After an arduous near-18-month rehabilitation following an ACL tear in the 2011-12 NBA playoffs, Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose will finally return to the lineup in Saturday's preseason opener against the Indiana Pacers.
Of course, this is merely the precursor to the real culmination of #TheReturn. That will come on Oct. 29 at AmericanAirlines Arena when Rose will make his regular-season debut against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. On that night, thousands of miles away in freezing Chicago, fans will celebrate their best player since No. 23 coming back to save the day.
But we're getting way ahead of ourselves.
As with all recoveries from ACL surgery, Rose's path back to an NBA floor required many steps. He did not simply have surgery one day, sit around for a few months and then start playing basketball again. I mean, based on the undue criticism of Rose these past months, I'm pretty sure we all know that by now.
As the famous saying goes, "We must learn to walk before we can run." Rose learned that in the most literal way possible during his rehabilitation. So in celebration of his comeback, let's take a look at all of those baby steps he had to take before he could finally leap out of a gym again.
The following is a complete breakdown of Rose's journey from the United Center floor when he tore his ACL to his return on Saturday.
April 28, 2012: Derrick Rose Tears ACL
Following a tumultuous 2011-12 campaign that saw Rose battle through various injuries and miss 27 games, it finally looked as if the tide were turning. His Bulls navigated through various absences to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, and Rose looked to be fully healthy for the first time all season.
That was until one drive to the cup late in the Bulls' Game 1 victory in the first round changed everything.
As Rose is prone to do, he went driving hard into the lane off a pick-and-roll. He got deep into the lane, contorted his body in an awkward position, planted hard on his left leg on a jump stop and leaped into the air.
That moment was the last time Bulls fans have seen Rose active on an NBA floor. His knee gave out on the plant, and a day later, the Bulls announced a he had suffered a torn ACL.
The Bulls went on to lose their first-round series in six games against the Philadelphia 76ers.
May 12, 2012: Rose Undergoes Successful Knee Surgery
Following a couple weeks' worth of presurgery rehabilitation to strengthen his left quadriceps muscle, Rose underwent surgery to repair the ligament at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
Bulls physician Dr. Brian Cole successfully performed the hourlong procedure. A source told the Chicago Sun-Times that Rose's knee "looked great" during surgery.
"His knee looked great," the source said. "It's what you'd expect from a 23-year-old physical specimen." And with that, what most expected would be a shortish recovery began.
Aug. 14, 2012: A Return to Basketball-Related Activity
Relatively speaking, it did not take long from Rose's surgery for him to make his way onto a basketball court again. Though it's unclear how much he was actually doing, Rose tweeted out a picture on Aug. 14, 2012, that sent Bulls fans into a tizzy:
Derrick Rose @drose
Feels good to be back in the gym... http://t.co/mrhU7FQk8/15/2012, 1:10:30 AM
If one could infer something from a picture (always hard to do), his workout seemed pretty stationary. But it still had to be nice for Rose and those in the greater Chicago area to see him on the floor.
Aug. 22, 2012: "The Return" Officially Begins
Even though he wouldn't be endorsing its products on the court, Adidas surely wasn't going to allow Rose to fall from the limelight.
Though certainly somewhat self-serving—Rose did sign a massive shoe contract last February, after all—the way Adidas decided to keep its star endorser front and center was nothing short of brilliant.
One part viral-video campaign and another part documentary series, the folks at Adidas followed Rose around and filmed him during his recovery. The first episode was released a little over a week after Rose tweeted out the picture of himself on the court and gave fans a little glimpse of what he had been going through since April.
(For all individual episodes of "The Return," check out Adidas' YouTube channel.)
November 2012: Rose Officially Cleared to Begin Cutting on Knee
One of the biggest steps in Rose's recovery process was his return to cutting from side to side on his injured knee. For a player whose effectiveness is predicated on speed, rapid directional shifts and athleticism, being able to shift weight on a dime is as critical as knocking down a mid-range jumper.
