Rose will never be the same, but even healthy he’s never going to win an NBA title.
My friend Otherwise is a Chicago Bulls fan. I’m a Denver Nuggets fan. So we commiserate sometimes.
Back in 2009, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose won the Rookie of the Year award. The next year he was an all-star. And in 2011 he become the youngest player in history to be named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player.
The following year he was fantastic again, right up until he blew his ACL. As he was rehabbing, I suggested to Otherwise that Chicago should trade him, then and there. Yes, he was hurt, but there was no reason to think he wouldn’t bounce back and at that moment in time I’m guessing league GMs would have lined up around the block to offer the sun, moon and stars for him. Heck, who could have known that he was going to rip up his knees every 15 minutes, right?
2: Three-to-make-two. When a team was in the bonus, fouled players got three free throw attempts, if needed, to make two baskets. This rule didn’t survive, but I bet Dwight Howard wishes it had. In fact, bringing it back might be a way of helping The League deal with its persistent Hack-a-Shaq problem.UPDATED: I have been informed that this was an old NBA rule that predated the ABA. So scratch item #2, and I guess it’s now the five best things about the ABA. Apologies. Continue reading The American Basketball Association: remembering the six best things about a true original→
US sports leagues reward inferior teams and routinely deny their best teams the championship.
Richard Allen Smith and I have argued from time to time about the merits of the BCS vs. the NCAA basketball tournament. Rich defends the BCS, while I point out its unfairness and corruption. He argues that the BCS does (did) a good job at getting the two best teams on the field for the final game, and that the single-elimination format of the Dance routinely allows inferior teams to win.
Note that LeBron flopped like a Portuguese midfielder while Hansbrough remained upright.
And this flying WWE-style flying elbow from Dwyane Wade was assessed a flagrant 1, but only after the league office reviewed it the next day.
Flagrant 1s earn the opposition a free throw and the ball. Flagrant 2s get the offender ejected. And if you’re the sort of conspiracy theorist who thinks the NBA is protecting its cash cow, the star-studded Miami Heat, well, there’s not much in this sequence to prove you wrong, is there?
(I guess the league might still take some extra action against Anderson, seeing as how he’s a role player and not a superstar. Of course, he’s an important role player and the Miami/Indiana series is still tight, so maybe not. We’ll see.)
Some advice to the NBA league office. If you want your fans to stop seeing the hand of the Illuminati in every controversial call, if you want smart-asses like me to stop using phrases like “RICO investigation” and “Stern Crime Family,” you should stop, you know, acting like an organized crime family.
“I wish y’all would stop rushing Derrick back,” said Anthony, whose Knicks, winners of 13 straight, play the Bulls on Thursday night. “Please. He shouldn’t come back until he’s about 110 percent ready. I don’t think he should come back if he’s not ready to go out there and play. If he can’t compete at a high level, then what’s a couple more months going to do? What’s two more months going to do? I don’t think he should come back, and that’s just my opinion.
“I really don’t know where he’s at with his rehab and stuff like that, but I feel bad for him because I know he’s got to deal with that every day, he’s got to deal with that question. And nobody really knows on the outside what he’s really going through, what his body is going through. So until he’s 100 percent right, I would hope he would sit out.”
Anthony probably has a point, although he also has some vested interest in Rose not rushing back. Heck, sit out next season, too, just to be safe, you know?
But then we get to the thing I find myself pondering on: “A source told ESPNChicago.com in early March that Rose has been medically cleared to play but needs to regain his confidence in his left leg before he will return.”
Fact 1: Rose is medically cleared to play. For a month, and counting. Given how valuable Rose is to the team, I’m guessing the docs are being pretty conservative in their diagnosis, too.
Fact 2: Despite being physically okay, Rose is refusing to play.
I’m sensitive to the psychology here because, as the kids these days are fond of saying, “I been there.” In January of 1998 I destroyed my left knee playing hoops. It sounds, from all I can gather, like Rose’s injury was pretty similar to mine: torn ACL, torn meniscus. I promise you, he has my full and unconditional sympathy. I have never felt pain like that and the whole surgery and rehab process never stopped sucking.
