I was listening to ESPN Radio on XM yesterday, and my ears perked up when I heard mention of the Bulls. Whenever the Bulls get national media attention, I’m not shy about it – I get excited. I’m always eager to hear how the Bulls are perceived from the outside.
But when I turned up the volume, my delight quickly turned sour when I heard the topic of conversation: Derrick Rose’s comments Tuesday. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock, here’s the full quotation:
“I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out. But I think a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out it’s not because of this year. I’m thinking about long-term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in my meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past. Just learning and being smart.”
People look angry, ok, uh oh, I’m seeing some pitchforks, alright everyone just take it easy, let’s not get into mob mentality here… oh boy, too late.
I was pretty shocked and disappointed to be hearing this discussion on a national scale a day after the comments were made, and still receiving texts from friends I haven’t heard from in years a full two days later asking my thoughts on the issue. I was shocked and disappointed not because they were covering the story, but about how one-sided the attacks were. Friends, you asked for my thoughts, well, here they are, ready for it?
Derrick Rose owes us nothing. Did you hear that? I said, “DERRICK ROSE DOES NOT OWE US ANYTHING!” … Sorry for shouting. Actually, #SorryNotSorry.
I’m not going to sit here and make excuse after excuse for what Derrick said on Tuesday, but I’m also not going to ask him to leave the Bulls and be a stay-at-home dad. Yes, Derrick’s comments were not very smart in an NBA context. But he’s also never been great with words and interviews, so why should we expect anything different this time? There’s a name for this, and it’s called #DerrickRoseSaysStuff – You should look it up.
These comments are easy to attack and he’s a prime target to villainize and crucify over the kind of statement that is rarely made by superstar athletes in today’s social media frenzy and in a culture of creating a public persona veneer (e.g., Russell Wilson. If you don’t know how he handles post-game interviews, here’s an example). It becomes increasingly juicy to take the low-hanging fruit on this one as a media member in an environment where so few things said are out of line, so, naturally, Derrick was attacked.
But here’s something to keep in mind now, for Derrick, and later, for the rest of this Bulls team, in light of any injuries that may come: Sports fans are contrarians and hypocrites. They like to get upset and point fingers and find scapegoats. They will criticize as though they’re speaking from experience, and they will instruct as though they’re the National Basketball Associate Professor.
If Derrick played every game this season on those sprained ankles (a very common basektball injury, I might add, but is placed under the microscope because, well, it’s Derrick Rose), people would say: “What if he aggravates the ankles? You have to protect your investment! He has a max contract to win us a championship, not to play too much in his first ten games! If we don’t have Derrick in the playoffs, we can’t win! Thibs is playing him too many minutes and he’s running all these guys into the ground!” etc., I think I’ve ranted enough on that end…
And if Derrick misses any time at all for any reason, health-related or not, the response is: “Why isn’t Derrick on the floor? What is he getting all this money for, to sit on the sidelines? He should be helping his teammates! Look at how hard Jo plays and Derrick is just sitting there! He should be out there helping us win!” It’s a lose-lose situation, which is why I don’t waste my time getting wrapped up in it (yet here I am writing a response). The reality of it is that this will all be water under the bridge if, and when, Derrick starts to consistently play well for a long stretch, and the Bulls are winning. But that’s not the flavor of the day, his comments are.
The larger issue, though, is this feeling of entitlement sports fans have that athletes somehow owe them something, especially Chicago fans as it relates to Derrick Rose. Derrick gave Bulls fans an incredible rookie year, an all-star season, then an MVP year, which was followed up by two horrifyingly unfortunate knee injuries, back-to-back, sidelining him for two full seasons, which included missing a highly anticipated playoff run against the Heat’s Big Three.
In the time that Derrick has missed, fans have gotten jaded and turned to criticism, not because of anything Derrick did in particular, but because of how fans interpreted and channeled their own feelings against expectations. Because fans know how great he can be, Rose was made into an idol and a gold standard. He was lauded and heralded as the next great Chicago athlete. And with that fame came plenty of criticism. Derrick said it himself in April 2012 amid the lockout season: “Don’t get me wrong. I don’t take anything for granted. But it seems like the better I play, the more attention I get. And I can’t get away from it. You play great, you get attention. But I hate attention. It is weird. I’m in a bind. The more you win, the more they come.”
But if Rose never returns to his MVP-caliber level for any reason at all – be it health, motivation/drive, talent- Chicago fans will be disappointed, and they will project and misplace their anger and frustration at Derrick and the Bulls organization, when in reality, it’s each fan’s own lofty expectations culminated into a mob mentality. There’s always someone to blame. Be thankful for the entertainment that we do get as fans, and everything else will be seen as icing on the cake. If you aren’t thankful, you’ll be a miserable sports fan. I’ll get off my soapbox now.
But #DerrickRoseSaysStuff sometimes. What Derrick said and what Derrick probably meant are two very different things. Most athletes can, and should, be concerned about their overall health, even after basketball is over. They are people, after all, and not commodities/goods/services, despite what the contract and ownership structure may have us think. Does this mean Derrick should walk now with his money and live happily ever after? Of course not. He’s getting paid to play, but moreover, and this is important, he’s getting paid to make good basketball decisions.
And this is why his comments don’t reflect his mentality when the ball is in the air – none of this will affect his play on the court. Do you think he was worried about blowing out his back on this play?
Or, worried about his knees on this one? No, Derrick isn’t thinking about his health or his son’s graduation when he’s playing the game he loves to play. He’s thinking about making good plays, and all he cares about in that moment is winning. And that’s all we can ask of him. He can worry about his health and future off the court, and what he thinks about for 15 years down the line is frankly none of our business. -“Then he shouldn’t have said what he said!” – Yes, I know. But I think you’re missing my point.
Ok Derrick, let’s try to go back in time, and say this instead: “I’m just being smart and thinking about being healthy when it counts.” Wow, what a great statement. Always says the right thing. Such a wise man, that Derrick Rose.