April 28, 2013
Is Chicago turning on Derrick Rose?
It sure seems that way. With the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs against the forgettable Brooklyn Nets, the anti-D-Rose sentiment is growing.
For weeks now, it's been Michael Jordan this and MJ that, and how Jordan came back angry from injury — publicly embarrassing Bulls management to force it to let him play — and he lit up the Boston Celtics for 63 in the playoffs. So why can't Rose?
It's odd that Rose, the 2010-11 MVP, the hometown Chicago kid with the quiet manner and the fast feet and hands, would be treated this way. But it's happening. It's sad, actually.
How can he jump with the ghost of MJ on his back? How can he deal with the pressure of his own expectations, and the demand by fans he grow a pair of fortitudes and get back on the court?
That fans would turn on him is not only astonishing but also revealing. They loved him. And now they're angry. That tells us about the nature of fans and also about the stupidity of Rose's terrible public relations team, which decided to brush off local reporters and curry favor with national media more amenable to being spoon-fed the Rose story as he sees it.
That decision was a mistake. Now the arrogance is hurting him, especially since Bulls fans want only one thing: They want Rose to play. They want him to be great. They want him to be Rose.
Whether he can be the pre-injury Rose they've trapped in their minds, or the weakened Rose that's trapped in his own mind, hasn't been determined. It won't be determined until he walks out on that court and tests his heart before a nation.
Perhaps that's too much to expect. I don't know. I'm not in his head. But the fans are.
And against Brooklyn he's been a no-show. Does that mean — if the Bulls get past this series — that he'll test himself against the mighty Miami Heat? It sets him up to be swatted around by LeBron James. It might demonstrate grit. But is it smart? That's the trouble with life. It's not a shoe commercial.
Fans figure he's been cleared by doctors after that devastating knee injury kept him out all of this season. He's reportedly been dominating in practice. The Bulls definitely need him on the court. And want him in the playoffs now.
I wish his critics would drive down to Rose's old neighborhood, in Englewood, stand on a 63rd Street corner and shout in a loud, clear voice that Rose is a wuss. But that won't happen. Keyboards and microphones — and Twitter accounts with catchy handles and animal cartoons for logos — offer a certain detachment.
The anti-D-Rose sentiment sounds something like this: "He should suck it up and play and grow a pair of (fortitudes). The other guys are hurt. Rose can play. Why doesn't he play?"
It is true that his Bulls teammates are beat up, injured, tired and wasted. It happens to athletes after playing an 82-game regular season, entertaining fans who could never even conceive of what goes on in an NBA game, even if they played in high school 20 years ago.
It's not only in basketball. Fans have wrongly questioned the guts of several Cubs and White Sox pitchers just before the pitchers' arms fell off.
Years ago, I remember some criticizing former White Sox third baseman Joe Crede, whose back was about as strong as yogurt in a paper towel. His brother later wrote me, saying fans have no idea what it takes to get to the big leagues, let alone stay there.
So Rose sits in a suit, and Chicago turns away, as his teammates demonstrate their own physical courage.
Joakim Noah, the center with his hair in a bun, suffers from excruciating plantar fasciitis. And he plays with high energy and passion. Ever have plantar fasciitis? I did. They put my foot in a boot, and I could barely work. And I don't have to rebound. All I have to do is sit on my butt and move my fingertips.
Taj Gibson is hurt with an injured knee, but still he's pushing it. Kirk Hinrich, brittle as chalk, is playing. Carlos Boozer, who was no fan favorite last year, is having his best and most consistent season as a Bull.
Nate Robinson, the manic and infuriating guard, drives every fan and his coach crazy with his erratic play. When Robinson has the ball, every fan screams, "Wait, wait, wait, no-no-no-no, aw, good job, Nate!"
But they're not Rose. And we're not satisfied.
Other people, not multimillion-dollar basketball players, but fans, sometimes work terrible jobs in awful pain. They can't take time off for fear of losing their jobs.
Consider the butcher with arthritis grinding meat in an icy cooler, the truck driver with the degenerative spine, the office worker on cancer treatments afraid of letting his office know.
So what excuse does an athlete have who's been cleared for duty? Not much of one in a town fueled by what's left of a service economy, yet iconically rooted in blue-collar mythology.
The smart thing to do is not play. The other option is to risk everything, and perhaps lose, while appearing less than his ideal self. But that might be more frightening than further injury for a competitor like the quiet kid from Englewood.
There's only one person who can answer it: D-Rose.
Answer them, Derrick. Answer them.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC