, he had a chance.
The outlet from Thomas was a good one, hitting Rose in stride. Dragic had his work cut out for him but managed to catch up with the play. Rose took one dribble before exploding off of two feet, looking like he’d jumped off the surface of the moon, like gravity had no pull. With both hands he cocked the ball behind his head.
Stacey King, the Bulls radio commentator, had the call. He had this to say:
“Stop it! Stop it! Don’t do it like that! What are you doing Dragic? Did you not get the memo? Derrick Rose can go up stairs!”
It was a rare understatement by Mr. King. Rose could, and definitely did, go upstairs.
Dragic might have had a chance had he known what story to get off on. They both arrived at the same destination at the same time, took the same elevator. But while Dragic got off on the tenth floor, Rose continued on up to the twelfth. The Suns fans went wild. And as if to grind salt into the open wound, Dragic was called for the foul. His only consolation: Rose missing the free throw.
Dragic was pulled from the game. Maybe it was to protect the young player, maybe it was disappointment by then Suns head coach Alvin Gentry, who opted to put back in his star point guard Steve Nash.
As Dragic passed Gentry on the way to the bench Gentry was heard to asking him, “Why didn’t you get out of the way and just let him have the dunk?”
Dragic’s reply was, “I can’t not try.”
It was a refreshing sentiment. One not often evident over the long and gruesome decade. So here’s to all the effort plays gone unnoticed and unappreciated. And here’s to you Goran Dragic, the effort king of a fallen kingdom.