Deconstructing Bernstein: How we talk about Derrick Rose

Jonathan Daniel

On Dan Bernstein's column on Derrick Rose, and how Chicago talks about its homegrown superstar.

You get the sense that Dan Bernstein doesn't think of himself as Chicago's answer to Howard Stern or the departed Jay Mariotti so much as he does the next Mike Royko. Bernstein is supposed to be the smart guy on Chicago sports radio, and over his 18-year run at WSCR 670 The Score, he's rarely let you forget it.

Bernstein has been recycling through the same schtick alongside Terry Boers on local airwaves since 1995. The principle tenets of the show have largely remained unchanged. They're mocking their own callers incessantly, always and forever. Their signature segment is still the aptly titled "Who Ya Crappin'?". And Bernstein still talks about injuries and the things that relate to them like his Duke degree made him a medical professional instead of a glorified shock jock. He's not quite a bubbling idiot on the level of Mike North or Mancow Muller, but his own sense of self-importance is no less palpable. I suppose he's good at what he does, even though 'what he does' is create an almost unlistenable show aimed directly at waving his degree in the face of your drunk uncle. He's not so much an asshole as he is an unlikable, pompous blowhard.

It's been nearly a week since Bernstein gained national recognition for his hot sports take on Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. People are still talking about it. On Monday, Tomas Rios took to Sports on Earth and cited the column as one example of why Rose should want out of his hometown. Bernstein's words have essentially been reblogged by NBC and CBS and plenty of other major outlets. I've found myself having multiple conversations about it in the last few days -- in person! with real people! I'm guessing there's a good chance it comes up at Christmas dinner, somewhere following the wall-to-wall Obamacare debate that seems to be threatening the institutionalization of America's family parties.

Bernstein has been critical of Rose since he opted against returning from his ACL injury a year ago, and he used a sourced New York Daily News report from Mitch Lawrence as the news hook for his takedown. That in itself is a problem, because I'm not sure how much stock we can really put in the Daily News report. It's not coming from a local or national reporter, just one of the many New York writers with enough of an outlet to create a stir. The crux of Lawrence's report, that Rose isn't thrilled by a potential rebuilding effort, could simply be read as a desire to want his team to keep Luol Deng, which makes sense. Here, the Lawrence report has been blown up into something that makes it look like Rose is causing a shitstorm behind the scenes and trying to assume power over player personnel. It's a bad look and one that doesn't really pass the sniff test to me for a million different reasons. I don't think Derrick Rose is about to the tell the Bulls to trade for Walter Davis, like Michael Jordan did 22 years ago.

There are some points in Bernstein's column that are worth recognizing, but there's one major problem: it's poor writing. It's easy to read his screed as racist even if I don't really think it is. The tone makes people uncomfortable. What could have raised valid points about frustration with Rose that many Bulls fans are feeling instead comes off like a Deerfield-raised white man calling a young, ghetto-raised black man dumb. That Bernstein says all of it with zero empathy for Rose's upbringing is the column's biggest sin of all. This column isn't just tone deaf, it's lacking a functional beating heart at the center.

The truth is, the Derrick Rose saga -- and, fuck, it really has become a saga -- is not black and white. There's always a desire to deem one side right and one side wrong, but I don't think that's the appropriate reaction here. There's layers to this shit. As such, I wanted to take a look at Bernstein's main arguments and see if they actually hold water.

Rose is bad at communicating

This is undoubtedly true, to the extent that the NBA had to create a rule solely because of the awkward and self-damaging way Rose and his camp handled his rehabilitation last season. The problem, again, is that Bernstein just isn't a good writer.

"It doesn’t help anything that Rose is not among the brightest bulbs," Bernstein writes. "The quiet superstar is quiet not because he is naturally self-effacing, but because he is bad at talking." Bernstein says it like it's Rose's fault he was raised by a single mother in an incredibly poor and dangerous area instead of coming from a supremely wealthy northside suburb like Deerfield, where he was raised. It's not a good look.

The point may still stand, though. Rose could have avoided so much of this by just telling the Bulls to rule him out last season. He didn't do that, instead insisting there was a chance he could wake up one day and feel like playing. He said this even during the playoffs, when it became clear he wasn't coming back. It's why the Bulls couldn't rule him out themselves -- they wanted Rose to play, after all. This was Rose's biggest misstep of all last season, and something he deserves to take criticism for. It created a scenario in which many people in this city really believed Rose was going to come back in the playoffs after not playing the entire season, first against the Nets and then against the Heat, like that really would have been a good idea.

