When Derrick Rose collapsed to the ground in the waning minutes of that Game 1 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs last year, I immediately buried my face in my hands. Not because I’m a Chicago Bulls fan, but because I’m a fan of great basketball players. Dynamic, competitive, lightning-fast and all-around electrifying players, in Rose’s case. There aren’t many guys in the league that can single-handedly drive TV ratings, but he was one of them. And then it was over. He was done for the season, the Bulls lost as the No. 1 seed in the East and the world has been waiting for the return ever since.
When the original timetable was set, the hopeful target date was right before the playoffs. And everyone was OK with that, even if it seemed like it was a lifetime away. When some speculated that he might not even return this season, the general response seemed to be, “Do whatever you have to do to get healthy. Take your time. Come back when you’re ready.”
As the playoffs crept up, he stayed on schedule and we secretly hoped he’d surprise us all and announce a return date. And then he was medically cleared to play. Unspoken excitement turned into expectation. Expectation turned into demand and disappointment. And now that he’s come out and said he may not return at all, that disappointment has turned into D-Rose return memes and an outright questioning of his competitive spirit.
Does Derrick Rose care about his teammates? Does he even have that competitive fire anymore? Is he mentally weak for not returning already?
Did we forget who we’re talking about here?
Every ACL tear is different. Most athletes who tear their ACLs take nine months to a full year to recover physically and in some cases it takes even longer. In case you’ve forgotten, Rose suffered his season-ending injury in April 2012. We look at guys like Adrian Peterson and expect the same kind of heroic and glorious comeback reserved for Adidas commercials. We watch Kobe Bryant drain free throws with a torn Achilles and poke fun at Bulls fans with “Kobe will be back before D-Rose” jokes. But most importantly, we see the Bulls struggle with him sitting on the bench and prematurely bang the panic button like Joakim Noah in the paint.
Well guess what? The Bulls didn’t need him to even the series against the Brooklyn Nets Monday, April 22. And as long as they scrap and play their gritty style of defense, I’m convinced they don’t need him to advance either.
I understand your frustration, basketball fans. The basketball gods have been cruel this year, with Kobe Bryant, David Lee and pretty much the entire Minnesota Timberwolves roster all mercilessly struck down. It’s definitely hard to hear the “I’m probably out for the playoffs, but you never know!” comments and it’s almost agonizing to watch him sit on the bench and jump up and down cheering his team on.
But how did a month’s time warp the public perspective from “take your time” to “he must not care?” Does our blind spot of poor old common sense really grow that large when we cruise down the highway to playoff time? Don’t forget that this is one of the most competitive players in the league here. All that rehab hasn’t given way to apathy, even though it seems like it when we’re blinded by our fandom that yearns for an unexpected playoff return.
There’s a difference between physical and mental recovery and that’s a huge factor in any ACL tear. So when you consider that we’re talking about a guy who goes 110 percent on every drive to the basket, who takes a beating every time he steps on the floor and who does athletic things in the air that the majority of us can only dream about, it’s a little easier to understand why it’s better to err on the side of caution here.
It’s not mental weakness. If anything, it takes an extraordinary amount of mental control to not jump back in. We all want him back because we love juicy headlines to go with our NBA playoff action. We want to see someone legitimately challenge LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the East and we want to root for an underdog comeback.
But even if he did come back, should we just ignore that he’d be rusty? That the Bulls would have to adjust to having their leading scorer and playmaker back? That the defense would temporarily suffer as the roster would try to mesh for the first time all year? The fact is the Bulls probably wouldn’t be title contenders even if Rose came back right now and we need to admit that before we start questioning the man’s competitive fire.
You don’t have to tell me about being disappointed. I love watching Rose slash to the rim and drain impossibly high-arching floaters with the game on the line. I enjoyed when Chicago was a near-title contender with him on the floor. Hell, I thought I got lucky when I drafted him with the last pick in my fantasy league because I knew that if he returned, I had the X-factor to dominate the competition.
But we have to acknowledge something about ourselves as basketball fans: We want Derrick Rose to return for entirely selfish reasons. Unless you’re a Chicago Bulls fan irrationally infuriated by a 1-1 series against Brooklyn, you have no right to be impatient. As long as Chicago fans are still turning up in droves to support their team with or without D-Rose, we don’t have a right to complain or question his decision-making.
When Derrick Rose is mentally ready, there’s no doubt in my mind his return will be a joy to watch. And I’d love for it to be during these playoffs. But we need to separate our selfish fandom from realistic expectation and just enjoy the NBA playoffs without him for the time being.