You owed us more.
Derrick Rose, if you sift through the city's anger, blind support, unhappiness and general confusion, you likely will find one overarching emotion: a deep-rooted disappointment.
Throughout Chicago, your story is nearly a refrain, a chorus from us. We know you grew up without a father and were protected, sheltered and smothered by a doting mother and trio of brothers, headlined by the talkative Reggie. We know street hustlers begged and pleaded to grab a piece of you in junior high. We know how you dominated games without scoring points, dictating tempo like pure point guards do while flashing a violently graceful athleticism when least expected. We know. We've known for a long time.
You are Chicago's, you are ours. If you change your number to 25, we'll replace our No. 1s. We buy your shoes, watch your mixtapes, eat your Giordano's, excuse your SAT debacle at Memphis, defend your rep at every juncture and applaud your every step before it's made. We rejoice in the magic of the Bulls' hitting on a 1.7-percent chance to bring our humble hero home to make good. We have watched you grow and we have supported you, unconditionally.
We should have been treated better.
Your vague and perhaps misleading explanations remain my biggest issue. Your season is over but your rabid base is in the woods, confused, subsisting on blind faith until next season. You have given no real answers. We talk in bars, on Facebook, on Twitter. We absorb jabs from friends out of town. We digest and dissect every word you say. We dedicate hours of our lives we never will get back to blogging about you, calling in to talk on the radio but, in the end, we're all just grasping at straws. We're out here, we have been out here and we're pathetic.
(A quick aside: Dear reader, you might be wondering why I have been given any platform, much less this one. Am I a professional athlete, understanding what it's like to return from catastrophic injury? No. Am I a practicing physician referencing first-hand experiences with professional athletes? No. Am I a teammate not willing or wanting to criticize the franchise cornerstone? No. Am I a national voice, perhaps inclined to take the player's side to maintain celebrity relationships? Resoundingly, no. Am I born and raised in Chicago, Derrick's age and a die-hard fan of the city and student of its basketball history? Yes, and that was enough. Now back to Rose.)
If only you had stood up, even two months ago, and said, "Guys, please trust me, but the knee doesn't feel right. I don't want to risk it. #TheReturn will be next year, and better than ever," something as ephemeral as a tweet, with nine characters to spare. Ask Luol Deng if it was difficult to control his message post-spinal tap. He heard the critics, grabbed his phone and fired out a few. The doubters went poof. The city would have stood in unison and applauded. We still might be going.
If you announced before Game 6 against the Nets and said, "Guys, #TheReturn is tonight," scalpers' prices would have quadrupled. Officials might have had to stop the game as we stood in unison and applauded. We still might be going.
Don't you want that moment? Wouldn't that inch you closer to Michael Jordan?
You know what David Lee did in Game 6 of the Warriors' first-round series clincher at home against the Nuggets. Lee had torn his hip flexor only four games earlier. But there he was, checking in. The crowd went insane.
Three standing ovations. Game delayed. He played for 87 seconds. He grabbed a rebound. He checked out. Derrick, he wasn't walking a few days before.
You know what else? David Lee means about 4 percent to Oakland of what you mean to Chicago.
Read this. It's what Lee said to TNT after the game: "I felt like I could go out, especially at home, and energize the crowd a little bit. When I told the guys I was playing, the guys were really enthusiastic. I thought I could help the team, going out there and giving anything I had. That's part of being a leader and that's what I was trying to do."
"You know, all hands on deck. Like I said, I just wanted to give the team anything I could. ... I did what I could."
Joakim Noah was running on needles. Nate Robinson was throwing up. Deng showed up to the Berto Center and could barely breathe. Taj Gibson had the flu. Kirk Hinrich was on crutches. Jimmy Butler was playing every second.
But there you sat, like every game this season, while your teammates fell short.
Don't get it twisted. We're well-aware that you're our present and future, more than any national talking-head would care to recognize. As puzzling and maddening as the process has been, as mistreated as we might feel, we appreciate you taking care of your body. In our greatest and wildest dreams, our body would be your body. We would take care of it too. But we wouldn't have misled our own.
You owed us a human explanation.
But that's over. You mangled this situation. For months, we knew doctors had cleared you. For months, we knew the next step, the final step, in your rehab is to actually play real games. For months, we knew you had been dunking and shooting lefty jumpers from 18 feet. For months, we had heard dozens of observers from multiple outlets, ones with zero rooting interest, shake their heads in disbelief that you look better than ever. For weeks, we knew you had been doing windmills off each leg. For weeks, we know your mental confidence has been at 90 percent.
Chicago loves you, Derrick. In all likelihood, Chicago always will. You're from here, you made it here. You're an athletic marvel, a source of pride, a beacon for the streets, a guiding light above the depths of the Chief Keef culture.
But the next time you take the United Center floor, the next time you take over a possession, a quarter, a half, a game, a series, a season, the next time you attack the lane after a screen, explode off the floor and contort your body in-air like some sort of CGI animation?
We'll be standing, and cheering.
But maybe not as loud as before.
You owed us more.
Rich Mayor, a Chicago native and graduate of Illinois, is an editor in the Tribune's Sports department. He's 25 years old, the same age Derrick Rose will be in October.
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