But … Rose is reluctant, whereas I couldn’t get back to playing fast enough. Rose had surgery on May 12, 2012 – 11 months ago to the day. I was back playing baseball – with limited activity – in four months. I was back on the basketball court in six months.
I hear you laughing. You’re thinking “bitch, please – you ain’t never been Derrick Rose.” Which is true. At no point was I placing my knee under the kind of competitive stress that that Rose sees every trip down the floor.
On the other hand, I was 37 by the time I had surgery and was well past my physical prime, whereas Rose is a superhuman elite athlete in the heart of his healing peak years. So, to some extent, maybe we’re talking six of one, half dozen of the other?
I don’t know Derrick Rose, but I know why some are questioning him. He doesn’t want to come back until he’s 100%. He wants to be mentally confident. He has no interest in returning until he knows he can be a premier contributor to his team. I get all that and I respect it.
But if it were me, I’d have been back on the floor the second the physicians cleared me. I think that’s probably true of a lot of pro athletes. And while you don’t hear his fellow players calling him out, I guarantee you that a lot of them are questioning his courage in private. You’re medically cleared. Your body is ready. Your team needs you. And you’re sitting it out down the stretch because you want to make sure you’re 110%? Derrick, at 85% you’re still one of the best players in the league. Right now, you’re a difference maker.
And yet … he isn’t playing. He hears the whispers, he hears the veiled implications in the punditry, so he knows he’s being talked about. He knows people are questioning his courage, his commitment, his cojones.
I’m worried about Rose because I know what it’s like that first time you step on the floor. The first time out on the break. The first time you make a pivot in a crowded post. You cannot help being afraid. You can’t. Your body is ready to dance, but your mind remembers the pain of the injury and the months of instability as you rehab. You remember vividly being unable to do a single revolution on the exercise bike because the knee is still too swollen. You remember the first few nights after the surgery, when you have to sleep strapped into a machine that flexes your leg – 45% to -5% and back again. You remember how hard it is to sleep with that damned thing. You remember how something as simple as taking a shower or fetching a soda from the fridge becomes an ordeal. You remember being helpless.
I remember these things to this day and I promise you, Rose does, too. And right now, his fear is winning out over his desire to compete.
His fear is winning out at a time when many of his colleagues and who knows how many weekend warriors across the country would be battling their orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists demanding that they be allowed to play.
I don’t know what this means about Rose long-term. Maybe he’s back on the court and playing like the injury never happened a week fro now. Maybe he never again, ever, reacts in a way that would tell you he was ever hurt in the first place.
Maybe. But right now, he’s telling us something about who he is.
I’m the last guy in the world to advise someone coming back from injury to push it, to take chances. I don’t want you back until the experts say you’re ready. But once your body is ready, I can’t help noticing when the mind lags behind.
And I can’t help wondering what this means about your commitment down the road.
We sports fans love a good “what if?” debate, and there are millions of them. What if Portland had drafted Michael Jordan instead of Sam Bowie? What if Roman Abramovich had left José Mourinho alone instead of meddling? What if Barry “The Asterisk” Bonds hadn’t decided to become a walking pharmaceutical test facility? What if Don Shula had pulled Earl Morrall and put Johnny Unitas in the game earlier in Super Bowl III? What if the fucking refs had called the interference on that early Baltimore pick-six in their playoff win against the Broncos a few weeks back?
And my favorite: What if [insert player here] hadn’t gotten hurt?
The simple fact is that all of our major sports (and a lot of the minor ones, too) are littered with players who never realized their full potential due to injuries. For instance, I don’t know how many yards Gale Sayers would have finished his career with had he not blown his knee, but if they’d had the medical tech then that they do today it would have been many thousands more than the 4,956 he retired with.
Some of the greatest sports injury what ifs can be found in the NBA. In a parallel universe where a few injuries didn’t happen, the list of top five greatest players in history contains a couple names you don’t find on the corresponding list in this universe. So I decided to have a crack at naming the NBA’s all-time What-If Hall of Fame starting five.
