It’s hard to watch Derrick Rose now — with his dreads flowing, tattoos covering his neck, and still driving fearlessly to the basket — without wondering, what if. What if he never tore his ACL in the playoffs seven years ago? What if he were more durable? What if he didn’t play with such disregard for his body?
Would he already have been an NBA champion? Would he have finished his quest to resurrect the Chicago Bulls? Would he be considered one of the greatest point guards of all time?
Still, Rose keeps going. At age 31, coming off myriad lower-body injuries and becoming a journeyman — a hired gun looking to extend his career for as long as possible — Rose is still in the NBA, still able to get a bucket whenever he wants.
But the body does not allow him to play heavy minutes. It won’t allow him to reach the stardom that was once considered a cinch. Instead, he comes off the bench for the Detroit Pistons and provides instant and reliable offense. He averages 16.4 points in just 26 minutes per game, but his story is much more complex than just another star felled by body betrayal.
Rose could have retired several times. He even contemplated quitting during a stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But he’s still here, telling his story in a recently published book, opening up about the pressure of coming from the Chicago ghettos as the chosen one.
Rose released his autobiography entitled, “I’ll Show You,” in September, a rare opportunity to hear from a reluctant NBA superstar, one of the league’s most mysterious players because his introverted personality never matched his boisterous game.
“[The reaction] has been great. It’s been from kids. Actually when I was doing a book signing there was a lot of people that came up to me telling me that was their first time ever purchasing a book,” Rose told the Globe. “So to hear that, it’s like, damn, from my end I thought about my kids where that’s something they never thought I would open up like that or even consider writing a book. They probably didn’t even know I read books like that. It was just something I wanted on my résumé and it was out the blue.”
Rose has been playing, getting hurt, and then coming back for the past seven years. He tore his ACL during the 2012 playoffs, one season after being named the youngest MVP in league history. He missed all but 10 games over the next two seasons.
By the time he was healthy and ready to push the Bulls to the next level, they were Jimmy Butler’s team and Rose had been relegated to a third option behind Pau Gasol.
He has played with four teams in the past four seasons, still displaying flashes of greatness but unable to sustain dominance because of injuries. Yet instead of walking away, Rose tests his physical limits, hoping his story of perseverance can serve as motivation to others, not only basketball players.
“I’m not trying to be put in a box, so I don’t want any boundaries around me like that. It’s a lot of things I want to do later in my career, but it’s about making that transition at the right time or when the opportunity is right,” he said. “Just knowing I’ve got a lot of people looking up to me so just giving them that courage and that bravery to go out there and take steps they normally wouldn’t take.”
Why does he keep going? Rose has earned $121 million in his career and could easily become a coach or work with younger players.
“It’s about just knowing where I come from. Knowing for one, my history, knowing my ancestors, knowing what they had to fight to get through for the ones that made it over here,” he said. “Knowing what my mom and my family members before her had to endure and knowing that I don’t want my kids to have any excuses when they get older. Of course they’re going to be good financially, privileged, but I don’t want them to come in and dwell over something or with their head down thinking something is too hard. My perspective can help the way they look at certain things.”
Rose’s impact in Chicago is unquestioned. He was one of the greatest to come out of a city that prides itself on basketball greatness. Rose was going to stay home with the Bulls and lead them to multiple championships when he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2008. But just when the Bulls were rising, his left knee gave out on the Wells Fargo Center floor.
Yet his impact on the city and on players too young to remember Michael Jordan is not lost on him.
“It’s unreal, like me and one of my coaches were talking about it. How when we grew up, I was too young to celebrate in the parades when MJ and them were winning,” he said. “So for the kids, you went through the Baby Bulls stage where Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler, they wasn’t that good, and then everything restarted when I made it to the Bulls, it revamped everything. For the kids, he was telling me they look at you in a different way. And I had to think about it yesterday and I was like, ‘Damn, that’s kind of true.’
