Unlike LeBron James, this player never deigned to forsake the franchise that drafted him. Unlike Kevin Love, he hasn’t plotted to buy his ticket out of town. Unlike others, his face hasn’t appeared in court rooms or above police booking numbers.
Unlike scores of his basketball brethren, this man’s fall from limelight had nothing to do with coach beefs or bad decisions.
Of course, the speculation surrounding Rose has more to do with genuine concern than pointed criticism. Which, by one way of thinking, is bound to happen when you miss the vast majority of the past two seasons recovering from a pair of knee injuries.
The relationship we’ve forced with Rose, especially those of us in the media, has been one of protection, rooted in a genuine worry that this physics-defying basketball maestro might be taken from us—formally and finally—far too soon.
Thankfully, the past month has been something of a refresher on Rose’s ultimate potential, centering around the Chicago Bulls point guard’s participation with Team USA as it vies for gold at the FIBA World Cup in Spain.
Rose’s play was so strong, in fact, that it prompted Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski to tell ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell, "I think [Rose] is exceptional in every way…There was a buzz right away because it was basically his saying, 'Look, I'm not just back. I'm back at a level that's elite.'"
But as the team’s intersquad scrimmages gave way to friendly tune-ups for FIBA, Rose’s rust began to show through. The floaters sailed a bit wide, the lead-ahead passes were just off and the aerial acrobatics—a Rose signature for as long as he’s donned NBA garb—noticeably ill timed.
On August 26, Krzyzewski officially tapped Irving as the team’s starter for its final pre-FIBA friendly against Goran Dragic and Slovenia. Since then, the media microscopes have only become more intensely trained, much to the chagrin of Rose himself.
Just how tired is Rose of the constant check-ins? According to ESPN.com, Krzyzewski has ceased asking for updates, saying that he sensed "a part of [Rose] that's like, 'Quit asking me how I feel, I'm good.'"
To be fair, Rose has seen plenty of action (17.5 minutes per game compared to Irving’s 23.5), owing in no small part to a helter-skelter tournament structure whereby teams are forced to play five round-robin games in six days.
The production, on the other hand, hasn't exactly been encouraging.
But the spotlight on Rose goes well beyond Team USA’s gold-medal gambit. In three short weeks, Chicago’s floor general will arrive at Bulls training camp awash in expectations of a different sort: parlaying the acquisition of Pau Gasol, Euroleague superstar Nikola Mirotic and sharpshooting rookie Doug McDermott into the franchise’s first NBA Finals appearance since 1998.
The Bulls didn’t make these moves to improve by a handful of games or a seeding spot; they made them because they still believe—as do most of Chicago’s fans—that Derrick Rose is still a cornerstone-caliber player.
Viewed from this perspective, it only makes sense that the attendant scrutiny would be so searing. When it feels like your best player is perpetually one freak play or bad landing away from another disaster, an air of doubt-ridden doting is bound to arise.
Writing at Lake Show Life, Valarie Morales poetically captures how a looming sense of dread from fans has begun to color not just how they feel about Rose but how they watch him:
Fear weighs a ton. What surrounds the United States World Cup team, what is hamstrung around their precious necks choking off oxygen has nothing to do with how good this team may be. Or if Spain playing on Spain soil is better because of home country advantage. That is a secondary story in the United States, nationalism be damned. Occupying the World Cup narrative is the appearance of Derrick Rose. How does he look? How will he play? Will he…get hurt?
This naturally invites the question: Is it fair? Even granting society’s built-in connectedness, where everyone and everything is subject to exposure and scrutiny almost as a matter of fact, how much is too much?
For many a Bulls fan, however, the questions have to do less with the facts of Rose’s health than some weirdly held belief that their star point guard—a kid as tough as the South Chicago neighborhood from whence he came—missed an opportunity to return from what was, by all accounts, a much more minor torn MCL last season.
Needless to say, it’s a barb Rose has no choice but to ignore.
"I can't get mad at that, man," Rose recently told Friedell. "People are going to say anything. For me, just try to take and try to use it when I work out. Use it as motivation, and try to prove people wrong. I know how special I am as a player. And I know what I still can do."
It’s the only response worth offering, really, even if it masks an all-too-human hurt, wrought from the knowledge that the same fans to whom you’ve given so much have—out of sheer lack of patience and prudence—taken to looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Just don’t expect FIBA to be his point’s proving ground. The stateside stakes are simply too high for Rose to let his run with Team USA define his next trajectory, noble as the podium pursuit may be.
Instead, Rose should state his case the only way he knows how—by being so impossibly good that the only question left for us to ask won’t be why or where or when, but the one that meets the best of basketball feats: How?