By Dan Bernstein Senior Columnist

(CBS) Derrick Rose is not a prop.

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He’s too nice to decline the request, of course, too loyal to the Bulls organization to opt out politely and avoid being exploited as a cheap marketing gimmick, even in what must be some of the darkest, most painful days of his basketball life.

So grim-faced, he played along with the pandering. He set down his crutches and hobbled to midcourt to present the game ball, even trying to contort his face into a halfhearted grin for the photo-op before making his way to a lonely seat upstairs. His eyes said it all.

Glad to see he wasn’t then asked to stagger around with Benny the Bull, doing the spilling-popcorn bit. That’s probably for the next home game. Or perhaps he’ll sit with Scottie Pippen – the other mascot – yukking it up and ragging the refs with beers in hand. Look! They’re on the Kiss-Cam!

It was hard to watch, this shallow, prefabricated attempt at inspiration. It garnered some short-term applause, but even that dissipated into nothing as the game began.

Willis Reed, this was not.

It’s one thing to do what the Blackhawks did, placing Marian Hossa’s jersey in his locker after the winger was blasted unconscious on the ice. Silly as that was for professionals, at least it was the doing of the team itself, within their private confines. By them, for them. Whatever.

This, though, was a transparently-produced bit, done for the cameras. It was packaged television fodder for lazy media to lap up and redistribute to needy fans, for whom the fascinating, thrilling NBA game too often isn’t enough.

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I can’t get over the sheer chutzpah it would take to ask Rose to do this, knowing full well he’d feel obligated to accept. It’s taking advantage of a proud, grown man during an emotional, complicated, difficult time. Thanks for everything, Derrick – all that playing through pain stuff, all the media responsibility, the representing the city on the global stage, the leadership. Now do this little sketch for us. Make sure you make it obvious when you put the crutches aside…perfect!

And what was the real message? Any sense of hope conveyed by Rose’s ability to limp unassisted for a few feet was torpedoed by the stark image of his obvious frailty. Instead of a powerful jolt of motivation, reinforcing strength and unity, it was merely a sad reminder of the fragility of both Rose and this era of Bulls competitiveness attached to him. The cracked glass of a championship window.

Just get him fixed, get him rehabbing, get him better and get him back. Treat him with the dignity he’s earned by being the player and ambassador he has been.

It was just unseemly last night. Here was Derrick Rose, product of the city’s toughest neighborhood, public-leaguer-turned-MVP, probably pumped full of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, being asked to participate in a cynical, pregame performance piece conceived to pull the heartstrings of saps.

This stupid stunt was exactly what Rose is right now, sadly:


Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

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