If sports fans had slightly larger memories than we do, the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls would have already earned a place in history.
Though lacking the dominance of the Jordan era, this Thibodeau squad is currently making one of the most improbable, inspiring playoff runs in memory. As the Lakers went down moaning that two super stars weren’t enough to win a single game in the playoffs, the Bulls refuse to die. No obstacle has yet been insurmountable enough to end it. A sluggish end to the regular season, punctuated by an injury to their heart and soul — Joakim Noah — indicated that the heavily-favored Brooklyn Nets would make short work of a team that had been without its star player for a full year. Derrick Rose, Chicago’s homegrown former-MVP point guard, went from human highlight reel to the cutting room floor on April 28, 2012, suffering a fully torn ACL. If this 2013 season went anything like last year’s postseason run — that is, very quickly — no one would have blamed them. Instead, the Bulls ground out a 7-game victory against the Nets, and defying the laws of physics, outworked a juggernaut Miami team one day after LeBron James received a consensus MVP trophy.
Mixed in with my elation at Monday’s victory is concern over the growing controversy of aforementioned wounded soldier Derrick Rose. Now on the long side of his quoted recovery time after surgery, the news is already two months old that Rose had long before that been cleared to play by team doctors. The problem, he said, was his confidence in his left knee.
Following that revelation in March, a series of injuries conspired to put Rose’s caution in the worst possible light at the worst possible time. Just as the playoffs were set to begin, Joakim Noah developed a well-earned case of plantar fasciitis and started anyway. (Unbelievably, he continues to dominate.) The murmurs began, but then a nearly-comical spate of misfortune befell the Bulls: Kirk Hinrich went out with a bruised calf, Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson got the flu (getting his head stepped on and his lip busted can’t have helped) and cornerstone Luol Deng underwent a botched spinal tap, forcing him to miss time.
Meanwhile, Derrick Rose sat through the Brooklyn games. An uneasiness settled over the situation, but I supported his decision. The key to Rose’s dominance, I reasoned, was his explosiveness. Some were comparing Rose this past week to Golden State big man David Lee, who played with a torn hip flexor. The comparison doesn’t work. Few players in history — let alone the plodding Lee — have played with the creativity and violent quickness that Derrick relies on: He changes direction on a dime, contorts midair, and generally plays without regard for his body. Without that aspect of his game, he’s just a point guard who doesn’t have any great scorers to dish it out to. In a year when Miami are going to cruise to a second straight title — or at least a second straight Eastern Conference victory — why rush the process? The fact that the Bulls had angered a powerful gypsy woman at some point didn’t change that logic. I wanted them to fight valiantly but futilely against the Nets, and earn a good summer of rehab for Rose and Co.
Then they had to go and win the g*ddamn series.
One win up on Miami, I don’t know what to think anymore. Could this team really take down the Heat? Everything I previously felt about wanting the guys, especially Rose, to fully prepare for next year assumed that they would be mowed down by elite playoff competition by now. But the top of that heap is Miami, and if this group is really going to give them that much of a problem, then this may change the equation about who should try to contribute, even though none of the reasons for me wanting the Bulls to exit in the first round have changed. If anything, they’ve grown more acute.
Before, the worst-case scenario was that Rose would come in to be the lone pillar for the Bulls, aggravate his injury, lose anyway, and never be the same again. Monday night, that changed. Beating the league’s best team in the second round of the playoffs, away, starts to move the moment into legacy territory. There is no more throw-away season anymore. In other words, Chicago is currently in a position that no amount of preparation for the regular season can supersede. Look at the Lakers, look at Kobe. You take these chances when you can. My feeling on this would be different if they clearly stood no chance against Miami. But they do: they’re more disciplined, they’re bigger, and they’re hungrier.
The worst-case scenario now is that Rose sits the whole series and watches his debilitated teammates just miss taking down a historic team in historic fashion, forever leaving us wondering if the difference between the two teams might have been equal to what Rose could have contributed. Would it look suspicious if Rose suddenly announced that he would be taking the floor for the first time in a year during a second round playoff series? Would he be accused of coattailing? Who cares. His teammates have had his back through the whole process, and they could use some help.
The decision has to be up to Derrick Rose himself; anybody who can’t do this doesn’t know what it takes to do that. But if it’s his future he’s worried about — and based on everything we’ve heard, that is an unfounded accusation — he and the Bulls need to realize that this is a momentous opportunity. The kind we remember. Let’s hope it’s not for the wrong reasons.