Come Saturday in Spain there will be millions holding their breath. You can hardly blame them for squinting when Derrick Rose makes a move to the rim and lands awkwardly. Or when he gets up after a spill. Or when he changes directions in a blur. It is the ordinary consequence of missing someone for two years, of Derrick Rose being gone the way young athletes should never be gone. Because like a brilliant light in a dreamy world, he was here for a short while and then he disappeared. Now he is back amidst the controversial debate of whether he should be playing for the United States in the World Cup.
Fear weighs a ton. What surrounds the United States World Cup team, what is hamstrung around their precious necks choking off oxygen has nothing to do with how good this team may be. Or if Spain playing on Spain soil is better because of home country advantage. That is a secondary story in the United States, nationalism be damned. Occupying the World Cup narrative is the appearance of Derrick Rose. How does he look? How will he play? Will he…get hurt?
What hangs over Derrick Rose’s presence in Spain is the freakish nature of random acts. Derrick Rose might cut one way and his knee may decide to do something else altogether. Or he may accidentally slip on a wet part of the floor. Or bump knees with someone from Lithuania. Or a thousand different scenarios in which Derrick Rose becomes lame just by doing what comes natural to him, playing basketball.
Derrick Rose continues to say he is “over the injury”. He has regained his explosion but it will take a little bit longer to regain his overall game. His on court time is limited; on this team there are plenty of guards who can fill in for Derrick Rose as he quietly integrates himself back into his game. These are the intermediate steps magnified by the glare of a culture with a two minute attention span. His coaches on Team USA which include his Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau are cautiously patient, almost nervous, as if walking on glass. Team USA must deliver Derrick Rose healthy for training camp.
This is how he wishes the story would go, how he wishes it would line up. I’m back. I’m healthy. Leave it alone. Stop asking me about it. Stop.
But that’s not quite how it works, at least not anymore, not with so much money at stake, not with so many of his fans just now re-emerging from a perpetual two year mourning. Whether Derrick Rose wants to admit it or if he chooses to feign a blasé approach, history is a strong precursor of the truth. The truth can be painful because of the past two years. We just cannot forget it happened.
Athletes overcome their injuries because they simply have to but fans store the memories in a vault, removing the worse parts and glorifying the chaos. Piece by piece these injured fragments symbolize something far greater than the human body in disrepair. They illustrate the fragility of hope and consequences. Fans remember suffering and why wouldn’t they since their entire existence is a vicarious interdependency. They have nothing else to rely on. They are strangers to rehab. They are not acquainted with setbacks and pain and sleepless nights. Nor can they write chapter and verse on the loneliness and late hour practices and how you have to trick your mind. Fans see only two things, that is their luxury. They see the painful fall and then they embrace the return.
Everyone wants to see Derrick Rose play the Cleveland Cavaliers in meaningful games for the Central Division title. They want to see Derrick matched up against Kyrie Irving in the Eastern Conference Finals. It is this bit of hope that drives the gloom because fans live in the past.
Ultimately most teams lose. Most teams lose over and over again. They lose because they are incompetent. Or they lose because they are talent deprived. Or they lose because they are injured. Fans hold onto all three things and their recall is instant. Once upon a time Derrick Rose scored 36 points in his first playoff game in Boston Garden; he was a rookie. Once upon a time Derrick Rose scored 23 points in a playoff game in Chicago; he ripped up his ACL.
On the World Cup team Derrick Rose will come off the bench. It is not much of a surprise, many are grateful. Those are the same people that don’t want him in this tournament at all and they are the same people who are watching everything he does with anticipation and so hypocrisy reigns supreme.
Six years have passed since Derrick Rose entered the NBA Draft. As great as it has been- MVP, Rookie of the Year, All-Star, Eastern Conference Finals- it has not surpassed the first six years of Kobe Bryant who won back to back to back NBA titles. Or Shaquille O’Neal who had been to the Finals. Or Magic Johnson who won two NBA Finals MVP’s. Or Bill Russell, 5 time champion, 3 MVP’s. Neither Kobe nor Shaq nor Magic nor Russell had to engineer a comeback because of their injured bodies at the age of 25.
Four years of explosive playmaking and dynamic skill have come to meet its moment: Derrick Rose in the World Cup after a terrible basketball absence. Even the name of the tournament should have an asterisk. Yes, the world wants to beat Derrick Rose (and his teammates). But at the same time the world is waiting for that small glimpse of Derrick Rose, healthy and recovered. Just as he was in 2012, only better.