Of the benchmarks in his recovery, cutting was the one that took Rose the longest. Initially expected to start cutting in mid-October, Halloween came and went without that happening. Rose even admitted to being scared to cut on his surgically repaired leg, per ESPN:
Right now cutting is the hardest thing in the world right now to do. I'm scared of it. And right when I think I get that out of my system I think I'll be pretty close, where I have to prove to them that I'm ready to play. Hopefully it (doesn't) take the whole year.
Those fears were eventually assuaged in early November. While the ultimate return-to-cutting date is unknown, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau told the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson on Nov. 12 that Rose had began cutting and gave a status update on the young star.
"Everything is going according to plan," Thibodeau said. "He's not ahead of schedule. He's not behind schedule. He's exactly where he should be."
December 2012: D-Rose Returns to Practice on Limited Basis
Cutting and getting into a running habit is one thing, but Rose's return finally started to feel real when he returned to practice in late December. Still absent from the contact portions of practice, CSN Chicago came through with the first report on his return to the hardwood:
But CSNChicago.com has learned that over the last two days, minus the contact portions, the former league MVP has been a full participant in the teams practices at the Berto Center.
Some took this as a sign of Rose returning prior to his expected date. But that was really never the plan. With new faces adorning the Bulls roster, his return to practice was significant for developing timing and reacclimating himself with the offense gradually.
Returning, even on a limited basis, was also necessary for Rose to rebuild confidence in his knee. Sure, he was going through basketball activities, running and rehabbing hard, but no one was shooting with him in the gym (#DrakeReference).
Considering a good portion of his rehabilitation took place outside of Chicago, developing chemistry and confidence undoubtedly serves as the biggest takeaway here.
Early January 2013: Rose Travels With Team on Road Trip
Speaking of chemistry-building techniques, not too long after Rose returned to practice with his teammates, he made his first road trip. The former league MVP traveled down to sunny South Florida for the Bulls' Jan. 2 clash with the Orlando Magic and Jan. 4 game with the Miami Heat.
It was a move that Thibodeau called Rose's "next step" in his recovery, per ESPN's Nick Friedell. The Bulls coach pointed toward his point guard's ability to help prepare for the team's opponents and to simply be around his teammates.
Rose traveling with the team was also seemingly noteworthy due to the rigors of the NBA lifestyle. Though there weren't any cross-country flights on back-to-back nights, traveling to South Florida from Chicago isn't easy on the body.
Seeing how his knees held up on a nightly travel schedule is a rather minor step but worth mentioning nonetheless.
Jan. 30, 2013: Thibodeau Tells Reporters D-Rose Is Back to Full-Contact Practices
After months of intense rehabilitation and half-measures, Rose finally made his return to full practice on Jan. 30. That meant a full return to bumps in the lane, jump steps and all the other things that go along with, you know, actually playing basketball.
Thibodeau intimated that while there was no concrete timetable for Rose's comeback to game action, all that remained was him getting acclimated to high-intensity situations. Here is the Bulls coach's full quote, via ESPN's Nick Friedell:
You have to understand that in practice you're striving to get as close to a game-like intensity as you can, but you also have to understand that you're not going to be able to get there, so that will be a whole different level. And we have to make sure that he's ready to handle that intensity.
Obviously, getting back into action was the first step in regaining confidence. Rose could not return to the lineup without first seeing how he felt getting knocked to the ground and taking a few bumps.
Though rampant speculation had become the norm during Rose's recovery, it was Jan. 30 that seemingly put an end game in sight.
Feb. 14, 2013: Windy City Panics as Rose Acknowledges Possibility of Missing Season
That end game proved to be far, far away from happening. Yes, Rose had returned to "full contact" practices. But that didn't mean he was ready for game action—not by a long shot.
As a couple weeks went by after his supposed return to full practice without nary a word about his potential return date, worries started creeping in. And Rose did nothing but exacerbate the white-knuckled population of Chicago by admitting it was possible he could miss the entire 2012-13 campaign.
"I really don't know," Rose said, speaking of his return date, per ESPN. "I'm feeling good, but like I said, if it's where it's taking me a long time and I'm still not feeling right, I don't mind missing this year."
With that quote, the wind went right out of the Bulls' sails heading into the All-Star break. For the first time, Rose had admitted the cavalry might not be coming.
