Kevin Durant cares about what people think of him. Derrick Rose does not.
Durant listens to the outside “noise,’’ as players and coaches refer to public opinion. Rose does not.
It’s impossible to say that there’s a direct cause and effect between Durant’s bad habit of paying attention to social media and the torn Achilles he suffered in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday. And it would be silly to say that Durant’s misfortune proves that Rose was right not to listen to critics who screamed for his return during the 2013 playoffs after he had sat out the Bulls’ regular season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
But we can say that it was a very bad idea for Durant to return to action from a calf injury without any significant practice time under his belt.
And I can’t help but wonder if the abuse Rose took over choosing not to play in the 2013 postseason weighed on the Warriors superstar. Rose has never been able to shake the label that he’s soft and that he’s more concerned with his own brand than the brand on the front of his jersey.
It’s an unfair label. Rose was guilty of saying dumb things. His biggest injury was a leg issue brought on by all the times he put his foot in his mouth. Asked in 2014 why he was sitting out certain games, he said something that will follow him the rest of his days:
“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 (then-2-year-old) son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past.’’
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that someone in Rose’s inner circle had said something similar to him and that the Bulls guard simply mimicked it. But it doesn’t matter how those words came to be. He was ripped for putting himself ahead of his teammates. That criticism never went away. What does matter – and what’s incongruous with the soft label taped to his back – is that he played basketball with a ferocity few people ever have. That gets forgotten in the still-raging debate about his legacy.
There’s a significant slice of Bulls fans that still doesn’t want to hear that Rose might have done the right thing by sitting out after team doctors had cleared him to play six years ago. As it turned out, the whole discussion about his decision was moot. The man was an injury waiting to happen, as evidenced by the physical issues that have plagued the one-time MVP’s career.
Players know their bodies. I’m guessing that Durant wasn’t confident about his calf when he took the floor for Game 5. But he played. Lots of people have come rushing forward to take responsibility for his presence in a Warriors uniform Monday night. The team’s general manager did, to the point of tears. Coach Steve Kerr did. Even Durant tweeted that it was his decision to play.
What matters, though, was the impetus for that decision. A possible series-deciding game and Durant’s deep concern for his teammates were offered up as gallant reasons for why he returned. But he pays close attention to social media, a huge mistake, and in the days leading up to Game 5, the outside world basically told him to man up and play. It was a do-or-die situation for the Warriors, and if Durant didn’t play and his team lost, it would prove that all he cared about was his impending free agency and the money that would come with it. That’s what the catty world of Twitter was saying in so many, many words.
If there’s one player in the league susceptible to public pressure, it’s Durant. No one wants to be called selfish, but some can handle it better than others. Rose could handle it. Durant? Not a chance. So there he was Monday, hopping in pain after his Achilles gave way. He’ll be called heroic while he sits out next season, but the truth is that he never should have been on the floor for Game 5.
Somebody with the Warriors should have saved him from himself. He wasn’t going to do it. And social media sure as hell wasn’t. As for Rose, a talented, star-crossed athlete, he didn’t need a savior. He could have used a spokesperson, however.