Chicago Bulls star, Derrick Rose, is back, but for how long? His comments and actions hint at bigger issues.
Chicago Bulls’ point guard Derrick Rose was on the court Monday night for the first time in five games. He played 25 minutes against the Utah Jazz, scoring 18 points and dishing out five assists to help his team eke out a 97-95 nail-biter. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, was cautiously optimistic about Rose’s next game:
“Oh I don’t know. Jesus. He’s got to get out there and play,” Thibodeau told Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago.com. “I thought he did a lot of good things. You could see he’s not real comfortable with the ball yet, but that will come…”
Last week, Rose was nursing a sprained ankle and the hamstring strain that would keep him out of games. He’d missed a few games and talked about his cautious approach to recovering from injuries:
“When I sit out it’s not because of this year,” he said. “I’m thinking about long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to, I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore. Or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. (I’m) just learning and being smart.”
Given the reaction those comments stirred, he should be learning something about crisis communications. Talk radio blew up, the internet almost broke, teammates and coaches were put in the awkward position of having to defend the actions. Cue Charles Barkley, on Inside the NBA:
“He’s a great player and a great kid,” Barkley said. “But that was stupid. We’re so blessed. I limp around but I go home to a big ol’ mansion. There are people that work harder than Derrick Rose that go home to a shack. There are consequences for what we do for a living. We’ve got the best life in the world. I’m a poor black kid from Leeds, Alabama, who grew up in the projects and I don’t mind limping around [now]. When I go home, I have a big ol’ house. I’ve got good sheets; I don’t know the thread count, but they’re good sheets. I’ve got a big car and I never have to worry about bills. Derrick Rose is making $20 million dollars a year and he’s got a couple of bad knees. There are pros and cons of what we do for a living.”
Pipefitters have bad elbows. Stonemasons rarely end their careers with all the digits they had at birth. Nurses wind up with chronic back pain. They get a pension, a going-away cake, and gift. Pride in a job well done, but mostly financial cons at the end of these careers.
By all accounts, Rose is a respectful, thoughtful, God-loving young man. The favorite son of the Second City led Simeon Career Academy to consecutive State Championships, before spending a season at the University of Memphis so then-coach John Calipari could prepare him for life in the NBA, where he very quickly became Derrick Freakin’ Rose, the fastest, hardest-to-contain player in the league.
For the first time since Michael Jordan began his descent from world’s greatest player to just another team owner, Rose gave Chicago’s rabid fans the belief that a championship parade, or five, around the Loop would be mere formalities for the foreseeable future. In the 2010-11 season, he led his young team to the conference finals, losing to Lebron James and the Miami Heat. After the season, Rose was named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Six months later, Rose signed a 5-year, $94.3 million contract extension.
Four months later, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He returned a season-and-a-half later. Doctors cleared him to play six months earlier, but Rose opted for better-safe-than-sorry approach. He returned for the start of last season, only to tear the meniscus in his right knee in his 11th game back. Another season down the tubes. Including this season, he has played 22 of his last 198 games.
Some guys are prone to injury, and everyone is trying to be patient. But he makes $18.8 million this season — that is $230,000 per game — whether he steps foot on the court or not. Ask those rust-belt work ethic of those pipefitters, nurses, and stonemasons how healthy they are every day they go to work.
But that’s the rub. The median salary of working U.S. adults is just north of $51,000. If the U.S. could divide that into Rose’s yearly salary, the economy would add 368,628 jobs. Wall Street would rejoice, there would backflips in the White House, and Happy Days Are Here Again will blare from radios — ummm, iPods everywhere.
The locker room is a lonely place for an injured player. You come into the training facility before most anyone arrives so that you can get rehab the injury, get treatment, work out, and be gone by the time the rest of the team arrives for film study, lifting and conditioning, and practice.
Consciously or not, teammates see you as a reminder that they are just a mistimed jump or an awkward landing from sitting next to you on a trainer’s table or in a suit on the bench. Coaches like players they can count on. They will welcome you with open arms and a hero’s reception when you return, but you are of no value to them in $300 jeans and your Rolex in the folding chair closest to the locker room door.
Athlete’s bodies are their tools. They define themselves in their ability to be better, faster, stronger, quicker, more dominant than their opponent. Their teammates, their coaches, their fans, count on them. So do the men and women signing their checks. There is a sense of urgency to it all. When a few games turns into a few weeks, and a season is at stake, teammates’ “Are you back?” looks turn into a steady “Dude, don’t cost me a playoff share” gaze.
Only the athlete knows his body — and his mind. But confidence can be as fragile as an unresponsive knee or a shaky ankle.
Rose came to the NBA at 19. He — like so many of his peers, some who figured it out, some who never will — has only ever been a ballplayer. He didn’t have the luxury of growing up on campus, without financial advisors, and real commitments, for a few years. He was not fully formed, ready to handle money, fame, attention, interviews. He had not had the opportunity to finish growing physically or emotionally. But Rose spent the last two years not being on the court. He and his girlfriend, Mieka Reese, have a two-year-old son, Derrick Jr., and, perhaps for the first time in his life, Rose sees himself as more than a point guard.
During a recent national broadcast of a Bulls game, sideline reporter Rachel Nichols asked Rose about his recent comments.He took a page out of Player-on-the-defensive Playbook, claiming his words were twisted and taken out of context, before providing fresh context:
“I was just worrying about myself and worrying about my future like every player in the league does. I’ll probably just think different. It’s only my seventh year but further into my career and my life, just trying to plan things out. I think people took that out of context, but it is what it is. I was being myself and that’s all I can be. I couldn’t care less.”
It wasn’t artfully stated, but it was honest. It’s hard to argue with a young athlete fixated a future away from the game.
Maybe he’s learning that he doesn’t need the game as much as he thought he did. But grown-ups also learn that sometimes you do what you have to do so that you can do what you want to do. When it is time to suit up, you do it. And when you are in a hole, you stop digging, so that you can get up and do it again.
Photo Credit: Associated Press/FILE