“I’ll never be the one to brag. That’s just not me. I don’t look at myself like that. It’s just basketball. But to a generation, I’m the player they looked up to that helped them start playing basketball, especially in Chicago and the Illinois area. So to think about that, it’s like, man, I’ve made it a long way, coming up on year 12. I had to replay everything in my mind. I had some great moments that I can really hold on to and cherish, so I’m just blessed and honored that I was able to have those moments and the memories.”
The key for Rose is to cherish the good times, the 50-point games, the playoff appearances, the fantastic finishes at the rim. That has helped him cope with the injuries.
“Everything was happening so quick that the way I climbed up everything was quick and even my crash, the way I feel it was quick. You didn’t see it,” he said. “To know all that I went through and how it built my character, how I persevered through everything, it made me understand who I am, what I stand for, and to understand it’s a whole generation looking up to me in a whole different light.”
These days, Rose constantly has players approach him, telling him they used to play with his Bulls in NBA 2K or saying they modeled their games after him. In a game filled with millennials, Rose is considered old school — an aging player trying to stay relevant, learning how to accept lesser roles and changing offenses, learning how to shoot the three instead of wildly attacking the rim.
“I take it as a challenge and I always say like Kobe [Bryant], he was the one that was able to adapt to every generation, and I’m trying to be that player,” Rose said. “He won championships. We’re not the same player at all, but, as far as the guy that’s in my lane, I feel like for what I went through, every time I step on the floor, I’m making history. Good game. Bad game. Whatever it is. I’m not going to be the last Derrick Rose — a player who went through multiple injuries, was at the top of his game, I’m not going to be the last one.”
That cute little boy sitting next to Rose at the podium during the 2015 playoffs is now 7-year-old Derrick Rose Jr., who now has his own recollections of dad playing in the NBA. That keeps dad going.
“I’m trying to get in as many years as possible. It’s cool having my son be at the games, I can shoot with him before games. I’ll never take that away from him,” Rose said. “Like the moments we have before the games are huge and I look at it like that’s how Steph Curry became Steph. His dad allowed him to shoot on these rims when he was 5, 6 years old.”
Rose said he doesn’t want his son to pursue basketball. The life has been tough at times on the old man. But he won’t stop him. He just wants him to be more prepared for the harsh realities of professional sports.
“With my son, you don’t ever know, but I want to give him the opportunity, I know that,” Rose said. “Like I’m the first in my family to have generation wealth. I’m the first to be in the position I’m in right now. So I’m going to make sure that everybody that’s around me gets a piece of it and understands how hard it is and where it came from, especially my kids. There’s no pressure at all. No expectations at all. Nothing. But if you decide to go in this route, I’m going to try to guide you the best I can. But I know for damn sure I’m going to do what my father didn’t do for me.
“My son, I don’t want him to hoop, but he’s getting the itch for it right now. If he wants to hoop, then it’s cool to hoop, but I’m not going to be that dad where if he don’t see he’s talented like I was then we’re going to focus this energy in another direction. I’m going to be that dad. He’s not going to hold on to dreams that’s not like reachable.”
Rose doesn’t remember much about those Bulls’ glory days of the 1990s because he was too busy playing ball himself. He would rush at dusk to catch a play or two and then bolt right back out to the courts to mimic some of the moves. Rose was indeed self-made, with few basketball idols. His true inspiration was love for the game.
That love still remains and keeps him going. He ran into former teammate Drew Gooden recently. Gooden told him he’ll age well in the NBA, going out like Jason Kidd, perhaps winning a title in his mid-30s as a final piece, as Kidd did with the Dallas Mavericks.
That’s Rose’s biggest hope, that all of this work, pain, disappointment, and sacrifice will result in something other than buckets in meaningless games.
“[Gooden said], ‘Man, you’re going to be like JKidd, play 16 or 17 years. Because you’re changing the game and being effective,’ ” Rose said. “That meant a lot to me, just hearing him say that. I’m doing something right and just knowing I’ll never be the last one so I’ve got to create a blueprint for the next guy, like man you can get through it, you’ve just got to change your mentality and your perspective.”
