Without the MVP: The tragedy of Derrick Rose's torn ACL
Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 9:26am
At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, the Chicago Bulls were a middle-of-the-pack team. Reeling from LeBron James's "Decision," Bulls fans were hoping for a team that could aspire to the fourth or fifth best record in their conference.
For those who do not follow basketball, the Bulls have been mediocre to terrible since Michael Jordan's retirement in 1998--that is, until the 2010-2011 season.
In 2008, the Bulls found themselves in the lottery of the NBA Draft with the ninth worst record in the league, leaving them with only a 1.7% chance to win the first pick of the draft. Against the odds, the lottery balls provided the Bulls with a savior. The Bulls picked Derrick Rose first, though not without controversy. Many thought that the Bulls should take the currently disliked Michael Beasley over Rose.
In making the decision, Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf asked Beasley and Rose what they disliked most about college basketball.
"When you go on the road and the referees make bad calls," Beasley said.
"Losing," Rose said.
To say the least, the Bulls took Rose. How could you not, with a quote like that?
Two years later, Rose was an all-star and had already won Rookie of the Year, with an epic playoff series against the Celtics under his belt as well. The Bulls, though, were still a mediocre team. Two years in a row the team had lost the playoffs in the first round. Everyone knew Rose was good, but he wasn't quite great.
I had been a casual fan of the Bulls for most of my life. Of the Jordan era, I can remember the 1998 Finals, and not much else. The Bulls seemed to be going somewhere in 2010, even if they were several years off from contending for a championship, so I watched.
And they were good. They were really good. Before long, I was watching every game. The Bulls kept winning. Derrick Rose had transformed himself. He was no longer just a very good player, slashing through the lane with incredible athleticism. Now, he was finding his way to the free-throw line, hitting big threes, and repeatedly willing the Bulls to victory. He had become great.
As I went through a rough time in my own life, it seemed that whenever I really needed it, I would turn on the TV to see the Bulls beat the Orlando Magic, the Boston Celtics, or the Miami Heat--teams they were not supposed to beat.
And, over the course of the season, the Bulls discovered their identity as a team: a group of workaholics led by the most humble professional athlete in the world. Following Rose’s example, the team bought into new head coach Tom Thibodeau’s demanding system, becoming the best defensive team in basketball.
The season seemed to build in its excitement. The Bulls’ standout reserves branded themselves the “Bench Mob.” Rose dropped 42 points to beat the league-leading San Antonio Spurs. The Bulls continued to win despite injuries to starters Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. Chicago swept Miami in the regular season. The Bulls earned the best record in the NBA. Thibodeau became the Coach of the Year. And Rose, after wondering off-hand in a pre-season press conference if he had what it took to be an MVP, became the youngest Most Valuable Player in league history. It seemed nothing could stop the Bulls.
But, unfortunately, they were stopped. Rose and The Bulls lost to Lebron James and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Rose, it seemed, did not have enough help. He carried too much of an offensive load, and the Bulls stagnated. As Rose would love to put the team on his back, as he so often does, one player cannot win an NBA championship. It’s why James joined Dwayne Wade in Miami. Even Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen.
And Rose truly would love to be able to do it all himself. What makes Rose so lovable is that despite being paid millions to be a transcendent basketball player, he genuinely seems to just be a shy, humble kid. At some point or another, he has probably called every other Bulls player or staff member the MVP of the team. In his acceptance speech for the MVP award, he tearfully thanked his mother for raising him amidst Chicago’s impoverished Englewood neighborhood. His nickname is “Pooh,” given to him by his grandmother. Instead of getting a big head, Rose seems mostly astonished by his fame.
Rose, as is his tendency, also blamed himself for everything that happened in the loss to Miami.
“At the end, I told you it’s on me,” he said. “Everything, it’s on me. Turnovers, missed shots, fouls. If anything, learn from it.”
This year, it seemed the Bulls had learned. After a long layoff because of a labor dispute, the team looked to come into this season as one of three main contenders for the title, along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat. After acquiring an aging, but still capable, Richard “Rip” Hamilton from the Detroit Pistons, the Bulls looked to put their new found experience to work.
The season opened with a Rose game-winner and a thrilling victory against the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas. From that point on, things went awry.
First, Richard Hamilton went down with an injured groin, and would later go down again with a shoulder injury. Then, first-time all-star Luol Deng injured his left wrist. Instead of sacrificing the season, though, Deng opted to delay surgery until the summer, deciding quite heroically to play through the injury. For a time, it seemed Deng and Hamilton’s injuries would be the season’s main concerns.
Then, Rose went down with a sprained toe. Rose came back, only to go down again with back spasms. And again he went down, later, with a groin tear, a sprained ankle, and a foot injury. Rose missed 27 games during the season, though he had only missed 6 in all previous seasons combined.
Somehow, the Bulls kept winning, pulling performances seemingly from nowhere. In one instance, when Rose’s back-up, C.J. Watson, was also out with injury, John Lucas III--a player who has been in and out of the NBA--played almost an entire game and scored a career-high 25 points.
Chicago pulled out win after win with Rose leading from the bench. When Carlos Boozer made a mistake on defense, it was Rose on the bench to whom he looked, mouthing, “My bad.” When Watson and Lucas pulled out their own miraculous victories over the Heat, it was Rose, on the bench, celebrating as hard as anyone.
As the season wore on, it seemed that the Bulls had improved significantly without Rose: good news for a team that had relied so heavily on him the previous year. When Hamilton returned near the end of the season, it seemed the Bulls finally had a team that could win the championship. In a loss to the Heat near the end of the season, it was clear that the Bulls were missing only one piece: Rose.
And in the first game of the playoffs, after 46 minutes and 40 seconds of play, it seemed that the Bulls aspirations had finally been realized. Hamilton had scored 19 points, and Chicago’s offense was a thing of beauty. Rose seemed plenty healthy, one rebound and one assist away from a triple-double. Everything was going incredibly well. A championship trophy looked it would finally make its way back to Chicago.
There was no warning. It seemed like there should have been. With about 1:20 remaining, Rose pushed off on his left knee and crumpled to the floor in pain with a torn anterior cruciate ligament torn. He fell to the ground, writhing in pain, right in front of his older brother Reggie. The heart of every Bulls fan dropped.
Watching it unfold, it seemed everything was going perfectly, and then Rose was gone.
With Rose’s ligament went the Bull’s title hopes. Rose may be out for most of next season as well. It’s possible that he may never be the same again. The youngest MVP ever may have had his career stolen before he was even 24 years old.
In the aftermath of all of this, searching for someone to blame for a freak accident, many people will question Thibodeau for having Rose in the game. Others will criticize the labor dispute for creating a compressed season, which may or may not be responsible for all of these injuries.
And despite a heartfelt post by Kyle Korver on his Facebook page, the team seems to have failed to rally around Rose. These Bulls--hardworking and likable as they may be--cannot win a championship without Derrick Rose. At this point, it seems they may not win another game. It’s understandable. To come this close and to not even be given a chance to compete is heartbreaking.
It’s the type of heartbreak that no non-sports fan can appreciate, because, in the real world, sports championships don’t count for anything. Sports fans have their heart broken, only to have to go and pretend that nothing is wrong. They want to scream and shout and cry that the world just isn’t fair, but realize that to do so trivializes actual hardship in the world.
I feel as if I’ve grown up with this team. They carried me through my junior and senior years of high-school. They’ve brightened my life, given me something to cheer about when it doesn’t seem like there’s much in the world worth cheering. So now I mourn the Bulls championship aspirations, even if it may not seem like there is much worth mourning.