CHICAGO – LeBron James qualified his answer even before he gave it: He’s no doctor – doesn’t even play one on TV. He has no insight into the inner workings of Derrick Rose‘s left knee or the Chicago Bulls’ decision-making process. So his views on Rose’s continuing comeback are simply as interested observer. And fan.
“I love competing against the best and he’s one of the best,” James said Wednesday morning after the Miami Heat’s shootaround at United Center. The streaking Heat are in town, looking to extend their run of consecutive victories to 28 against, when healthy, one of their primary Eastern Conference rivals.
Alas, Rose, the Bulls’ explosive point guard, will extend his streak of consecutive regular-season games missed to 70, owing to his injury in Game 1 of the playoffs last spring and his ongoing rehab both physically and psychologically. Chicago without Rose, and with a few other banged-up rotation players (Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton), will be facing a Miami team that expects star Dwyane Wade back after a two-game absence.
James doesn’t share Bulls fans’ angst or impatience over Rose’s delayed 2012-13 debut, but he said he does miss Rose as an opponent and as an entertainer.
“The NBA as a whole, as a competitor, you miss him on the floor,” James said. “Even off days, not being able to watch him out on the floor for the Bulls, it sucks. But health is No. 1 in our league. We’ll see him back soon.”
Soon, of course, is open-ended, with speculation in Chicago running from “any day now” to “the start of 2013-14 training camp.”
Echoing comments he has made previously this season, James said: “No one else is playing for him. No one else has to put on the uniform and play at a high level. He’s the guy who has to do that. When he’s confident and he’s ready, he should come back. Before that, he shouldn’t worry about it.”
Actually, James might be considered something of an authority on NBA health, when you look at his durability through 10 professional seasons. He has played in all 70 of the Heat’s games this season and 759 of a possible 792 since he got to Cleveland in 2003-04.
He has ranked in the league’s top 10 in minutes per game every season and, among active players, his career mark of 39.8 ranks No. 1. All-time, he’s sixth behind Wilt Chamberlain (45.9), Bill Russell (42.3), Oscar Robertson (42.2), Allen Iverson (41.1) and Elgin Baylor (40.0).
In terms of games, James never has played a full 82 but then, he never has missed more than a total of seven (2007-08) in a season. He missed six in his final season with the Cavs and seven, total, since taking his reliability to South Beach.
For a player climbing up the all-time ratings list, according to both tangible and intangible standards, it’s another way for James to distinguish himself. Among others on the NBA’s various Mt. Rushmores, however you carve them, it is rare for a franchise player to avoid a season of double-digit games lost to injury.
Michael Jordan played all 82 games NINE times in his career, but he was limited to just 18 games in 1985-86 when he broke his foot in his second season. Lakers great Magic Johnson missed 45 games in his second NBA season, never played in 82 and of course retired prematurely at 32. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time minutes leader (57,466) and No. 2 in games behind Robert Parish, still had seasons in which he logged only 62, 74 and 76 (twice) appearances.
L.A.’s Kobe Bryant has had four full seasons in which he played fewer than 70 games and four more between 70-80. Boston’s Larry Bird, who developed chronic back issues, played in only six games in 1988-89 and 105 of 164 games in his final two seasons. Charles Barkley, from age 29, missed 155 games over his last seven seasons. Patrick Ewing began breaking down at age 35 and missed the 1999 Finals completely.
Given their size and frames, Utah great Karl Malone might serve as James’ gold standard – the Jazz power forward played in all 82 games 10 times and had seven more seasons in which he appeared in at least 80. His Utah sidekick, John Stockton, was even more remarkably durable. Stockton played in every game 16 times, and missed only four games (all in 1989-90) in his first 12 seasons.
Rose? After appearing in 240 of a possible 246 games his first three seasons, the Bulls star played only 39 of 66 through multiple dings last season. And now he’s about to go 0-for-70, possibly 0-for-82.
So making sure he’s really, really healthy before he returns, as advised by a rival who might know more about this health stuff than he lets on, makes a lot of sense.