Michael Wilbon published an editorial on Thursday saying that Derrick Rose‘s critics were “missing the point.” The thesis of his column could be summarized as, “he is risking his career by coming back too soon and all the fans are selfish for thinking otherwise.” First of all, let’s grant that many fans are being selfish and probably are not all that concerned about Rose’s well-being, so long as he continues playing for the Bulls. Beyond that, Wilbon willfully ignores facts for touchy-feely arguments based on years old examples of knee injuries and un-quantifiable arguments.
Ricky Rubio returns more quickly than Derrick Rose and matches his previous level of play, but that doesn’t count as an example because “his next explosive play will be his last.” Great, let’s eliminate the most pertinent counterexample. He then claims Iman Shumpert, who was injured within days of Rose, is a “shadow of his rookie self.” He must not have noticed that his per 48 minutes points are nearly the same, his shooting percentage is nearly the same, his three point shooting percentage has risen from .306 to .402, his turnovers have almost been cut in half, his rebound rate is up, and he is still tasked with being the defensive stopper on a team that is about to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The main difference is that he has played reduced minutes, which might have something to do with the shifting of roles on a team that had to play without him for a while.
The silly Gilbert Arenas comparison
Wilbon seems rather insistent that Rose is still at risk for injury. I will ignore his very dated examples, from the days when tearing an ACL was much more likely to be a career death sentence, and move on to Gilbert Arenas. Arenas is a puzzling example since he tore his MCL and returned only 6 months post-surgery, following a scream and yell session over his doctor forbidding his return. Arenas never did return to the form of his two best seasons, in which he averaged nearly 30 points. Some of this was due to his MCL (not ACL) injury and more importantly, his very early return. On the other hand, there was another important series of events that Wilbon claims is irrelevant. While Wilbon tries to connect the injury-plagued portion of Arenas’s career and his current obscurity by claiming the issue is “before guns and other crazy issues,” the crazy issues are the reason he is out of the league! He eventually became healthy, was given an enormous contract, and then went crazy. This is all terribly irrelevant when discussing Rose, anyway. He tore his ACL and has not pushed the doctor’s rehabilitation schedule. In fact, he is now on a pace slower than the most pessimistic prognoses from his doctor.
He goes on to say if Arenas’s example is unconvincing, and it is not, I should look at Tim Hardaway. He points out that Hardaway was a top point guard in the NBA, a decent comparison to Rose, before blowing out his knee. Unfortunately, despite remaining a great player, he “wasn’t himself” for years after the injury. Apparently, this is supposed to make me think Derrick should slow things down. Let’s look at Hardaway’s recovery. He missed the entire season after his injury (the 1993-94 season, let’s put this 20 years in the past and remember how much orthopedic surgery has improved in the meantime), which is what he proposes Derrick should do. Despite missing the entire season to recover, Hardaway was never as good again according to Wilbon. So, should Rose skip next year too? Maybe he should retire? He’ll never be the same, after all, according to Wilbon. Hardaway says it took him 11 months before he was mentally and physically ready to play in an NBA game. Rose injured his knee 12 months ago and has been cleared to play for nearly two months. What am I supposed to learn from this example?
Enough with Wilbon’s Silliness, Let’s Get Real
This is all silly, though. Nobody that is pining for Rose’s return is demanding that he play at the MVP caliber he had risen to before the injury, at least not yet. They just want a point guard that can score like Nate Robinson and run an offense like Kirk Hinrich , both feats which can easily be replicated by a recovering Rose. Most would be happy for the version of Rose that has been dominating practice for the past month or longer. Well over a month ago, Rose said that he “can do everything (physically),” according to the Chicago Sun-Times . During a recent Bulls-Nets broadcast on ESPN, a sideline reporter clarified once again that Rose feels perfectly fine physically, but not mentally. Certainly, it would be nice for a star player to be in the right place mentally before he returns. How might he get right mentally? Let’s revisit Tim Hardaway, Wilbon’s shining example: “I had to get to the points where I didn’t fear jumping off my leg… It’s something you just have to go out and do.”
During a recent Bulls-Nets broadcast on ESPN, a sideline reporter clarified once again that Rose feels perfectly fine physically, but not mentally.
The Chicago Sun-Times, who conducted the interview with Hardaway, even clarifies that Hardaway “doesn’t think the timeline has changed much” although “rehabilitation techniques have advanced.” Wilbon also doesn’t mention that this interview was conducted in June 2012, which is probably why it reads more like a call-out of Rose in April 2013 as Hardaway says Rose needs to just play and he will get into the right mindset once again, while clarifying the timetable that Rose is currently on is way too slow. The fluff piece and the comment about recovery timetables not being any quicker than the 11 months it took for Hardaway seems to be trying to anticipate what would have been a disappointingly slow March or early April return for Rose. Now that Rose has exceeded all professional estimates in his recovery, Hardaway just makes Rose look worse than he already does. It speaks to his journalistic skill that Michael Wilbon could selectively quote from that interview to make Rose’s recovery seem logical.
It’s Not about Toughness
Wilbon and I agree on one thing, though: this should not be “a referendum on [Rose's] manhood.” While displays of toughness can be a magnificent part of sports, criticizing Rose for being unmanly is primitive. Nobody should care if he is manly or even tough; any fan of basketball has seen Rose take hit after hit on the way to the hoop and always get back on his feet. His personal story is just as inspiring. This is not about toughness. No matter how much it troubles me, I will also not try to connect Derrick’s manager and brother Reggie’s comments to this situation either, in which he says he would not return to the team because it isn’t good enough if he were Derrick. Instead, I will give Rose enough credit to have simply made a critical error in logic. Not his toughness, not his manhood, not his brother, but his logical capacity is at fault. He has let his emotions, probably fear, override the clear logical case for why he should have been playing over a month ago. There is a clear set of historical and recent examples to show that what he is feeling is normal and the only way for him to overcome it is to go out there and play, as his doctors have requested. He has convinced himself that his situation is too unique for those to matter, but he is wrong.
The Bulls are a game away from advancing to the second round to take on the Miami Heat. Derrick Rose’s mistakes are probably irrevocable now. The playoffs were not the time to return, though I (like Wilbon) will be supportive if he wants to begin his comeback at this inopportune time. This does not make Rose immune from criticism, however. He cost the Chicago Bulls a much more legitimate title shot than the long shot they have now. With expiring contracts and serious cap issues looming, Rose hurts himself as badly as anybody by wasting precious time with a very good basketball team. In two years, with the inevitable loss of Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer and only a season away from losing Joakim Noah, Rose and his fans will look back with regret at an opportunity lost in 2013.