Crowd behavior still a concern
Isaiah Thomas was suspended for two games this past week by the NBA for entering the stands at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center and confronting two fans (calmly) who were calling him disparaging names. Thomas had just made a free throw in the fourth quarter of the Wizards’ loss to the 76ers.
Thomas walked into the section behind the Wizards’ bench and told two fans not to swear at him. Thomas was followed by a Wizards security guard and walked back to his seat on the bench before being ejected. It’s not that the NBA wanted to suspend Thomas, it basically had to because he violated a stipulation of the collective bargaining agreement.
In a written statement, the league said, “NBA rules state that any player who deliberately enters the spectator stands during a game will be automatically ejected and subject to a fine and/or suspension. This bright-line rule is intended to prevent altercations or other hostile interactions between players and fans, for the benefit of both, and is therefore enforced even in circumstances such as these when the encounter between Thomas and fans did not escalate.”
It again brings up a growing concern for players, who play so close to courtside fans and those in the lower deck that they can hear those types of remarks clearly. A few days after the Thomas incident, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry had a fan behind the basket in Indianapolis ejected for remarks during the Pacers’ win. And Lowry was involved in another scrap with a fan during the Raptors’ NBA Finals series with Golden State when a Warriors minority owner pushed Lowry after he crashed into the first row chasing a loose ball.
Related: NBA fans have been out of bounds, especially in Utah
The two Sixers fans were banned from Wells Fargo Center for a year while the season ticket-holder who gave the fans his two seats had them revoked and refunded. It’s as if the NBA is just hoping nothing serious happens. It’s sad we are still dealing with this issue 15 years after the Malice in the Palace.
The NBA and its teams need to be stronger with its actions against fans, and there has to be more ejections of fans who spew foul language. There is no reason why those two 76ers fans should have been allowed to scream expletives at all. Thomas should not be the one addressing the fans. It should have been stadium security.
The Celtics are going to have a decision to make in the summer with guard Tremont Waters, who excelled at the G League showcase and is officially on the radar for many teams as a backup point guard. Waters signed a one-year, two-way contract, meaning he can spend a maximum of 45 days with the Celtics and the rest with Maine. But Waters has proven to be better than perhaps the Celtics expected and the club would have no hesitation plugging him into the backup point guard slot, if required. Since the Celtics aren’t using Waters’s 45 days — he’s played in two games — they will be able to use him on the roster during the stretch run. But the benefit of a one-year, two-way contract from the player’s perspective is he has a chance to prove himself and then become a free agent after the season . . . Speaking of two-way contracts, former Boston College standout Ky Bowman is running out of time on his 45 days. He has played in 28 games for the Warriors as a backup point guard. Eventually, the Warriors are either going to have to convert Bowman to an NBA deal or send him to G League Santa Cruz for the rest of the season. Bowman is shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from the 3-point line and is proving he could be part of the Warriors’ future . . . There is real concern that Kyrie Irving could be out for an extended period with a shoulder impingement. He hasn’t played since Nov. 14 with no sign of his return. Irving signed with the Nets, expecting to be the cornerstone of a team making another playoff run. But instead he’s been replaced by Spencer Dinwiddie, who could garner All-Star consideration for spearheading the Nets to a 16-14 record and the seventh seed without Irving and shooting guard Caris LeVert . . . It’s been a hugely disappointing season so far for the Atlanta Hawks, picked by some to make a run at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They entered Saturday’s play with the league’s worst record (6-26), on a nine-game losing streak, with just three home wins and allowing 118.4 points per game, second worst in the NBA. Second-year coach Lloyd Pierce is experiencing a serious sophomore slump after receiving raves for his direction last season. The Hawks started Saturday 8½ games out of the eighth spot in the East and just got impactful forward John Collins back from a 25-game PED suspension. But there could be major changes in store unless the Hawks make a positive turn quickly.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.