By now, you probably know the Miami Heat defeated the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals. You probably also know that the Bulls lauded point guard Derrick Rose did not play, which means he’s gone more than a year without playing after tearing his ACL in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
He was medically-cleared in February, and it has been his decision not to play even after participating in a mini-documentary called “The Return.” Bulls fans understandably want answers, especially after the Rose-less squad put forth such a gutsy first-round win over the Brooklyn Nets in seven games with players playing through injury.
Wouldn’t any player of Rose’s caliber want to play on such a stage? As many have pointed out, in this same 2013 season the New York Knicks Iman Shumpert came back from the same injury and played well (at times) after less than a year.
Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports wonders if Rose’s reputation can recover at all. “He lost a lot of us, that’s for sure,” he wrote. He went on to compare Rose’s playoff inaction to Scottie Pippen’s refusal to enter at the end of a game in 1994 because his coach, Phil Jackson, called for the game-winning shot to be taken by Toni Kukoc. (Kukoc went on to bury the shot.)
Rose’s teammate, center Joakim Noah, defended Rose before the series with the Heat was even over, telling ESPN, “If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge, but everybody who hasn’t been in that situation before should really shut up because I feel like it’s just so unfair to him and to this team.”
I have torn my own ACL, so I do know that it’s a serious injury for anyone who plays high-impact sports with lots of cutting. But I also know it doesn’t take more than a year to rehab it properly.
When I tore mine toward the end of 1999, I fancied myself a basketball prospect (youth tells us all sorts of lies), so I sought out a reputable surgeon who worked with both Purdue University and the Indianapolis Colts. After surgery, it took me three months to play baseball, six months to play basketball competitively, and about nine months to play in another game. Properly-rehabbed ACL’s are rarely reinjured, and time doesn’t seem to be that big of a factor, but then again I didn’t play in the NBA where millions of dollars are at stake either.
Do I think Rose could have played and played well? Sure. His conditioning probably would have been a bigger problem than his knee. To make things even more difficult on Rose is to make the obvious comparison between the “old guard,” Michael Jordan, and the “new,” Rose. Any of us willing to bet would probably put our money down that Jordan would have bulldozed his way back on the court, probably three or four months ago. But I’m not so sure that doesn’t tell us more about Jordan than it does Rose.
The two came from different generations. With increased medical research and technology, Rose’s generation is the more caudled one. In instances like pre-cautionary rule changes in American football in order to prevent concussions and eliminate the possibility of playing for those who are concussed, that’s probably a good thing. In instances like sitting out more than a year after an ACL injury, it may be a little extreme.
It’s hardly Rose’s fault either way. He simply followed the conservative approach of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. And why shouldn’t Rose and the Bulls take a long-term approach? At 24, Rose is their best player and hopefully has a lot of basketball left in him.
His teammates learned how to play without over-relying on Rose this season, which should only benefit the franchise in the long-term. I suspect Rose will be back to form next season, and the Bulls will contend much more seriously than they did this year. Maybe we’ll even get to see that playoff series with the Heat again, and this time Rose will be on center-stage, where he belongs.