Hardaway was the #3 pick in the 1993 draft and along with teammate Shaquille O’Neal led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in his second season. He was an All-NBA First Teamer in 1995 and 1996 and was named to the third team in 1997. He was also a four-time all-star (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998). But he blew his knee early in the 1997-98 season, and while he returned to play for another ten years he was never the same.
Put simply, David Thompson was the best player I ever saw. If not for injuries (and a self-inflicted coke problem later on) there is little doubt in my mind that he would today be regarded as the greatest player who ever lived. Let’s consider some of the highlights:
4× NBA All-Star (1977–1979, 1983)
ABA All-Star (1976)
2× All-NBA First Team (1977, 1978)
NBA All-Star Game MVP (1979)
ABA All-Star Game MVP (1976)
ABA Rookie of the Year (1976)
ABA All-Rookie First Team (1976)
Standing 6’4″, DT was one of the most remarkable pure athletes in basketball history. He had a flat-footed vertical of 44″ and did this show dunk he called “cradle the baby”: he’d wrap his arm around the ball, leap up above the rim and punch the ball down through the net with his other hand. Long-time basketball watchers will tell you that the 1976 ABA Slam-Dunk Contest, with Dr. J beating Thompson in the final (that was the one where Erving became the first person to dunk taking off at the free throw line) was the greatest dunk contest in hoop history. Thompson also pretty much invented the alley-oop, so you’re welcome LA Clippers.
Have a look at his numbers over the first few years of his career.
He began having injury issues after the 1978 season, and even with them he continued to post great numbers through 1980-81.
I guess there’s one other factor to consider – DT never played in a big media market, and that always helps the legend. Had he done everything in his career in LA or New York or Boston there would be a lot less chatter about Michael Jordan being the best ever.
Thompson is in the Hall of Fame. And despite that honor, still stands as the most underrated player in pro basketball history. He was that good.
My friends in the Offsides Sports Community had a lot of ideas about this one, including Bernard King and Elgin Baylor. The argument there is that as great as their careers were, they could have been even better (a version of the argument I make about Thompson, in essence).
Still, guys who could have had greater careers strike me as less compelling than a guy who, thanks to injuries, barely managed to be a shadow of what he could have been. Hill is the only Hall of Fame level talent ever produced by Duke’s legendary Mike Krzyzewski. Before injuries set in late int he 2000 season we saw serious superstar potential. Hill was named to seven All-Star Games, but look at his stats and notice what happened after 1999-2000.
I’m tempted to go with a twin towers lineup and play Ralph Sampson at the four, just like the Rockets did. But it’s just about impossible to ignore the tragedy of Maurice Stokes, whose story goes way beyond “career cut short by injury.” Wikipedia sums it up for us:
Playing for the National Basketball Association’s Rochester Royals (which became the Cincinnati Royals in 1957) from 1955 to 1958, Stokes grabbed 38 rebounds in a single game during his rookie season, averaged 16.3 rebounds per game overall, and was named NBA Rookie of the Year. The next season, he set a league record for most rebounds in a single season with 1,256 (17.4 per game). He played in the All-Star Game all three seasons of his tragically short career, and was named to the All-NBA second team three times. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in September 2004.
On March 12, 1958, in the last game of the regular 1957–58 NBA season, in Minneapolis, Stokes drove to the basket, drew contact, fell to the floor, struck his head and lost consciousness. He was revived with smelling salts and returned to the game. Three days later, after a 12-point, 15-rebound performance in an opening-round playoff game at Detroit against the Pistons, he became ill on the team’s flight back to Cincinnati; “I feel like I’m going to die,” he told a teammate. He later suffered a seizure, fell into a coma and was left permanently paralyzed. In the end, he was diagnosed with posttraumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury that damaged his motor-control center.”
I think we have our power forward. And one of the saddest sports stories you’re likely to encounter. Ever.
