If Chicago fans crying over Derrick Rose can use The Lion King to show their pain, I will use Aladdin to give lessons about the state that Rose is in now.
Rose tore the ACL in his left knee in the first game of last year’s playoffs. He had surgery and began the recovery process, with optimistic hopes being that he could be back for some of this season, and at least the playoffs, which would be the one-year mark for an injury that generally takes a year to recover from.
But it’s more than a year later, and although Rose is cutting and jumping, he’s not playing. Fans that were once telling him to get well soon have instead started clamoring for him to play, with more and more people becoming irate that he would sit on the bench while his injured and ailing teammates fight through.
Rose has every right to preserve his health. An ACL injury is pretty serious, and coming back too fast and getting reinjured, or never regaining original speed and movement because the injury hasn’t completely healed, are good enough reasons to be slow in returning to play. Even a selfish reason, such as Rose not wanting to be on the court at less than his full potential, is understandable when it comes to a star who wants to build a long career and legacy.
Ultimately, Rose must do what is best for Rose, and so far, that has been to sit and wait until he’s completely comfortable with playing again.
But in keeping his body healthy, Rose may be damaging something much bigger. Rose may make it through this postseason with his ACL in fine shape, but the greater ideals that a star of his stature chases could be slipping away.
Let’s go back to Aladdin. In the movie, Jafar is obsessed with scheming to take over Agrabah (or the world), and he finally starts to see his plans fall in place when he procures the magic lamp. He takes over the palace and subdues his adversaries, and everything is just fine until Aladdin comes back and tricks Jafar using the most human motivation of all. Aladdin tells Jafar that, while he may have conquered much as a ruler and a sorcerer, he’s not the most powerful being in the world. That desire — to be the greatest — leads to Jafar’s ill-fated final wish: to be a genie.
As Jafar is transformed into one very ugly red and black genie, though, Aladdin’s smarts show through. Jafar gets the incredible power he was lusting after, but, as Aladdin tells him, he got his wish — “And everything that comes with it!”
In that moment, Jafar gets twisted down into the lamp like trash through a toilet, holding the most power in the world but forever confined. In gambling to be the greatest he could possibly be, he had to accept the other complications of the role — and ultimately do the bidding of others.
Now, Rose has not sold his soul to any devil, and he certainly isn’t making the kind of life-altering choices to which moral weight can be assigned, no matter what Chicago fans are saying. But in the larger game of being a legend, of making promises and fulfilling them, of overcoming challenges and becoming a once-in-a-generation player, Rose may be forgetting his part of the bargain.
This is the player who stars in a marketing campaign that pins the entire city’s hope on his rehabbing left leg. This is the player who promised to come back stronger. This is the player who is supposed to be transcendent enough to lift a really good team — a team that is already pushing the Heat pretty hard despite an injured Joakim Noah, an ailing Luol Deng and the hodge podge in the backcourt — to another level.
Where Rose has failed is not that he isn’t playing, but rather that he set the stage to be the one to lift his team and the city, and then he declined his opportunity. This isn’t the sixth week. It’s not ninth months later. Rose isn’t having any trouble running. He’s scrimmaging. He’s dunking. He can pass. Steve Nash has done more on less.
Rose may be a diminished Rose, but he’s still Rose, and even if he isn’t ready to jump in full-speed, or the team isn’t ready to play with him as the centerpiece, he’s an upgrade over what the Bulls have been putting on the court. This may not be “their year,” but given the effort Chicago has shown against Miami already, what more could Rose ask from his team? What more could they do on their own to make his arrival, even at a lesser level, not help? If the Bulls never had a chance without Rose, then he shouldn’t have tried to come back at all this year — especially now that, as he appears to be back, he is withholding even his limited abilities.
It’s a sad truth that fans expect their stars to play injured, but this isn’t a case of fans crying for a player to do something he shouldn’t. Rose is healthy enough to at least play a little. But that’s not even what fans are asking for. The bigger point here is something less tangible but ultimately more important as a player looks to “preserve his career.”
Rose promised to be a savior, and the way he’s played in his career so far suggests he wants to be a legend. That status, always available to him before, is now precarious in his moment of truth. Rose is quickly approaching a place with fans and critics where this decision not to play could undo everything else he’s been trying to do.
He can sit out. He can fail to finish that commercial that was playing while his knee was still on ice. He can do the normal person thing and not push himself, even when teammates choose to.
But he’ll never be a legend. He’ll never be the guy who put team above himself. He’ll never do the impossible, even if it’s crazy for fans to ask for that. He’ll never fulfill the obligations that came with him making that wish to be great.
If Rose doesn’t play now, he may be right, but he’s going to have to take everything that comes — or doesn’t come — with it.
Photo via YouTube/adidasbasketball