From the moment David Stern decreed that Derrick Rose was the No. 1 selection as chosen by the Bulls, Chicago's prodigious point guard has seen his career arc steadily rise with little alteration other than the slight (but expected) quiver of a botched crunch-time sequence or playoff defeat.
One thing Chicagoans could count on throughout the past four years: Derrick Rose was becoming a superstar.
Never had his output yielded any forthcoming of doubt or shrinkage of potential, his ceiling remained at a staggering height as he made drive after scintillating drive of contortion and finesse.
He showed toughness, too. He'd sink a backbreaking jumper (the length of which kept extending, at a rate that made it seem imaginable that he would be hitting half-courters with regularity by the time he turned 30) just when the United Center crowd would be begging for some to throw a dagger into the opponent's throat; he'd get mad at the referees — an anger shared by his true-hometown crowd — and play better because of it; he never made ceremony of demanding the ball in the game's final possessions, he just did it.
That steady career incline came to a jarring halt on April 28, 2012. With 1:10 left in the fourth quarter of Saturday's playoff-opening rout, the faith in the future held by Bulls fans turned back to hope, or worse yet — mere optimism. Simply put, we don't know where things go from here.
Derrick was developing in all facets. He was becoming smarter, he was shooting better, he was leading better, and even casting himself better in a social light (the cover of GQ, my man!). He was developing a competitive entitlement that nearly always produces championships out of players of his caliber. The ACL tear he sustained in Saturday's game is sure to compel Derrick to grow up further. But growing up doesn't mean winning NBA titles.
Who Derrick Rose is doesn't really matter. The basketball lover in me will be forever thankful (even if the injury's severity had required amputation of his leg) for the sheer entertainment Derrick brought the region of Chicago with the incredulity-inducing acrobatics he displayed on the court. I don't care if he is sheltered, boring, and a lesser superstar. The Bulls lover in me was just hoping he would be the kind of sheltered, boring, lesser superstar that retired with championship rings on his farewell-waving fingers.
Not to say that his career is over — he's 23. This injury, however, has cast his career into a frontier of sorts that haven't necessarily been played out in front of us. Remember that time Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Dwyane Wade all tore their ACLs before leading their teams to multiple titles? There's your path, D-Rose. Make it and walk it at the same time.
April 28, 2012 is a day Derrick Rose, along with his passionately adoring fans, will not forget. It will be remembered as the day "adversity" became more than just a synonym for the Miami Heat. It will be remembered as Rose's first backward step.
The impending recovery process will not let the injury be forgotten, at least not for about calendar year. From here on, it will be a journey to full strength, a detour the Bulls were under the impression they had just completed, not one they had just begun. The offseason will be mildly encouraging progress reports, and in certain moments some of us may forget that Rose is inactive. In free agency and the draft, the Bulls will ask themselves if C.J. Watson is a viable enough backup while Rose stocks up on fancy suits. Rose will employ this new wardrobe in the preseason and in the beginning games of the regular year.
We will be more frequently updated about his health, until it is to a countdown, and then Derrick will start getting into shape, working out and finally practicing. The media will volley questions around without possibly being able to answer them: Is Derrick Rose going to be the same? Can this story end like we were
sure it was going to — in a league title and a heroic legacy? He will suit up, return to his spot in the lineup as the franchise face and last introduced at home games, and he will likely receive a tipoff from an amped-up Joakim Noah's fingers.
And sometime between when Noah smacks the ball and when Derrick retrieves it, the sports world will think back to Saturday's game and the tragedy of uncertainty will finally be felt, as a question will unanimously come into the minds of those watching who care:
Was April 28, 2012, the unlikely beginning of Derrick Rose's story or the bitter, bitter end?