MORRISSEY: Derrick Rose’s body — not his spirit — failed him

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The Bulls’ Derrick Rose writhes in pain after injuring his left knee in the final minutes of Game 1 of an Eastern Conference first-round series on April 28, 2012, in Chicago. (John J. Kim, Sun-Times)

It would be easy to say that Derrick Rose has been his own worst enemy, but it wouldn’t be true.

There were plenty of Bulls fans and critics who were much more worthy of the title. He was soft and selfish, they howled, unwilling to play through injury. These were people who would have been lucky to make their high school’s freshman B team, but what the tough guys said must have been true because they had Twitter accounts.

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Now Rose has stepped away from the Cavaliers to decide whether he wants to keep playing basketball. It’s a shame, the latest installment in a career of crying shames. A sprained ankle that has sidelined him for three weeks is the latest setback and possibly the final straw. A 29-year-old who was one of the NBA’s biggest stars has watched his career nosedive because of a body that couldn’t withstand what his extraordinary basketball abilities had demanded of it.

Whatever the former Simeon standout decides will be seen by many through a lens that paints him as soft. And that stinks.

Knee injuries robbed him of his explosiveness. That power, that force, enabled him to get by defenders in a blink and then to the rim, where he would either dunk viciously or loiter in midair for a circus shot. But it turned out to be the flash of a lightning bug. The life cycle of one, too. He has been tragically injury-prone, if someone who has signed contracts worth more than $300 million can be considered tragic in any way.

The beginning of the end for Rose, competitively and image-wise, was a torn anterior cruciate ligament in 2012. Bulls doctors cleared him to play in March 2013 after months of rehab for his surgically repaired left knee. But he didn’t think it was completely healed, and he didn’t suit up during that season or the playoffs. It’s where the criticism of him as wimpy and self-absorbed began in earnest.

But look at the lengthy injury history that followed. Who was right about his body, Rose or the docs? Who knew his body the best? If you answered “an army of critics that in some tortured way thought he was poorly representing a blue-collar city,’’ you apparently would be correct.

I never questioned his toughness, but he lost me when he opened his mouth. Three years ago, while recuperating from two sprained ankles, he said he was more concerned about being healthy later in life so he could attend business meetings and his son’s graduation. You would have thought he was a bomb-defuser or a soldier on the front lines rather than a basketball player.

The things he said never seemed to be his words. They sounded like the words of someone advising him, some distant ventriloquist. Someone willing to let Rose take the public-relations hit for making some really stupid statements. Or maybe Rose was tone-deaf or naïve all on his own.

If he had kept quiet and rehabbed, he might have become a mini-version of Gale Sayers, a superstar done in by something as beneath him as the human knee. Rose’s 2010-11 Most Valuable Player season, in which he averaged 25 points and 7.7 assists, seemed to be one long highlight reel. It should have been the stuff of legend.

Instead, he blew out his left knee the next season, starting a cycle. He got hurt over and over, he talked and talked, and he was criticized again and again. The injuries were proof that he owned a body not capable of dealing with the stress of that singular explosiveness. They were not proof that he was soft.

It looked like he was trying to collect them all: toe, back, groin, the torn ACL in the 2012 playoffs that cost him the entire next season. Then a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery. He would tear that again. Then a meniscus tear in his left knee. Four knee injuries in all. And now another ankle injury.

He’s reportedly tired of being hurt. Can you blame him?

It’s not coincidence that so many Bulls teammates stood by him through thick and thin. They wouldn’t have done that if they thought he was letting them down out of selfishness. They liked him. Same with the Cavs. No one has called him out for stepping away to decide his future. That’s because there’s nothing to call him out about.

He’s a broken basketball player and has been for a long time. Nothing more or less. The ridiculous money he has made during his career has been a blessing but also a curse. It gave his critics tons of ammunition as the injuries piled up. It’s worth noting that he risks losing $80 million if he walks away now from basketball and the contract he signed with Adidas. Would a selfish, money-loving person do that?

His career can be boiled down to this: He couldn’t win. If he played hurt, he was a shell of himself. If he didn’t play because of injuries, he was shelled for not being tough enough.

I know I made fun of his “listening to my body’’ mantra a few times over the years. I’m not proud of that.

Now I just feel sorry for him and his tens of millions of dollars. What he wanted to be most, he couldn’t be.

Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.

Email: rmorrissey@suntimes.com


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