Derrick Rose didn't ask for any of this, but that doesn't change anything.
It's been 548 days since Rose's injury-riddled 2011-2012 season ended with a torn anterior cruciate ligament that effectively ended his hometown Chicago Bulls' playoff run and made every basketball fan reach for the emergency diazepam. The live call of Rose shredding his knee comes close to capturing the collective stab-and-twist felt by even unbiased parties, but needs Kanye West's "Coldest Winter" to drive the point home.
Strip it of its inherent pathos and the sight of Rose collapsing in mid-air becomes nothing more than the crossroads of physiology and statistics -- no one built like Rose can play like Rose without a toll coming due. Perhaps not quite all of 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he is a reincarnated Allen Iverson remixed by Young Chop. While Iverson's play was consumed by a swaggering small man's machismo worthy of Roberto Duran, Rose's play is a thesis on presentism expressed via basketball: Only the present is real. The inevitable medical consequences of a playing style best classified as suicide mission aesthetics remained irrelevant to Rose, until the inevitable became reality.
Once it did, Rose's reality gradually mutated into that of an accidental culture warrior. The estimated recovery time from his injury was 8-12 months, but Rose hasn't played a meaningful game in 18. The expectation was that he'd be back in time to lead the Bulls into the playoffs, but Rose sat out the 2012-2013 season even after the Bulls' doctors cleared him to play.
As the void left in his absence was multiplied by time, whatever goodwill Rose had earned predictably moulted like a cumbersome skin of reason, as many fans and some writers clumsily fashioned him into a living rhetorical device: Is Rose quitting on his team? Has he lost his heart? What does he really know about Benghazi? Nonsense of zero value, vomited forth on cue by humanoid graduates of Hollywood Upstairs Medical College expecting athletes to be good little drones divested of personal interest.
It could be said that Rose's response has been silence, but that would suggest that he felt bothered to offer anything that could be construed as a response. The handful of public comments he has made have been brief recalibrations of one another that each made clear that he would play when he felt ready to play. Considering the sports-wide notion that athletes are entertainment chattel who exist only to doggedly pursue our own ends, Rose's ascetic pursuit of a full rehabilitation over a mere return functions as an unintentional but no less needed bit of shade-tossing aimed at the sports discourse.
This focus on self-care is, sadly, anathema, given not just the blind passions incited by sports, but also the reality-divorced standards that come with being such a visible part of such an obscenely profitable enterprise. A professional athlete attempting to ensure his physical health became a talking point. This was an actual controversy that some people got paid real money to write and talk about from a perspective of imagined expertise on how Derrick Rose's surgically reconstructed knee was feeling.
For his part, Rose didn't so much kill the controversy as wait it out with the patience of death. The larger story now is that Rose is healthy, and that's as fine a blessing on this NBA season as there is to be had. The half-life of a make-believe scandal is thankfully short, and Rose rode out the worst of it by staying true to what the present demands.
The story goes that injured athletes are supposed to push their way past those nerdlinger doctors and go out there to acquire supreme ultimate glory for the Gopper or Bipper or whatever other convenient narrative symbol is at hand. Unfortunately for those who buy into that easy mythologizing, athletes are humans, and every human has good reason to prize his or her long-term health over clocking extra hours.
Besides, anyone willing to accept that Derrick Rose is a person with concerns beyond their own now gets to enjoy Derrick Rose doing Derrick Rose stuff. Thus far, it looks like giving that really scary-good dude 18 months to get healthy and work on his game was maybe not a bad idea. Of course, the entire season will play out as a referendum on Rose's decision. And that's fine. If someone must endure the vulgarly facile standards of the soulless sports fan, best for it to be someone who really can't be bothered.
Rose is about the present and what the present demands. Everything else is just everything else. His entire rehabilitation has played out as a search for the moment when his body would tell him that it's ready, and as long as Rose can operate in the present, he will never cease to be what he's always been.
At least, that's the hope that any and every decent basketball fan clutches that much tighter for reassurance on the eve of Rose's return. The Bulls play the defending champion Miami Heat on Tuesday night. It should be a pretty good game.
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Tomas Rios is a freelance NYC-based writer who has covered MMA for The Classical, Deadspin, The Pacific Standard and Slate. You can find him @TheTomasRios.