To spare myself pain and humiliation, I won’t go back and read what I wrote in 2015 after Derrick Rose suffered his third knee injury. But I do remember what I was trying to suggest around the edges: He’s done.
He was about to have his third surgery in a span of 34 months, and all of my years as a physician, a side hustle, were telling me that knees are kind of important. Without his engine, the Bulls’ point guard would be a steam locomotive at a roadside museum. Oh, the picture I’m sure I painted! Your tears must have mixed with mine.
I’m so happy I was so wrong.
Rose is a huge component of the Knicks’ renaissance. He is, against all those odds placed on him years ago, still relevant at 32. He’s averaging 15.1 points and 26.9 minutes off the bench for New York. He’s shooting a career best 40.9% on three-pointers. That’s a long way from the 22.2% he shot as a Bulls rookie.
Making the story that much better is that the Knicks are poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. Making the story worse is that Knicks fans think they’re important again. But if that’s what it takes to for Rose to finally get his due again, we’ll all just have to sacrifice.
He’s not the player he was when he won the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2011, not even close. He used to be all about explosion. He could get his shot whenever and wherever he wanted it. Now, with his knees unable to cooperate, he plays smarter, like a once hard-throwing pitcher who, because of age and wear, has to rely on guile.
There are still the floaters from five to 10 feet that we knew so well in Chicago. And there’s also the heart and the effort, which were there before the injuries and never vacated the premises.
Lest you think I’m describing the team manager who gets some minutes on Senior Night, he had 27 points, six assists, six rebounds and three steals in an overtime loss to the Lakers on Tuesday night.
We can’t call it a sudden transformation, nor can we attribute his success to his reunion with Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau, his former coach in Chicago. He has been playing well enough for the past few years, though in relative obscurity. After all those knee injuries earlier in his career, it feels like he should win the NBA Comeback Player of the Year every season.
“If you don’t like D. Rose, something is wrong with you,’’ former Heat star Dwyane Wade said the other day.
Yeah, about that. There are still people who don’t like Rose. It’s hard to remember a Chicago athlete whose legacy was debated so heatedly while he was playing as much as Rose’s was. Jay Cutler was polarizing for a while, but even his most vociferous supporters eventually had their eyes opened. Same with Mitch Trubisky.
Rose’s biggest crime was saying dumb things, most likely things other people had told him to say. The dumbest came in 2014, when he mentioned that he was sitting out Bulls games with his post-basketball future in mind — “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.” In Chicago, that went over like a tax increase.
The Bulls had done him no favors in 2013 when they let the world know he had been medically cleared to play after his first major knee surgery. When he didn’t play that season, he was called soft. From there, it was open season on the player who, two years earlier, had been the youngest player in NBA history (22) to win the MVP award. We found out that lots of tough-guy Bulls fans, in a similar situation, would have laced them up, if not for the fact that they had a pie-chart presentation to give or a beer delivery to make. And if not for the fact that they had no discernible athletic ability.
It’s nice to see Rose enjoying success. It feels right. It feels fair.
If you had told me six years ago that he would still be playing in 2021, I would have thought you meant he’d be playing golf or Ping-Pong, not basketball.
If you had told me he’d be playing at a high level in 2021, I would have told you that someone had stolen your brain, stomped on it and returned it.
After all those years and all those surgeries, Rose is still standing tall. Good for him. Good for most of us, too.