Derrick Rose did the right thing last season.
He did what was best for the future of the Chicago Bulls and also for a generation of players who are recovering from their own injuries. But most importantly, Rose did what was best for himself.
The star point guard didn’t play a single game in 2013 but was one of the most heavily criticized athletes in the world. Every reporter, analyst and basketball fan threw in his or her two cents on the former MVP, and most of these opinions slandered Rose.
Writers from some of the biggest outlets in sports—Greg Couch of Fox Sports, Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, Melissa Isaacson of ESPN and a CBS affiliate—all chimed in, insisting that Rose was wrong not to play.
I am so tired of hearing D-Rose get bashed. It sickens me each time words like “soft” or “weak” are used to describe one of the most electrifying players in the game.
I get so passionate about the subject because I know what Rose was feeling last season.
Like the former MVP and so many other players around the world, I tore my ACL. It happened midway through my high school basketball season, and I had reconstructive surgery about five months ago.
I’ve been playing basketball my whole life, and I was absolutely devastated when I discovered that I’d be out of the game for, realistically, at least a whole year. Questions about whether I’d ever be the same player again haunted me and still do. It's always been my dream to play college basketball, and despite the obstacles ahead of me, I'm not giving up on it.
Rose sat out the entire 2012-13 NBA season after suffering the injury in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. His return was initially targeted for January (which would have been an eight-month recovery) according to ESPN Chicago, but the Chicago Bulls star was completely cleared for action in March. Nevertheless, he remained on the bench in a suit.
In February, he started doing some five-on-five scrimmages in practice. However, Rose remained adamant that he would not check into a real game unless he felt that he was completely ready and had the ability to dunk off of his left foot, as reported by Melissa Isaacson of ESPN Chicago.
"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," he said. "I would love to [return]. I would love to. That's why I approached my rehab and my workout so hard. I'm trying to get back on the court as quickly as possible, but if I have anything lingering on, it's no point."
All of his coaches and teammates—some of whom were playing through injuries of their own—publicly supported their point guard throughout the entire season.
A basketball team gets closer through both triumph and struggle, and the support that I received from my team this season was unreal. They carried me up and down the stairs the day that the injury occurred, helped me get from class to class when I was on crutches, visited me after my surgeries (I had separate meniscus and ACL procedures) and—most importantly—still made me feel like I was a part of the team.
For Rose, the fact that the Bulls backed him up throughout the whole ordeal lessened the pressure to return prematurely.
In the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Miami Heat, Luol Deng battled an illness that required a spinal tap, Joakim Noah fought through plantar fasciitis (foot) and Kirk Hinrich was sidelined with a calf injury. All eyes turned to Rose on the bench in his suit, waiting for him to be inspired enough to play.
But it wasn’t about inspiration. It was about when Rose would be able to trust his body again.
Despite their own hurdles, Rose’s teammates were never anything but supportive of their leader. Every one of the Bulls were very vocal about backing their point guard, especially the ones who weren't 100 percent.
Hinrich's support was described in an article by Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago.
"Yeah, no question," Hinrich said. "I haven't heard one ill word said about it. You give a guy that has that type of character the benefit of the doubt. We know he's such a big part of this organization and this team that we trust he's making the right decision for that and for himself."
Noah took it a step further, as reported by Friedell, and went after Rose’s critics.
Noah took a question regarding how much pride he and his team feel being able to win without Rose while so many pundits count them out, and he went off on an emotional defense of his close friend.
"Derrick's a brother," Noah said. "And to see him go through this is tough, but at the end of the day it's really funny how quick people are to judge. But people don't know what it's like to lead a team, especially after you tore your ACL.
"If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge, but everybody who hasn't been in that situation before should really shut up because I feel like it's just so unfair to him and to this team. We're fighting, and everybody's going to just s--- on somebody who's been giving so much to this organization. It's crazy to me."
The fact that Rose was medically cleared to play by doctors is what drew the most attention and criticism. But I have news for you—doctors know more than most people, but they don’t know everything. The best doctor in the entire world does not have the ability to actually feel what you’re feeling in your own body.
About a month after my surgery, I was well ahead of schedule. I could walk without crutches, but I still wore a brace around my knee that limited movement. When I saw the orthopedic doctor four weeks after he performed the procedure, he instructed me to remove the hefty brace and said that I could walk without it.
As hard as I tried and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t do it.
I wore the brace for another week and continued working the muscle hard. At that point, I had built up enough strength in my leg to start walking normally again, without the brace. Was the doctor wrong? No—I probably could’ve done without it. But mentally, I just couldn’t handle it.
The muscle in my quad had faded into a jelly, and the thought of re-tearing the ligament deeply troubled me. After ending up on the ground a few times, I did the smart thing—I wrapped my leg back up in the brace and waited until I was ready.
If you’ve never suffered an ACL injury, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend what it feels like when the ligament actually tears.
I was coming down the court in a three-on-one fast break and hit the defender with a right-handed inside-out crossover at the foul line. As I pushed off of my left foot to throw a pass to the cutter, I felt a pop in my knee.
One pop, and my knee just gave out. One pop, and I was being helped off the ground by my teammates. One pop, and I went from point guard to cheerleader. One pop, and I was out of basketball for an entire year. One pop—that’s all it took.
Playing basketball is what D-Rose does for a living and what he’ll be doing for the rest of his life. The guy is 24 years old, a former MVP and three-time All-Star—and he hasn’t even hit his prime.
Yet, people everywhere were clamoring for him to return to the court prematurely. But one more pop, and Rose’s career may be over.
I know what the numbers say—the chance of re-tearing your ACL after surgery is 5-15 percent while the chance of tearing it in your other knee is 10-22 percent (as documented by the University of Wisconsin’s research)—but that doesn’t matter to me and probably doesn’t matter to Rose either.
After you've had the surgery, you doubt your own body. You question whether you’re pushing yourself too hard. You genuinely feel like it’s going to tear again.
When Rose was completing some pretty extensive pregame workouts in the playoffs, it really ruffled some feathers. But what went unaddressed was the fact that those workouts were in a controlled environment.
At any point, if anything didn’t feel right, Rose had the luxury of being able to stop. He could’ve dropped everything and consulted the doctors if something went awry. But with LeBron James barreling down the court in the conference semifinals, Rose couldn’t have simply removed himself.
It’s impossible to imagine what the tear feels like—mentally and physically—unless you’ve been through it yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the absolute worst thing that can happen to an athlete. Many players such as Iman Shumpert and Adrian Peterson have returned to full form in less than 12 months. But this is a distinct injury that isn’t comparable to another. A torn ACL is a torn ACL.
Not everyone who tears the same ligament recovers the same way. Clearing the mental barriers that come along with it and getting past all of the doubt within yourself are not things that are subject to a medical diagnosis.
Rose’s best basketball is in the future—he's going to come out with a vengeance next season—and I wholeheartedly support him on his journey back to the court.
I still haven’t been cleared to resume any type of real basketball activity, but I am running and continuing to train extensively with my sights set on a return. I’m weeks ahead of schedule in my recovery, but mental barriers still remain. I subconsciously favor my left leg, and I am always petrified of pushing too hard and re-tearing it.
I remember watching the Heat/Bulls series with my leg wrapped in ice and seeing Rose on the bench. I knew I’d be back, just like he would—it was just a matter of time.
And as I continue working every day to beat this injury mentally and physically, nothing will give me more motivation than seeing a healthy Derrick Rose dominate the NBA once again in 2014.