There’s a audible gasp from media members, Chicagoans, rival fans, teammates and opponents every time Derrick Rose falls to the floor. It happened when he fell early in Game 1 against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday. It happened before his last knee surgery. Happened before the surgery preceding that. In 2012, when he first went down late in a Game 1, it took the form of a heart-wrenching loud silence. The stadium was so quiet that his screams and tears resonated clear as day.
Rose elicits such a collective compassion from all circles of the NBA that it’s hard to compare his situation with anyone else. He’s universally pitied and empathized with, not in the demeaning sense, but as if the world is perpetually clutching rosaries while praying for the best for the Bulls guard. Some feel sorry for him, but most want him to succeed like he’s an extended family member. Chicago’s love for him is understandable: he’s the flower that bloomed in the concrete. But the love from the rest of the basketball world is impressive to see.
No one is under the impression that life should be easy and fair, but with Rose, there’s an anger at the constant tribulations that befall him. He deserves the best from the world, yet he always seems to get struck down whenever he dares to rise.
Fall down seven times, get back up eight. The cliché is overused and annoying at this point, but these things normally contain a certain truth to them. Rose has fallen often and hard, yet from each trial he returns. He comes back into the game with the same expressionless face and labored jog that betrays the caucus of fast-twitch muscles that congregate under his skin. You can’t keep a good man down, or so they say.
He got back up against the Bucks. He rose to the occasion once again in the NBA playoffs. He revealed after the win that he only had three expectations of himself going in: to have fun, to have no expectations and to compete. Having no expectations as one of your expectations seems contradictory but it’s wholly understandable. There’s no sense in burdening himself to the extent of trying to do too much too soon and over-exerting his body. No reason to invite tragedy. One game at a time is how the journey is traveled.
But he did more than compete against the Bucks. Rose finished with 23 points and seven assists in only 27 minutes. He didn’t strain himself. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, contrary to his nature, didn’t try to push him to play more minutes. It helped that Chicago was in control of the game from the onset. Rose made floaters, layups and even three of the seven three-pointers he attempted. There was also the beauty of his occasional explosive drive to the rim as if to remind the fans and himself that he’s still a carnage of athleticism. In case anyone thought that aspect was gone.
Speaking of that athleticism, it was on full display when he launched a two-handed mid-air pass to Mike Dunleavy in the fourth quarter. Rose had seemingly dribbled into a dead end as he was double-teamed just outside the paint on the left side. Dunleavy was waiting wide open in the right corner with his arms up. The path was closed to the ordinary human being, but those physical laws don’t apply to No. 1. Rose jumped, looked for space between the arms of the defenders, and as he was falling, contorted his body so quickly that it seemed that he jumped a second time before passing to Dunleavy for the open three.
Some people call it incredible body control. More reasonable humans know it as sorcery.
Even with all of this, the cloud that hangs over his head is the question of whether he will ever be the same player that won the MVP for the 2010-2011 season. The skepticism is warranted. These situations have happened so often, and are usually so tragic that great talents are diminished exponentially or, in the worst cases, forced to retire. It happened to Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and Amar’e Stoudemire. It happened to Penny Hardaway, the player Rose is so often compared to. The list is extensive.
Rose doesn’t have to be that player ever again. In fact, it’s almost impossible he will be that same person. A man doesn’t suffer such tragedies without coming out different on the other side. The old Derrick Rose was innocent and reckless with his body. He played with an abandon that constant medical appointments take away. Long rehabs, walking on crutches, the depression of inactivity burrow into and lay eggs of self-doubt within the heart and mind of a person.
It also makes one smarter. Rose isn’t the same as Russell Westbrook, whose dismissive nature extends even to injuries suffered. But he’s also not the lost cause in need of eulogy every time he gets knocked to the floor. He’s better at picking his spots to attack, his vision has improved now that he’s willing to slow the game down, and though he wasn’t prolific from the three, he’s shown a willingness to add more weapons to his arsenal. He also knows that he doesn’t have to do it all on his own now. Knowing fear isn’t always a weakness; many times it makes one become more strategic.
The issue is that fans watch Rose with rose-colored spectacles. It’s not the current player that we’re watching, we only see this version as a placeholder until the past returns. It’s a failing of the mind to accept reality. But we need to move on from that, as Rose has. Once that happens, there can be a proper appreciation of what he is, what he has been and what he potentially could be. The ceiling isn’t lower, there’s just a new road to reach the top now. Against the Bucks, the No. 2 defense in the NBA, he showed that this new path can be just as fruitful.
When asked about his fall after the game and why he stayed down for so long, Rose replied that he was just tired. Tiredness is to be expected, and it’s much more welcome than the anguish we’re used to. This is a new Derrick Rose, but it’s doesn’t have to be an inferior one. And as he went to the crowd and threw his hands up to get them in full voice, it’s evident that it’s a much more appreciative Rose. Pain may have robbed him of three years, but his talent is still as magical as ever.
Here’s highlights from Saturday’s game via NBAGameRecap (Bulls vs. Bucks – Game 1 (NBA 2015 Playoffs)