It's a debate that knows no bounds. Since Rose was medically cleared to play in early March, his continued absence has become increasingly conspicuous and the number of his detractors has grown exponentially.
The support that Rose continues to garner from his Chicago Bulls teammates (like Noah) and head coach Tom Thibodeau has shielded him from absolute condemnation, but it hasn't safeguarded him from ridicule entirely.
There are still outsiders who believe Rose should remain shelved for the rest of the year, while others simply believe that it's time he play. There are even some who have questioned his manhood or devotion to his team and city.
And then there are those who remain silent, for fear of being lambasted. They don't want their honesty to be construed as misplaced hate or utter ignorance. Which is a tragedy, something Phil Taylor of Sports Illustrated has acknowledged previously.
"The rest of us wonder why, but we hesitate to ask the question too loudly," Taylor writes, "afraid to seem too focused on the player and not the person, too unsympathetic to his recuperation."
That we've reached a point where opinions and emotions are being cloaked to save face troubles me. Like really concerns me.
Why should anyone be afraid to speak up? Because their takes aren't shared by the general public? Because they haven't had Rose's injury? Because it's insensitive?
Snarky sentiments that question Rose as a man bother me. Few people (if any) are able to understand the psychological warfare he is internally waging. To call him a coward or self-indulged truant is unintelligible. And we're also passed that point.
This is no longer about Rose regaining his explosion (we know he can dunk), getting his mind right or even what his teammates are saying. This is about the Bulls, about what they have the opportunity to do. About what they need. And what they need is for Rose to suit up. Like now.
Rumors of his eventual return have run amok for the last two months and have yet to cease. The latest, according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld, has Rose suiting up for Game 3 against the Miami Heat. To that I say: Do it.
Chicago is engaged in a grudge match in the second round of the NBA playoffs with Miami. After watching the brutality that took place in Game 2, this seems like the kind of series he shouldn't play in. It's too physical for someone work their way back from a torn ACL.
By assuming that stance, we're once again missing the point. The Bulls don't need Derrick Rose the player—though that sure as hell wouldn't hurt. They need Derrick Rose the symbol.
Any and all cynics who maintain the Bulls don't have a puncher's chance of making any more noise without Rose clearly haven't watched them play. They won 45 games during the regular season and navigated a callous seven-game series against the Brooklyn Nets without Rose. Now the've stolen home-court advantage from the reigning NBA champion Heat, once again without Rose.
We're fooling ourselves if we believe they don't have more fire in them. Depletion hasn't stopped them yet, and it's not going to prevent them from fighting on now. They're resilient. Noah will play on one foot for as long as he has to and Nate Robinson would sooner have surgery in between timeouts than sit on the bench.
That's the point.
Rose is sitting on the sidelines—again, cleared to play—watching his teammates battle physical afflictions, putting every last ounce of energy into playing on through what was once considered a lost season.
He's watching the Bulls contend without him, and make no mistake that's they're doing. Tell me, if they somehow managed to unseat the Heat (unlikely as it seems), do you honestly not see them having a chance facing the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers, against who they were a combined 7-1 during the regular season?
Lost in this entire Rose debacle is the Bulls, what they've done and what they still have the opportunity to do. And further buried beneath the depths of the Rose narrative is his now misguided perception of what a return really means.
How can he just sit there and watch this? Because he's not mentally ready? Scared? I could appreciate that, but fear isn't enough anymore.
Many portray athletes like Rose as some version of a superhero—fearless. But they're not. They're just like anyone else. They have fears and doubts. They are afraid.
More than one year removed from a devastating injury, it makes sense that Rose would be anxious over his impending return. That anxiety, though, isn't going anywhere. If he's scared now, that fear will only manifest into something greater leading into next fall.
Conceding to such angst will do nothing. You have to confront it. On some level, you have to withstand it.
"Right now, I’m not ready," he said prior to Chicago's Game 1 victory over Miami. "I’m just trying to take my time and really, really be smart."
In attempting to be so smart (or remain immersed in fear), Rose has developed a misunderstanding of why he should play and of what the Bulls need from him.
Chicago doesn't need him to come back, play Joakim Noah-like minutes and post MVP stat lines. Eventually the Bulls need that from him, but not right now. This season isn't about that. Rather, it's about elevating his brethren emotionally, kind of like David Lee did.
Lee returned from a hip injury for the Golden State Warriors' Game 6 against the Denver Nuggets, to provide a "morale boost" for his team. He logged just one minute, but it was much to the delight of his teammates and Warriors fanatics.
The result? Golden state beat Denver and advanced on through to the second round of the playoffs.
Rose's return, in front of the Chicago faithful, would do just the same. I'd be shocked if it didn't do more. Seeing him take the floor would provoke the most uplifting of reactions from the fans and further inspire an already galvanized Bulls faction.
It doesn't matter if it's for one minute, five minutes or 20 minutes. Whatever he can give them, he needs to give them. He owes them that much. They've been behind him every step of the way, and it's time he returned the favor by sporting that jersey of his for however long he can.
And just to be clear, no one's lobbying an inquiry into Rose's character or devotion to his team. Not here. We are, however, entitled to question Rose's ability to recognize the gravity of Chicago's situation.
At present, there should be no talk of next season or the future, just of the here and now. Injuries were supposed to cripple the Bulls and send them spiraling into the lottery, but they didn't. They're in the playoffs and in position to do something special, Rose included.
He can set foot on that court. We've seen him do it already. He doesn't need to drop 30 points or dish out 10 assists. He doesn't even need to attempt a shot. But he does need to be there for his team, the way they have been for him.
So long as the Bulls organization is behind Rose, he won't need to answer to the media or fans. He won't need to answer any of us and is instead free to ignore the now prevailing vilification.
For that protection, he owes them. Even if it's just a change clothes. That would be enough.
"It's much better than sitting there in a suit, that's for sure," Lee said of his return.
That's for damn sure. And it's time Rose understood that much.
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