In the third quarter of the team’s Nov. 22 road contest against the Portland Trail Blazers, the former MVP’s right knee buckled as he suddenly stopped to try and catch up to defend a stolen pass.
The diagnosis was not immediately known, but there was no denying the eerie sense of deja vu as Rose left the Moda Center on crutches.
An MRI the following day confirmed that the Chicago native had a torn meniscus, an injury with a recovery time ranging from a couple of weeks to a few months depending on the severity of the damage and choice of treatment.
With another long season ahead for both player and his team, the question becomes: Is this recent misfortune a harbinger, or is the worst over for Rose?
Two season-ending calamities occurring within such close proximity could lead one to think that the young superstar is starting to break down at the tender age of 25.
That line of logic is hard to avoid for the average viewer given recent events, but a doctor or professional trainer may have a differing opinion.
Now the writer is in no way asserting himself as a medical expert; however, using data from multiple articles concerning ACL and meniscus injuries and clarification from Bleacher Report’s injury authority Will Carroll, there is reason to believe that Rose’s future could be more stable than one might assume.
A Calamitous Recent History
His knee was surgically repaired on May 12, and after a grueling rehab, he was cleared to play in early March of 2013 but did not take the floor at all for the remainder of that season.
Fast forward to the training camp that preceded the current NBA season.
Rose’s return was official and basketball fans were anxious to see how much form he regained.
The former MVP dazzled during the preseason but found that a regular season rhythm was harder to come by.
Chicago stumbled out of the gate, losing three of their first four games; they quickly rebounded, tearing off a five-game winning streak in mid-November.
Things seemed to be coming together until that fateful night in Portland.
Rose’s torn meniscus will likely keep him sidelined for the remainder of this campaign, along with any hopes of the Bulls returning to contender status.
Sutures Over Severance
The long hiatus is due to the recovery option chosen by the star guard.
According to the University Orthopedic Center, the website for a surgery clinic founded by Dr. Raphael S. F. Longobardi, if the meniscus cannot heal on its own, surgery will be needed to either remove or repair the damaged tissue.
On the pros and cons of having the cartilage removed, Carroll says, “If the meniscus is taken out, down the line you’re going to see problems with bone-on-bone grind, but it’s quicker. You’re going to be back in 2-4 weeks.”
Some may look back at the long leave of absence Rose took during his ACL recovery and wonder why he didn’t choose the option that would have put him back on the court faster, but it makes sense when you consider his playing style.
The Centers for Orthopedics website says that the meniscus acts as a shock absorber for the tibia and femur bones; given the amount of running, jumping and cutting involved in Rose’s game, one can see why he would want to preserve the part of his anatomy that helps mitigate any long-term damage.
Wade had a similar injury during his Marquette playing days. He chose the removal option and has since admitted to regretting that decision.
Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com quoted Wade saying:
"My knee problems and the things I've dealt with started from that…At that moment, if everyone looked ahead and said, 'Dwyane's going to have a 20-year career, maybe we should do something different,' maybe I wouldn't have [knee issues]…”
It's not easy to forget when Wade was "Flash" during the Heat’s 2005-06 championship run.
Rose’s own skill set involves many of those quick cuts and high jumps his Eastern Conference rival was once known for.
By taking the surgical repair route, the former MVP could avoid having similar chronic knee issues later in his career, but his road back is definitely a longer, more strenuous journey.
Two different rehabilitation guides, one from Massachusetts General Hospital and another from the University of Wisconsin, both relay that the knee will start off immobilized in a brace for as many as four weeks.
Increase in activity will be very gradual, and it will be a full three months before work can begin on restoring the knee to pre-injury function.
But this is all familiar territory.
The three-time All-Star knows what to expect and is more than ready to meet the challenge.
Michael Wilbon of ESPN.com points out that Rose's resolve is unshaken.
During a December 5 press conference he shared his optimistic mindset: "I'm all right. My faith is good. My spirit is good. I'll be back."
