This wasn’t the way it was supposed to play out. After being selected first overall in the 2008 NBA Draft by his hometown Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose was supposed to become the next great thing. He was supposed to bring championships back to the Windy City after years of post-Jordan malaise. He was supposed to be that rarest of breeds, the truly transcendent talent whose heroic exploits would become the stuff of legend.
For a while, the story played to script. By the time the 2011-12 season rolled around, Rose looked well on his way to making that final leap into the realm of basketball legend. He’d led his team to 62 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals the previous season, capturing his first Most Valuable Player award in the process. A string of injuries limited him to 39 games during the season, but he finished the year strong and looked poised to lead his Bulls to a deep playoff run. And then we were reminded that sports, like life, isn’t always fair.
The Fall of Derrick Rose
As with most things Derrick Rose does on the court, it happened in a flash. In the waning minutes of the Bulls’ opening playoff game against the 76ers, Rose drove hard to the paint, executing a hop step in the lane and exploding toward the basket. Only this time, instead of exploding, Rose pulled up lame and fell to the floor clutching his left knee. What at first appeared to be an isolated setback quickly snowballed into a heartbreaking saga of injury, frustration and futility. A diagnosis of a torn ACL kept Rose out for the entirety of the 2012-13 season, even as speculation rose that the young point guard was too soft or disinterested to play.
Derrick Rose made his return to the court on the opening night of the 2013-14 season. He struggled through the first several games, inconsistent with his shot and occasionally indecisive with his playmaking. Still, he was on the court and playing for the first time in more than a year. Unfortunately, it was not to last. Just ten games into the season, Rose tore the meniscus in his right knee and was forced to miss the rest of the year. It seemed as if things had finally turned around this season, as Rose played in 46 of the team’s first 57 games. By November, the Derrick Rose of old began to return. His confidence grew, and so did his stat lines. For the first time in a long time, he was having fun on a basketball court. And then it happened again.
A Rose by Any Other Game
After a torn ACL, two meniscus tears and several years worth of grueling rehabilitation, it was no small stretch to wonder whether we’d ever again see the Derrick Rose of old. The player that Derrick was supposed to be. It’s a difficult question to answer, but it also ignores a more fundamental truth: Derrick Rose isn’t the same player regardless of his health. After the trials and tribulations that he’s undergone in the past four years, how could he be? Time away from the game has clearly changed him, but not necessarily in a bad way. Like any great player, he used the time to attack the weakest areas of his game. He watched himself on film, picking apart subtle flaws and tendencies in his game and working to improve them. He studied the Bulls’ offense, seeking to better understand how he fit in the larger scheme.
Since returning to the court in early April, Rose has again shown glimpses of the explosive, electrifying player that once took the league by storm. But he’s also shown himself to be a smarter, more evolved player. He’s more adept at playing off talented running mates Pau Gasol and Jimmy Butler, more willing to let the offense come to him. He still attacks, but he does so more carefully and more in control. While the world waits for him to return to some younger, healthier, more dynamic version of himself, he’s quietly worked to become something different. Rose understands better than most that freakish physical gifts can be taken away in the blink of an eye, and he’s worked to make himself less reliant on the gifts that he still possesses.