Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls may have once had the glossiest public image in American sports—at least to his hometown fans. A season of sitting damaged that image, though. Now the question is, “What can he do to restore it?”
When he first went down with a torn ACL 16 months ago, it would have been laughable to think that by his not even playing, some of his fans would turn on him.
But that actually happened.
As his teammates fought through injuries, and as Nate Robinson was literally vomiting on the sidelines during a timeout, Rose sat and watched, even though he was medically cleared to play. While his teammates and coach were just fine with that, a number of Bulls fans were not. Rose fell under harsh criticism for his perceived lack of willingness to play.
To be fair, it was far from universal, and the majority of his fans understood, but there was enough of it that the criticism itself became as much a part of the story as his lack of playing.
In part, it was due to the “#thereturn” campaign launched by Adidas, which consummated in a commercial showing him coming back to, you know, play. Some argued that Rose had never intended to play and the advertisement was tantamount to a lie.
We live in a society that loves to dogpile. And if there’s anyone we love to dump on more, it’s a player or celebrity who has done something “wrong,” especially if it’s not morally or legally wrong.
LeBron James changed teams as a free agent and raised millions of dollars for at-risk kids in the process. How selfish!
Dwight Howard didn’t want to be a Los Angeles Laker. Boo!
Johnny Manziel had a few drinks and slept it off, the first college student in history to do so. And he tweeted! TWEETED!!!
Miley Cyrus twerked. She invented it, you know. Children saw!
And in each case we acted shocked as a nation, often venting on Twitter (or whatever your preferred mode of social media is). It’s not to say that none of those people were or are perfect, but whether the degree of so-called wrongdoing earned the level of criticism received is questionable.
You can’t separate the dumping on Rose from the American affection for dumping.
In our world, we love to build up a hero only to tear him down. Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves if we can deconstruct a hero.
The story of the American superstar doesn’t always end with them being deconstructed, though. If we love anything more than dumping on the artificial heroes we created, it’s seeing the artificial phoenix rise from the artificial ashes.
LeBron James reclaimed his throne by winning his first ring, and then his second, validating his move in the process.
Ray Lewis, who was caught up in a murder investigation, was forgiven by the general public because he won a Super Bowl. He now has a full-time television gig.
Michael Vick, convicted of running a dog-fighting ring, only needed to have one of the most brilliant games in NFL history to be forgiven. He didn’t even have to win a championship.
If winning can help an image tarnished by alleged rape, murder or animal cruelty, it should certainly be able to help one marred by taking too long to rehab a torn ACL.
Now that he’s on the court again, winning will be critical for Rose’s image rehabilitation. His image restoration requires that, at least in part, the extended rest has indeed made him a better player, and that it makes the Chicago Bulls a better team.
His first game back, he didn’t hit any of his five perimeter shots, two of which were bail-out shots sloughed off on him by his teammates with a second on the shot clock. He had four turnovers and only two assists. Critics were ready to jump on that as evidence that all that “improvement” isn’t there.
What will it take for Rose to restore his image?
Of course, 20 minutes in one preseason game is hardly enough to extrapolate the rest of the career of a 25-year-old former MVP. But the reaction is indicative of what is going to happen. Everything he does, good or bad, will be magnified.
Rose needs to show improvement, particularly in the areas he’s been criticized for, if he wants to silence his critics. Specifically, that means he needs to raise his assist numbers and field-goal percentage, even if it means cutting down on his scoring.
Magic Jonson was the last player to score 20 points and 10 assists per game for a 60-win team, accomplishing the feat in 1990. He won the MVP for doing so. If Rose can approximate those numbers with similar team success, he would put himself in the conversation for MVP.
Winning cures all ills, and if Rose makes the Bulls a winning team, no one will care about last year.
If people are talking more about what’s right with you, they’re talking a lot less about what’s wrong with you. Putting himself in the conversation for MVP, or even NBA Finals MVP, would turn the tide of the conversation, and that is the key to changing perception.