Star Crossed By a Rose: The End of an Era for the Chicago Bulls?

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I am a lifelong Chicago Bulls fan. The vast majority of my childhood memories consist of the either Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Chuck-E-Cheese, or the Jackson-Jordan-Pippen teams. Or all three combined. What can I say, I had good taste as a child. And I’ve been hooked on the NBA ever since, in large part, thanks to my father’s super effective brain washing methods.

Like many other Bulls fans, I was devastated Tuesday by the news of Derrick Rose suffering yet another knee injury requiring surgery and likely having to miss the remainder of a promising season for Chicago.

I should say, I was devastated and I remain devastated.

I was devastated over the impact of Rose’s injury on the team’s chances to win the East this year. I remain devastated because it feels as if the injury marks the end of the Thibodeau/Rose prime in Chicago. I can’t totally explain why it feel so fatalistic, so dire, so definite. It just does – ask any other Bulls fan. The era seems over. It’s not just this season that’s over, but the next. And probably the next.  Ask them. They’ll agree, I guarantee it.

My friends who are not Bulls supporters have tried to re-assure me: it’s not season-ending necessarily, he could come back in six weeks.  In time for the playoffs!

I tell them, ‘He may be ready physically, but he won’t be ready mentally’. I don’t mean that as a knock on Rose’s toughness. He just needs more time to get his head right & confidence up after injury. We’ve seen that each of the last three seasons now.

It pains me to say it, but I tell them, ‘He’s not coming back this season and he’s never coming back as the player he was. He never was back as the player he was.’ Now, I’m perpetual optimist. But that’s what I feel, deep in my bones. And I am definitely not alone in thinking this.

This most recent injury marks another chapter in the strangest love affair between an athlete and a fan base that I can recall in modern American sports. Explosive and hard-working on the court, soft spoken and well behaved off it, and “…Ffffffrom Chicago…” What a player he was, and how us Bulls fans fell for him, defended him, and backed him…the tear in Philadelphia and the sixteen month recovery, Reggie Rose, botched press conferences and ” I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball. Having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to.” What poor luck & terrible communication strategy on the part of Rose & the team amidst the injuries, and how us Bulls fans lost that love, hardened our feelings, even turned on him…..

I remember exactly where I was & what I was doing when, on May 20, 2008, I heard my Bulls landed the first pick in that year’s NBA draft. Fullerton El station, Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

In the months leading up to draft night, I remember debating with my college roommates about whether or not we should draft Michael Beasley or Derrick Rose. Miller High Lifes in hand, dark & narrow “garden” apartment, Kanye’s Graduation blaring I’m sure, Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago.

During the raucous aftermath of winning the lottery in which we had a 1.7% chance of getting the top pick, I am ashamed to say I wanted Chicago to take Beasley. Various undisclosed locations, Chicago.

That lasted about 36 hours, max. My fellow Bulls friends swiftly convinced me that it was a point guard’s league and D. Rose would be the prince of it. Plus, he’s from the South Side. He’d only left for a few months to play ball at Memphis and had promptly returned at the conclusion of the college season. A Chicago boy through and through. A city product to lead the Bulls back to glory. United Center, west side of Chicago.

I was overjoyed when we drafted him and the rest has been this incredible, star-crossed history. There have been stars of many different sizes, colors, & types, that’s for sure: From his rookie campaign culminating in the legendary Bulls-Celtics series to  his ascendancy to all-star point guard under the tutelage of Thibodeau…..From the failed “courtship” of LeBron during summer 2010 to the Bulls’ loss to Heat at the conclusion of our magic but fated “Fuck Miami” season featuring MVP D. Rose and a legendary team defense….From the Tear Seen Round the World to the next year without him and the media fiasco about his return and the next knee injury and the promising recovery this season with a new-look Bulls cast and now the third knee surgery in four years….

….(deep sigh)…..

It’s getting late here and I don’t have the energy to fittingly reminisce about the golden years of Rose & early Thibodeau Bulls at the moment. It’s difficult for me to think back that far because it was a long time ago, nearly five years.  Nor do I have the energy or patience to dig through stats to flesh out comparisons of him to Penny Hardaway and Brandon Roy or to analyze his advanced metrics the last several seasons in order to construct an argument about the way he was trending statistically or to examine the medical histories of the injury to ponder the likelihood of successful recovery. I do have the energy to share how grateful I am for getting to cheer for him and those teams over the years, though admittedly it’s hard to appreciate what was considering what might have been.

D. Rose had/has one of most unique offensive games I have ever seen. When he’s on, there’s not a better penetration guard in the league. But it feels like he’s entering a different phase of his career and the franchise is entering a different phase of it’s history. And us Bulls fans are ready for the change, strange as that might sound as we sit in third place in the Eastern Conference standings.

For Bulls fans, the dominant emotion this week in the aftermath of the injury news has been frustration or anger more so than sadness or resignation. Seems like a weird or even inappropriate response considering a hometown, superstar athlete with an exciting style of play is involved, right?

But that’s where the fan base is at with the Derrick Rose era. We’re downright exhausted. We’ve had to live through the same season for three years in a row. It’s a season in which we’re good, but not great. A team full of coachable guys and hard workers with no real chance to win the title because our franchise player is on the sidelines. Or up in a sky box. Or rehabbing elsewhere. We’re once again back in the position of having to wait for Rose to rehab, to come back, to maybe be almost as good as he once was against all odds, and for a narrow-at-best title window to open.

If we are to continue with this as our plan A, it feels like we’re waiting around for a moment that’s not going to happen, and that is perhaps one of the least empowering feelings in spectator sports. Plan B is to rebuild a portion of the roster by offering up Rose and other veterans for picks or young talent, in hopes of landing the next transformative NBA player (since that is an absolute prerequisite for winning the Finals in this day and age). With Chicago fans, plan A will breed cynicism and plan B will breed hope. Derrick Rose once was a transformative NBA player who, with another year or two of playoffs experience and some luck, could have led the Bulls to a title or two. Unfortunately, he is no longer such a player. The sooner the Bulls acknowledge this and start making front office/coaching decisions accordingly, the sooner the next title window will open in the Windy City.

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