CHICAGO – Relationships, they say, only go as far as the least committed person. And right now, Chicago Bulls fans feel more committed than Derrick Rose sounds.
There’s the disconnect. There’s the source of the angst and polarization over Rose’s comments earlier this week in which he seemed to put his life after basketball ahead of his $95 million contractual obligations to the Bulls.
That’s really what it comes down to, doesn’t it? No one begrudges Rose the opportunity to attend his son’s graduation 15 years from now or attend business meetings without feeling “all sore,” in his words. But if that’s his priority – and his comments after practice Tuesday made it sound that way – then he was either impossibly naïve or borderline insulting to the people who pay that massive salary.
That would be Bulls management, of course, but also the people who buy tickets, wear No. 1 jerseys and support the advertisers from the team’s telecasts even if they do not or cannot pony up the bucks necessary to attend games at United Center.
The “Inside The NBA” TNT crew lit up Rose on their pregame show before the Bulls-Raptors game Thursday night, with Charles Barkley in particular calling him out for the “stupid” remarks. Even if you wring out the natural tendency of retired athletes to go too often to the “back in my day” stance, what’s left is this simple choice:
If Rose is that worried about anticipated aches and pains when his toddler son graduates from high school or limping down the aisle with a future daughter, he can make this contract his last. Or retire now.
What he can’t do – and retain the adoration of Bulls fans and the respect of many peers – is modulate his performance and availability while drawing his current paychecks.
People both inside and outside the organization are quick to tell us what Rose “meant to say.” Reggie Miller, working the game Thursday night with Kevin Harlan, sounded eager to defend him too, based on a strong performance against the Raptors. But Rose’s words speak for themselves, especially after he doubled down on them in Toronto after shootaround and again in a TNT sit-down with Rachel Nichols. The young man is 26 years old, he can speak his mind and the fact is, management has done him no camera-savvy favors by sheltering him from the typical media demands on a franchise player.
That he said it in the midst of a minor injury inconvenience – two sprained ankles that were said to be getting better over the past two weeks, until his late-game breakdown Thursday – doesn’t much matter. This was big-picture stuff, going beyond the present to raise questions about the past (as in, could Rose really have come back in 2012-13 after doctors cleared him?) and the future.
Several Bulls teammates have voiced support for Rose, saying his commitment to the team is clear. But that’s dog-bites-man – show me a teammate who would be quoted on the record challenging the hometown star.
What rankles some fans is what Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith talked about – lots of people who work harder than Rose go home each night to a shack. Others, whether they know it or not, do not like having peeled back the curtain between them and their sports passions. How can Rose not care as much as we do?
Rose admitted to Nichols that he was a more reckless player in his first two years in the NBA. He still was reckless and available enough in Year 3 to become the league’s youngest Most Valuable Player ever. But two serious knee injuries, effectively wiping out the past two seasons, appear to have forced on Rose a sense of mortality. That matters to him and his, hopefully for another 70 years or so.
People who look to Rose, the Bulls and to sports as an outlet from their own demanding, tedious, perhaps tiring lives think mostly about the next 10 or 12 years. Had Rose said he was taking extra precautions now – and games off – so that he might still be playing for the Bulls a decade from now, or that November doesn’t matter if he can be healthy in April to chase a title, no one would have said boo about Pooh.
That’s not what he said. He gave folks a sense that he cares less about the here and now than they do, and that’s the first pull on a thread that unravels this great sports fascination.