In 2013, many people tore down Derrick Rose. He had gotten injured the previous year’s playoffs, and that ACL tear that has haunted his career (alongside a meniscus tear and other injuries) since.
He was called many things: weak, scared, pansy, etc. Bulls’ doctors had cleared him to play in March of 2013, but he didn’t play then, nor did he play in the playoffs. The Bulls lost in the second round to the eventual champions, LeBron James’ Miami Heat.
Criticism came from many sources. Local sports radio, national sports radio, blogs, fans, etc. It wasn’t a complete chorus; many Bulls fans (myself included) felt it was more prudent to take it slow, especially after an injury that has commonly had a two-year recovery time (meaning that the second year they’re playing, but they’re not 100%). Regardless, narratives were written: Derrick Rose was soft, or Derrick Rose didn’t care about his team or the fans, or Derrick Rose is weak-minded and can’t be trusted as a franchise player.
This was then all exacerbated by the fact that Rose endured further injuries, that expectations were very high for a Bulls team that was legitimately great when healthy, and the fact that Rose was the youngest MVP of all time (and had a contract that paid him like one). This only further wrankled fans who had already formed their “soft” perception of Rose, regardless of any real evidence.
Where Rose’s career goes from here is impossible to predict; he has had one of the most tumultuous careers in NBA history already, and he’s only 27. However, based on a number of events that have occurred since, it is wholly unfair to continue to hold the 2012-2013 ACL injury (and the subsequent handling of his return) against him.
He was right to sit out, despite Bulls doctors clearing him. He was right because it’s rather obvious: the Bulls’ training and medical staff has a proven track record of being inept, careless, and/or downright irresponsible when it comes to their job.
Rose choosing to trust himself over the Bulls’ doctors has proven to be a smart decision.
Let’s take a walk through some of the more alarming failures that the Bulls’ training and medical staff has had over the last four years:
- Botched a spinal tap of Luol Deng, after incorrectly diagnosing him with meningitis. He then lost 15 pounds and almost died.
- Told Luol Deng to play with a stress fracture (even called him out to the press), then a second opinion showed the fracture, which was a four-month injury
- Allowed Omer Asik to play with a broken leg in the playoffs; he lasted two minutes, didn’t play again for 6 months.
- Botched an appendectomy of Nikola Mirotic, causing him to lost 15 pounds.
- Ongoing, never-ending complications with Joakim Noah’s knees. Despite ongoing issues, still played too often and never was given enough rest or recovery time.
- Consistently optimistic timelines for injury returns that are rarely met.
- Just more than a week ago, Jimmy Butler injured his knee after injuring it previously, but was cleared to play and played a crazy amount of minutes (while leading the league in minutes over the whole season). Predictably, the injury was initially considered “minor” until there was a second test, now he’s out until the playoffs.
That is a reasonably frightening list, and it’s nowhere near complete. This is an organization that has consistently pressured its athletes to come back from injury too soon, and has allowed players to repeatedly play through injuries, to a point of near-malpractice.
First: hard to say any of it was necessarily Tom Thibodeau’s fault, if only because these trends of poor diagnosis and over-playing have continued since his exit. Maybe it wasn’t Thibs, but rather a medical and training staff that is giving the coaches poor information? That’s a more reasonable explanation. It’s either that, or an example of blatant hypocrisy from a front office who claimed over-playing as a reason for firing Thibodeau, but has inexplicably allowed the same behavior from their hand-picked successor.
However, the point: Derrick Rose was correct in not trusting this organization’s medical or training staff. Chances are he had his own doctor, and that doctor told him that coming back from an ACL too early can be disastrous (and there’s a long enough list of NBA players who can tell you from experience).
The narrative of Derrick “not being tough” never rang true to me. In the same year he tore his ACL, he had also had a bunch of other minor injuries, almost all of which he played through. He was one of the most fouled and contacted players in the NBA (due to how often and quickly he drives the lane), playing through a modicum of injuries, and we’re calling him soft after tearing an ACL? A guy who got elbowed so hard in practice that it broke his orbital bone, and he missed what, two weeks? He couldn’t see straight for over a month and a half afterwards, and we’re calling that guy soft? Bullshit.
Derrick Rose isn’t perfect. He’s made some dumb decisions and has said some dumb things, for sure. MVP-level Derrick Rose is gone, and even just All-Star Derrick Rose or Above-Average Starter Derrick Rose are probably unlikely. But saying “no” to the Bulls training staff was not the wrong move, given their previous and future track record.