Feb. 18, 2013: Rose Returns to Five-on-Five Drills, Restores Hope
It took Rose less than a week to take Chicago from the breaking point to yet another glimmer of hope.
Following the All-Star break, Rose was active in the team's five-on-five drills during practice. Though he had fully returned to practice and had begun taking contact, this marked his first opportunity to scrimmage against teammates with 10 men on the floor.
Rose participated fully, doing what "what everyone else did," per Thibodeau, and ran with the first-team offense, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley. Thibodeau mostly downplayed Rose's participation in the drills and seemed to indicate it was in line with the plan all along.
But considering the point guard's quote just a few days prior, his five-on-five appearance was a little beacon of light.
Feb. 24, 2013: Athleticism Returns as Rose Dunks in Pregame Warm-Ups
Cited as one of the main reasons he wasn't 100 percent, dunking was an underrated important step in Rose's recovery. While it's unclear when he actually started throwing down again, Rose allowed fans to see for the first time prior to a Feb. 24 game versus the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Though minor in the long term, dunking was a major step in terms of Rose's confidence in his own ability.
March 4, 2013: Rose Returns to the Bench (in a Suit)
Little benchmarks were piling up on one another at this point. Just a little more than a week after showing off his renewed athleticism via pregame dunks, Rose took an important step for morale by joining teammates for their game against the Indiana Pacers.
Though Chicago lost the contest, 97-92, it was obvious that Rose's competitive spirit was firing on all cylinders. Joakim Noah also spoke about what it meant for the Bulls to have their star back with them after the game.
"It was great," Noah said, via ESPN's Nick Friedell. "It was great. I know that it's tough for him to be on the bench because he wants to play, but it feels good to have him out there. It's really good to have him on the bench and being a part of it."
While we all know at this point there were months remaining before his return, it seemed almost imminent that Rose would be back on the United Center floor.
March 9, 2013: Doctor Clears Rose to Play, Dunking off Left Knee, Hamstrings Hold Him Back
What most thought was the final step in this process happened long before Rose ever set foot on the floor. Word leaked out from a source that Rose's doctor had cleared him to return, that the possibility of recurrence was no more than any other non-injured player.
In other words, the doctor said Rose was ready—the 2011 MVP thought otherwise. Citing an inability to dunk comfortably off his left leg and his hamstrings being "on fire," per Friedell, Rose told the team he was not mentally ready to come back.
That being said, ESPN's Melissa Isaacson noted that Chicago was hopeful Rose's return would be within the next couple weeks:
The team is not pressuring Rose, the source said, but the Bulls are confident he will return this season and are still hoping for a mid-March return, which would mark 10 months after his surgery. The Bulls play at Golden State on March 15.
Ostensibly, this was the moment the entire Bulls franchise was hoping for. With the team still bumbling around the middle of the Eastern Conference pack and struggling with injuries, Rose was (rightfully) viewed as an impending late-season pickup that could invigorate Thibodeau's crew.
The Bulls ultimately found their way, but this leak about him being ready to play left Rose "fuming," ESPN's Marc Stein later reported.
March 21, 2013: Rose's Surgically Repaired Knee Still Sore
Just when everyone thought Rose was at the "end of the tunnel" with his road to recovery, per Yahoo! Sports' Mark J. Spears, the 25-year-old guard began shedding light on why he wasn't back in the lineup. Though "cleared" by doctors weeks prior, Rose was still out of the lineup, and the vagaries about his return became more pronounced.
Rose explained why in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times' Joe Cowley—his knee was still sore.
"Still about the same, where when you warm a little bit it will be loose, then the activity will pick up and then it gets back sore, so just going through that," Rose said.
The admission made everyone press the pause button on their pressure meter with Rose. After the ESPN report that he was cleared came out, there was an increasing clamoring for him to rejoin the starting lineup.
But with soreness still lingering, it became more understandable why Rose was so hesitant to return.
April 6, 2013: Source Says Rose "Completely Healthy," Wonders Why He Hasn't Returned
So much for a grace period. As the Bulls' run to an Eastern Conference playoff berth continued and the number of regular-season games dwindled, the clamoring once again struck up for Rose to return to action.