Again, let’s turn to the concise Wikipedia entry for a nice summary:
He signed with the Trail Blazers but his first two seasons were marred by injury (at different times he broke his nose, foot, wrist and leg) and the Blazers missed the playoffs both years. It was not until the 1976–77 season that he was healthy enough to play 65 games and, spurred by new head coach Jack Ramsay, the Trail Blazers became the Cinderella team of the NBA. Walton led the NBA in both rebounds per game and blocked shots per game that season, and he was selected to the NBA All-Star Game, but did not participate due to an injury. Walton was named to the NBA’s First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA Second Team for his regular season accomplishments. In the postseason, Walton led Portland to a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference finals (arguably holding his own against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the series) and went on to help the Trail Blazers to the NBA title over the favored Philadelphia 76ers despite losing the first two games of the series. Walton was named the Finals MVP.
The following year, the Blazers won 50 of their first 60 games before Walton suffered a broken foot in what turned out to be the first in a string of foot and ankle injuries that cut short his career. He nonetheless won the league MVP that season (1978) and the Sporting News NBA MVP, as well. He played in his only All-Star Game in 1978 and was named to both the NBA’s First All-Defensive Team and the All-NBA First Team. Walton returned to action for the playoffs, but was reinjured in the second game of a series against the Seattle SuperSonics. Without Walton to lead them, Portland lost the series to Seattle in six games.
Walton soldiered on, finally calling it a day after ten seasons. A close look at his cumulative stats reveals what a remarkable player he was, even beat up and playing on busted wheels. Have a look at those per 36 minute numbers, for instance. There is a very credible argument to be made that had he remained healthy, Walton might have gone down as the greatest center to ever play the game and, along with Thompson, one of the five best at any position in history.
What if, huh?
Special thanks to my peeps in the Offsides Sports Community, who had all kinds of recommendations and insights here.
So I’ve enjoyed his life on the griddle. Flaming out in the Finals last year. Enduring relentless pressure about his tendency to disappear in crunch time. And on and on. It’s been a stress-packed couple of years for King James. In other words, karma. Continue reading It’s true. I’m now pulling for LeBron.→
I’d like to offer up a theory. Tell me what you think.
I’ve written some lately about the NBA, which despite all its flaws is still my favorite North American professional sports league. (My favorite pro league anywhere, of course, is the English Premiership, the greatest soccer league in the world.) In particular, I’ve pondered The League’s structural issues vis a vis its big vs. small markets, and let’s be clear in understanding that the new labor deal did not fix those problems. It merely swept them under the rug for a few years where they can fester, multiply and grow really big teeth. Continue reading Rivieras and Siberias and why players can’t wait to get the hell out of most NBA cities→
I predicted months ago that there would be no 2011-12 NBA season. I hoped I was wrong (still do), but there were some fundamental structural issues that I felt were going to be hard to address in the collective bargaining process. While all hope isn’t yet completely dead, it looks very, very bad – so bad that at this stage I’m already beginning to wonder if there’s going to be a 2012-13 season. I’m wondering if the NBA as we know it is done.
Let’s say you’re a guy and you’ve been involved with a woman. Long-term, committed, exclusive relationship. Several years together. You loved her dearly through the years and she’s simply gaga over you, for reasons none of your friends fully understand. But now, now you’ve realized that it isn’t going to work any longer. Maybe you have different priorities. Maybe you want kids and she doesn’t. Maybe the fire has died in the bedroom. Maybe you’ve grown apart and your life together just doesn’t satisfy you anymore.
Whatever the reason, you realize that the relationship has to end. For better or worse you have a right to be happy and she shouldn’t have to live with a guy who sees her as something he’s settling for. You have all kinds of misgivings, but you’ve thought about it long and hard and, while it’s going to hurt like hell, it’s the right thing to do.
Now you have to figure out the best way to break up. You know that face-to-face is what she deserves. But a telephone call would be easier on you, providing you with some distance from the pain. An e-mail would be easier still. And you know that sometimes kids even break up with a text message.