Still, it's not the Bulls at fault here in my estimation. They supported Rose all the way through and let him make the decision. Problem was, Rose made the decision without announcing it, for some reason. This is a real reason to knock Rose, only there's a way of doing it without sounding like a bigot.

Is Reggie a problem?

There's no doubt that Reggie Rose has been a positive influence throughout Derrick's life. If you disagree with this, you are both wrong and show a Bernstein-ian lack of empathy.

"Reggie Rose is a clown, using the guise of brotherly love to aggrandize himself after a failed career as both player and coach that was marked by bizarre, immature behavior," Bernstein writes. One sentence before, Reggie is described as "an uneducated oaf of an older brother". Again, you'd have to be blind not to see what's so wrongheaded about this.

But is the point valid? It might be. While D. Rose has made his anti-recruiting stance a guiding ethos in his life, Reggie has criticized the Bulls for not getting Derrick more help. If Derrick really needs more help (more on that later), it is partially the responsibility of the superstar to help attract it, instead of posturing like he's openly opposed to the idea of co-headlining. I do think that it might be a problem to worry about in the future with the Bulls -- Rose really does come off like he wants to be the man during the Bro Era of NBA ball when superstars want to play with each other. Oh well. It's really not something worth arguing over right now because the opportunity has not presented itself. It's just weird, that's all. Criticizing him for it is mostly a byproduct of bubbled over frustration from Derrick's injuries.

Did the Bulls do Derrick wrong?

This isn't an argument in Bernstein's column, rather a response by many who took issue with it. Since so much of this saga has been black and white -- are you on Team Rose or Team Bulls? -- this complaint has been repeated a whole bunch by people staunchly in Rose's corner. I disagree with it.

There's two parts at play here: a) the media leak that Rose was cleared last season, and b) the value of the roster around Rose.

The second part just doesn't check out: how can you knock the Bulls for not being good enough when they never had a chance to show how good they really were? This will be the third straight postseason the Bulls won't be able to compete with their full team. They had one crack at Miami and lost in five close games during their first season under Tom Thibodeau in 2011. If they weren't robbed of a chance in 2012 and 2013 and 2014, there's a possibility this conversation would be a moot point.

As for the report that Rose was cleared -- broke by ESPN Chicago's Melissa Isaacson on March 9 -- I don't have any issue with it. Of course Rose was cleared. Even if it didn't come out publicly, it would have been widely (correctly) assumed.

An ACL tear is a very significant injury, but the procedure to fix it is routine. Derrick Rose is not the first or the last star athlete to tear his ACL -- this happens to several NBA players a year. The timetable is always the same, around nine or 10 months before the player is cleared by doctors and can resume playing again. The problem was that Rose didn't want to play. He was too deep in his own head and didn't have confidence in his abilities. He's always been Superman throughout his career, and the thought of not being Superman was terrifying to him. He would rather not play than play at something less than his full self.

Just one man's opinion here and I'm not even sure if it's a point making anymore, but I always thought Rose's decision not to play last year was the wrong one. It just didn't make a lot of sense. He should have played when the doctors told him he could, because that's what basketball players do: they play basketball. It's not about his paycheck or what he owes to his teammates or anything else. It's about the fact that his fears were largely irrational and it's clear now that the extended rehab didn't help him whatsoever. He was literally last in the NBA in field goal percentage before going down for the second straight season, only 10 games into the campaign. 10 games!

So, the idea that the Bulls had to hold is hand and shield him from the cold winds of reality by doing all they could to protect the fact that he was cleared to play is a nonsense argument to me. Part of the problem with Rose is that everyone treats him like a child. He's not. He's a grown-ass man. Part of being an adult is realizing your decisions have consequences. Rose made a decision not to play last year; he faced consequences in the form of criticism. It's nothing the dude can't handle, and we shouldn't exactly feel bad for him (in regards to the criticism, sympathy for the injuries in damn near mandatory). Sticks and stones, and all that. The problem is that a second straight season-ending injury has rolled over all of the frustration from last season that should be in the rearview mirror right now. Combine it with all of the garbage Bernstein (and others) projects on Rose, and it's easy to see what makes this such a contentious situation.

There's one point worth making here: all of this -- criticism towards his brother, his recruiting stance, his decision to sit out last season -- goes away if Rose stays healthy and plays well. It won't matter. It also won't matter if Rose can't stay healthy and doesn't play well! No one wants to be recruited by a broken superstar, which is sadly what Rose has become the last two seasons. Derrick Rose didn't want to get hurt!

It's no one's fault. There's so many levels at play here, far beyond the black and white argument Bernstein and others want to make it. It's why Bernstein's column, ultimately, was garbage.

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