And a source close to the Bulls organization wasn't helping things. According to Hoopsworld's Bill Ingram, Rose was practicing with the same ferocity as before and was seen as being "completely healthy":
A source close to the situation in Chicago told HOOPSWORLD earlier this week that Rose seems to be completely healthy. He’s practicing just like he did before the injury and is not showing any signs of weakness with the surgically repaired leg. In fact, the source said a lot of people around the team are scratching their heads, wondering what’s keeping Rose from returning for a tune up before the playoffs.
It didn't help that no one within the organization would come up with a definite stance on the issue. Per Cowley, Rose said he was "keeping it open" about a return during the regular season while saying again that nothing had changed regarding his status.
On the newsworthy side, Thibodeau again had to refute there was a rift between Rose and the Bulls organization.
April 17, 2013: Rose Officially Misses Entire 2012-13 NBA Regular Season
No official word ever came out regarding Rose being out for the regular season, but the Bulls' final game of the campaign was on this night. Rose didn't play (obviously), as Chicago locked up the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
April 20, 2013: Tom Thibodeau Says Rose Is "Most Likely" Out for Postseason
On the day of Game 1 of the Bulls' Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup versus the Brooklyn Nets—a 106-89 loss—Coach Thibodeau finally started to acknowledge the unlikelihood of Rose returning. He told K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune that Rose would "most likely" be out for the postseason.
Of course, just when closure looked like it was finally coming to this saga, Thibs decided to throw this little tidbit in.
"But you never know," Thibodeau said. "The playoffs are stretched out, too, so you have to factor that in. Who knows another week from now where he is? You always want to leave that possibility open."
Just to recap: Rose is "most likely" out for the playoffs. Unless he isn't. Or something.
(A person close to the situation confirmed that Rose would miss the Bulls' first-round series against the Nets to CBS Sports' Ken Berger.)
May 4, 2013: Rose Not Bothered By Fan and Media Criticism
As the Bulls prepared for Game 7 of their first-round matchup versus Brooklyn, Rose again was at the forefront of the conversation—and not because he was planning on making a heroic comeback. Instead, he spoke at length with the Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson about his recovery and did so quite candidly.
When asked about how he was reacting to criticism, Rose said that was the first he was hearing about any of it:
He also noted that taking an entire year off—sitting out the playoffs—would allow his body to heal properly and allow him to return a better player.
Chicago won that Game 7 in Brooklyn, advancing to take on the defending champion Heat in the second round.
May 7, 2013: Bulls "Genuinely Believe" That Rose Could Suit Up for Game 3 of Miami Series
While getting past the Nets was one thing, the Bulls' Game 1 victory in Miami was a milestone achievement. Playing without Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich, Chicago was able to hand LeBron James and Co. a shocking defeat.
With a win on the road under their belts, the Bulls' attention—at least from a media perspective—again turned to Rose. This time, it was Hoopsworld's Alex Kennedy coming through with information that Rose might be donning the No. 1 jersey again when the series returned to the United Center:
Word out of Chicago is that Rose may suit up for Game 3, which will be played this Friday. Suiting up doesn't guarantee that Rose will play, but being in uniform on the bench rather than donning a suit would be a step forward for the 24-year-old. Nothing has been confirmed at this point, but it's a possibility.
May 15, 2013: Hope Turns to Nope—Rose Sits Out as Bulls Are Eliminated
At this late juncture, it was always a bit far-fetched to think that Rose would actually return to the lineup. Not only would he be doing all the normal things that go along with this injury—getting back into basketball shape, reacclimating himself to the floor, etc.—but he'd be doing it in the playoffs...against the world's best basketball team...in elimination situations...where he was expected to be Derrick Rose.
Yeah, coming back was always a bit of a pipe dream now that we have 20/20 hindsight. But at the time, Rose's decision was controversial, and it rubbed many the wrong way. Not among those was Thibodeau, who spoke to Johnson and made it clear the decision they collaborated on was for the best:
And with that came summer. And with that also came the end of a majority of the nonsense on this issue. With Chicago's season over, Rose was free to go back to rehabbing in quiet and preparing for opening night.