Is the Worst Over?
Two major mishaps in such a short span could easily open the door for the term “injury prone” to be applied to Rose.
Both the ACL and meniscus injuries were traumatic ones, a result of nothing more than the body’s reaction to sudden movement.
Carroll declares that unless someone does a genetic profile on Rose to find out if he is biologically predisposed to these kinds of happenings, then it is pointless to pin on such a label.
Of course it’s hard to avoid thinking about the likelihood of another major setback occurring; the immediacy of these injuries makes it hard to ignore.
According to the University of Wisconsin’s ACL Rehab Protocol, the chances of re-tearing a surgically repaired ACL stand between five and 15 percent.
That may seem reassuring, but that same report also states that the odds of injuring the ACL on the opposite knee are between 10 and 22 percent.
It is admitted that the reasons for this increased likelihood aren’t entirely known and may be because of factors like exertion due to compensation while the surgically repaired knee heels.
As for the meniscus, the University Orthopedic Center asserts that the probability of re-tearing repaired cartilage ranges from 20 to 30 percent.
No data could be found concerning whether or not this gives rise to an escalated proclivity of sustaining similar harm on the other leg.
Carroll provides great clarification about these numbers:
These studies use a broad population. Athletes from the high school and college levels are included, as well as multiple sports. Studies like these don’t help much. You’d be much better off finding data that focused specifically on NBA players.
The writer could not find any studies or articles that covered NBA players tearing the same ACL more than once, but did come across an article written by Sean Deveney of SportingNews.com that touched down on some players who had post-op meniscus complications.
In that same article, Dr. Derek Ochiai, an orthopedic surgeon interviewed by Deveney, also states that the chance of Rose completely healing is not exactly a foregone conclusion; in fact, there is more of an 80-85 percent chance he mends completely.
If he does suffer some residual issues, there may be a need for another repair surgery or having part of the meniscus removed.
So, should there be more concern for Derrick Rose going forward?
Carroll says that there should be no more apprehension than usual:
These kinds of injuries are traumas and you cannot stop those. Rose’s style of play lends to that trauma. He will be no more or less damaged goods after this surgery than he was after the ACL surgery. His future depends more on the success of the surgery and rehab.
The Return, Part 2
Carroll makes a fine point.
It was apparent that Rose’s in-game flow was bit out of sync in the season’s early going, but his knee did not hinder any of his movement.
The quickness and explosiveness were still there even if they weren’t happening with the frequency that they once were.
Complete domination was just an inevitable matter of when, a phenomena that became more imminent with each game played.
Reflecting on his bodily capabilities before this second setback, it should be encouraging that with another fruitful convalescence, Rose should still be able to perform like an elite player.
In fact, since he is able to sit out another campaign, that’s less wear and tear on his frame which may help him stay productive in later seasons.
Even Dr. Ochiai from the Deveney article thinks Rose is just a victim of unfortunate circumstance:
“An ACL tear in one knee, and a meniscus tear in the other, that is not necessarily connected. Looking at Derrick Rose, I would say that it is purely bad luck at this point. Part of it is, athletes are bigger, faster, more explosive, but that puts more pressure on the knee because of the way they play—their movement, their cutting, their change of direction.”
It’s an assumed risk each time he, or any other athlete, suits up and goes out to play.
While Bulls fans have reason to feel dejected, the melancholy should not linger.
Rose's demeanor is that of a player looking forward to having another opportunity to deliver for his team and fans while proving doubters wrong.
Bleacher Report's Miami Heat Lead Writer Ethan Skolnick has a great piece recapping a team press conference where the star warns against counting him out.
As Chicago's native son succinctly put it: "You can be a fool if you want to."
If last year was anything, it was an example of Rose’s determination to recover and come back just as good as before.
Even though bad things have happened to one of the NBA’s good guys, they are merely bumps in the road.
The future has yet to be written; don’t close the book on Rose just yet.