Players get hurt, it’s a fact of basketball. Sometimes an injury ends a career, but most of the time players either undergo treatment and recover or play through pain, the latter being particularly true at this time of year.
But this weekend, we saw the flaws of the modern athlete come to life through the actions, or lack thereof, of Derrick Rose. This is a star that has had praise heaped on him over the years, be it the Rookie of the Year award or an MVP. This is a player who garners a crazy amount of attention from the media and fans, a player whose fan base worships him and yet, he couldn’t muster the strength to be there when his team faced its biggest moment of the season.
It was a game seven with his team already depleted by fresh injuries and illness. The speculation swirling around his return was put to bed in the hours before the game due to what was dubbed “a lack of muscle memory”. Instead of an inspirational return to the court that could have eased the pressure on his coach and teammates, his Bulls went out facing elimination shorthanded and did what some would have deemed impossible booking a ticket to South Beach with a 99-93 victory.
For months, Chicago fans and Rose’s teammates have watched him practice at full speed, run through drills in pregame warm ups and seem to be just fine. It’s been said that he isn’t mentally ready for a return, but what athlete ever is after a traumatic injury. Any time a player needs significant surgery, returning to the floor is a leap of faith, but all anyone sees is that Iman Shumpert did it, Ricky Rubio did it and Rose has not. If Rose had come back slow, played fifteen minutes once he was cleared, his muscles would remember what they need to right now and his mind would be cleared of any anxiety that is holding him back.
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It’s one thing to be nervous, but to be the leader and highest paid player on a team and not battle your way through something as insignificant as muscle memory issues in the interest of standing up and being counted when your team needs you the most is just cowardly. It’s as if Rose wants to come back at 175% instead of 100%. He wants to average 30 points per game rather than 20, but someone needs to remind him that he’s averaging zero while wearing expensive suits on the bench.
Any sympathy Chicago fans have for Rose is on the verge of running out, if it hasn’t already. Regardless of how he feels, he should have been back in that lineup for game seven and should be for their upcoming series against the Heat. At this point, he owes it to himself to try and he certainly owes it to the fans, his teammates and the organization paying him $16 million this year to give it a go. Watching a guy tear up practice and pregame warm up gets a little old when he’s dressed like a Men’s Warehouse advertisement come game time.
The Bulls need their superstar and at what bigger moment do superstars prove themselves than right now? I doubt we’ll see Rose at all this postseason and for me, it puts a big dent in the argument that Rose is a great player. Great players seize the day and chase moments that are made for greatness. Moments like a game seven, no matter how much pain it may cause them and no matter how they might look doing it, are moments great players don’t pass up.
It’s true, Rose’s injury was traumatic. We’ll never forget his face as he writhed around on the United Center floor in front of a sell out crowd in the most pain he’s ever been in his life. It ended the Bulls season it was so traumatic, but now there is a cathartic moment that is waiting to happen. His return could make this season for the Bulls, if only he had the guts to go for it.