June 14, 2013: Say Hello to the Old Derrick Rose, Says Thibodeau
Peace and quite does a lot of things to a man. It can lead to sanity. It can lead to insanity. And, apparently, it can lead to an MVP point guard getting back to 100 percent health.
With the hot sweaty breath of the media off his back, Rose retreated out of the limelight and out of the country. He traveled around the globe to countries like Serbia for his shoe contract with Adidas and generally kept quiet.
When he was around the team, all systems were a go. Thibodeau spoke to Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago a little less than a month after the Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs and indicated his star was looking "great."
"Watching the way he's moving now, there's a confidence," Thibodeau said. "[Reporters] may not have been able to see the total work he was putting in. But he was putting in an enormous amount of work each and every day. He just never got to the explosiveness he was comfortable with. I think he's there now. He feels great, and that's the most important thing."
July 3, 2013: Rose Opens Up About Missing Entire Season
Derrick Rose claims not to be a selfish person. We've seen plenty of his acts in the community and on the floor that back up that comment. But, in Rose's mind, his knee injury was one time where he was 100 percent confident in making the best decision for himself rather than the team.
At least that's what he told Bulls TV in a wide-ranging interview.
"I'm not a selfish guy at all," Rose said, via Johnson. "But having this injury and knowing what I had to go through and being smart, this is something I had to be selfish with. I couldn't worry about anyone else but myself and my health."
That said, while Rose knew he was making the best decision for himself and his career, he made clear that it certainly wasn't easy.
"It was hard, one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through in my life," Rose said. "After surgery when you start running...when you have an injury like this there are stages you have to go through. I'm still going through my stages. I'm not done yet. This is the most I ever worked on my craft and most focused I've ever been in my NBA career."
July: #TheReturn Gets a Date—in the Preseason
It sure didn't take long for confirmation, now did it?
Preseason games are mostly superfluous nonsense for players at Rose's caliber. You get in, play your halfhearted minutes and hope to holy hell you don't get injured. It would have been understandable for Rose to take a lesson out of Robert Griffin III's book and forgo the preseason simply as a safety precaution.
Speaking at an Adidas event in Madrid, Rose claimed that his first minutes since April 2012 would come in a land far away from Chicago.
"We will play in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil [October 12], the first NBA game ever in Rio, so that's going to be a big game not only for the Bulls but for the NBA," said Rose, per HoopsHype. "Just some minutes out there, see how it feels just to be back on the court and enjoy the experience."
Thibodeau, confirming the return, also said that he expects Rose to play a starter's workload in the preseason—eight-minute intervals. He'll then re-evaluate based on how Rose feels.
September: Samurai + Derrick Rose = Awesome
I have no words. Just watch:
September: Rose Is "All-In" on Chicago
Another video. Yay!
Late September: Return in Preseason Opener Confirmed; Rose Only Cares About Championships
Throwing down against Japanese Samurai is cool. So is creating an inspirational-message video professing your faith to your city while hawking your new shoe. OK, well the last part is only kinda cool. But it still kept D-Rose fever at a high temperature.
In September, it went off the charts. The former All-NBA selection arrived back in his hometown after gallivanting across the world all summer long, coming back with a renewed focus—not on regaining MVP status or even becoming an All-Star again. With camp about to begin, Rose had one thing on his mind.
"My only goal is to win a championship," Rose said, per Johnson.
He also accelerated his return date a bit. Once pegging Oct. 12 as his return to the floor, Rose reconfigured his thoughts after the NBA's preseason schedule switched up a bit, putting Chicago against Indiana in its preseason opener.
When asked how he'd feel about finally getting back into game action, he could barely contain his excitement.
"It's just going to be an emotional day," Rose said. "Just playing again and being around my teammates and being in the atmosphere of an arena, playing in front of people. I haven't had that in a long time."
Oct. 5, 2013: Rose Finally Returns to Game Action
And here we are on Oct. 5. Rose will make his return to action on Saturday against the Pacers, ending a process that took far longer than anyone ever expected.
Will his return see an instant ascent back up to MVP-caliber play? That remains to be seen. But if this timeline proves anything, it's that Rose will put in the requisite time and effort to make that happen.
Follow Tyler Conway on Twitter: