Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Derrick Rose Lost to Yet Another Knee Injury

Only two weeks ago, as the clock was winding out, Derrick Rose took the inbounds pass and stormed down the length of the court in mere seconds, dribbling in and out of defenders and driving hard to the rim for an up and under layup as the half completed in a thumping of LeBron's Cavaliers.. This coast to coast display of athleticism, talent, and drive was something out of Derrick Rose’s past, and showed us that this special talent, so plagued by serious knee injuries over the last three years, could perhaps again be the same player who became the NBA’s youngest MVP only four short years ago. To be sure, he’s struggled this season. He’s launched too many three pointers, and at times lacked the confidence to drive to the hole, where his game has found its home over his entire career. But at that time, with that drive, I felt that Derrick might finally be rounding into form. This might be the return of our Derrick, a ceremonial breaking of the rust on his game and his confidence, with a return to the game and style that captivated this city and this league.

That is, of course, until the gut punch that broke late last night. This time, the news that Derrick had torn his meniscus in his right knee, the same knee as the meniscus tear last year, was different. It didn’t come during a game, or a post-game MRI or follow up evaluation the next day. It didn’t come after an awkward pivot or drive or crossover. This time, it came out of nowhere. The Bulls didn’t even play last night. I’m not sure if they even practiced coming off night’s game. But there it was, with the same message as before: “Derrick Rose will have surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee, with a timetable to return to be determined.”

This is awful, horrific news on many different levels. At this point, I just feel horrible for Derrick. He’s a proud guy, desperate to make his city proud and his team successful. He’s not going out there and injuring himself on purpose. This is sheer dumb luck, popping up at the worst of times to derail the career of a promising athlete. 

Of course, it hurts to lose Derrick the player. I’ll agree with most that he was struggling this year to find his form and his confidence. But no one can argue that this team is better off without him playing on it. His horrific shooting nights like notwithstanding, I felt that he was making progress with his game this season, shaking off the rust and starting to get to that consistent confident level where he could recognize that as much as he wanted to talk about his improved shooting ability, his game was still better off when he attacked the basket. Keep in mind that he’s missed most of the past three seasons with major knee injuries. It was going to take time for him to get to the level he was before, if he even could. Now, we’ll never know if was going to be able to fully return his game to that level this season, and the Bulls are left reeling, trying to pick up the pieces of a tumultuous season that was supposed to be championship caliber.

More importantly, though, this is about the big picture. This is, for all intents and purposes, the end of an era. Rumors have persisted all season that Tom Thibodeau and the front office’s relationship had been strained to the point that this season had become a “championship or bust type” and that Thibs could be headed towards a Jim Harbaugh-esque departure at the end of the season. As stupid as that is on the Bulls’ side to part with a top 5 coach in a league bereft of coaching talent, now more than even it seems a foregone conclusion. Thibs only a day earlier had tied himself to Rose, swearing that he could return to the same player. Without Derrick, that chances that the Bulls win a championship are null, so it appears that Thibs could be moving on after 5 seasons here in Chicago.

Think about that for a second. When Thibs arrived, Derrick was 21, a confident kid on the cusp of his third season with the Bulls, famously exclaiming before the season, with all the talk of LeBron in Miami, that why couldn’t he be MVP. That first year, the Bulls won 62 games, Derrick was MVP, they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Bulls had the makings of a seriously successful run towards a championship. I think we all remember how exciting those days were. Now, fast forward 5 years, and Thibs, even throughout his major success here, is likely on his way out at the end of the year, Derrick Rose is about to have his third knee surgery, and the Bulls' championship window appears to be closing. For fans of basketball, this is sad. For Chicago Bulls fans, this is downright depressing.

What happens now? It’s hard to grasp where to go from here. Some pundits are suggesting that Derrick could be back for the playoffs. I think those who have watched him the last three years know this isn’t happening. But again, what is more important is the big picture. It is hard to imagine Derrick being that guy for the Bulls from now on, the guy who will lead them back to the championship level we expected those short five years ago. It could help facilitate what is already in the works, the jettison of one of the top coaches in this league. It could mean the end of the career of one of the most exciting and promising athletes I have seen in my lifetime, an athlete who brought so much fun, happiness, and success to our sports lives. All of these could come true, unfortunately.

It really shows you the dark and negative side of sports. Sports has this incredible, transformative aura and energy about it. It can take people and make them feel part of a community, energizing them together into pure happiness. That feeling, and we have all felt it, is why we follow these teams and players that we love so closely. It isn't some attempt at a hobby, or water cooler talk, or to fill some void in our lives. It is something that brings us together with a common interest. Over time, it becomes part of the fabric of our lives. These times though, where you have to watch a phenomenal talent struggle through career-crippling knee injuries, and a promising era come to a grinding halt, sports suck. They take that feeling away from us, and we watch as it is taken away from the athletes themselves. I hope that somehow, someway Derrick can come back back. He deserves it. We deserve it. He, more than many others, used to have that ability to take us to the highest level of sports. I hope for his sake he can do it again soon.