April 28th 2012, a day that part of my sports soul was fractured. My Chicago Bulls were playing their first playoff game on the road to which I hoped would be an NBA championship. Derrick Rose the leader and superstar of our team had followed up his MVP season from 2011 to a season that was marred with frequent injuries. He had missed significant time through out the year, but the team had come together in his absence and had played better than ever, with Rose back and healthy in time for the playoffs I honestly felt that it was our year. The game was never really close, so much so that I actually stepped away from the game to go take care of an important task, and after all there’s always Tivo. In the middle of assignment, I got an ESPN alert, it read "Derrick Rose leaves game with knee injury". There was panic in my chest as I raced to my tv frantically fast forwarding until I saw it: Derrick driving the lane, leaping into the air, grimacing in pain and landing on the opposite leg. I’ve been a sports fan long enough to know it was an ACL tear, maybe it was the fan in me just going to the worst case scenario but I knew it. A text later that night confirmed my worst fears. My soul hurt, not only for my team but for a young man’s career, of all the people this could happen to he deserved this the least. What about his future? What about his career? Part of me felt guilty, that somehow my not being there to watch the bulls live had done this, because my cheers somehow are what makes the difference when my team wins versus when they lose, irrational sports fan.
Since that time I can honestly say that I’ve felt more conflicted about Derrick and his recovery than any other athlete. When I heard it was an ACL tear my first thought was that he is done for the entirety of next season. I thought he should take the maximum amount of time to heal, don’t jeopardize his future to come back early. Then #thereturn campaign started, seeing Derrick work so hard to try and come back this season started to give me hope. "You don’t understand, I would literally die on that court", a statement Derrick made in one of the episodes of the return video series. The first time I heard it I got chills, I’ll even admit I got misty eyed, here was a real life superhero, such he is "just an athlete" but he carries the hope of the entire city of Chicago, of Bulls fans everywhere. The decades since Jordan retired from the Bulls up until they drafted Derrick have been filled with the longing to return to greatness, the winning culture that we knew and loved. Here was our champion down but not defeated, rising to meet the challenges and fulfill the unspoken promise to bring a championship back home to Chicago. But the promise of #thereturn has not be fulfilled yet.
As the 10 month anniversary of his surgery passes I find myself more lost than ever about how I feel about the injury and the subsequent return. I originally was fine with him setting out the season but knowing that he is practicing daily with the team makes me feel a little slighted. Some argue that when he has been cleared and can no longer re-aggravate his knee injury that he should play, but then I find myself automatically playing devils advocate and saying "Well only he knows his body and nobody should rush him lest he cut his career short". His brother spoke out saying that the originations lack of moves to surround Derrick with quality talent might impact whether or not Derrick came back this season and I found myself cheering and glad that he was placing pressure on the organization. Yet when others supported that stance I once again found myself playing devils advocate and saying "They are paying him to play, he is an employee and as such he owes it to his company to work (play) when he can do so with out further hurting himself".
It is commonly known that the word fan is derived from fanatic, which is defined as possessing extreme or excessive intense uncritical enthusiasm, zeal, or devotion. I would say a lot of us fits that description myself included and its hard sometimes to find the proper perspective when we care so passionately about something. I find myself even forgetting how awesome Derrick Rose actually was. Watching youtube highlights no longer entices me and I am no longer outraged when people don’t mention Derrick as being one of the best point guards in the game. Its akin to being in a long distance relationship and after being apart for a while, you forget how a persons voice sounds or how they look without being reminded. The Bulls have been mediocre for so long it’s easy to slip back into the doldrums as a way of NBA life. If I’m brutally honestly I can admit that my faith in Derrick is shaken. Is the kid that said "I would die on that court" still in there, the kid who could get the Bulls wins by sheer force of will, the kid who would cry after regular season losses because he cared that much about winning; or is he just like most athletes that take their foot off the gas once they get paid? I honestly don’t know the answer to that, my opinion on that along with everything else about Derrick continues to flip flop the longer he remains healthy enough to practice but not healthy enough to play.