By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) He’s questionable for tonight’s game in Utah. He’s already sat out the last four and eight of 13 overall. And so far this season, he’s been able to finish a grand total of three contests.
He, of course, is none other than Derrick Rose.
And he’s Chicago’s headache. As well as its knee ache, its ankle ache, its hamstring ache and whatever ache comes next.
Here in the Windy City, Rose isn’t our first injury-plagued superstar, but the Bulls’ part-time point guard may indeed be unlike any of those who have come before him – because, as it turns out, he’s all of them balled into one.
In fact, you could actually call Rose the “Sum of All Our Fears,” because I’m not sure there’s been a more disappointing Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Kerry Wood. And I’m not sure there’s been a more frustrating Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Mark Prior. And, I’m also not sure there’s been a more heartbreaking Chicago athlete than him – except maybe Gale Sayers.
Since 2011, we’ve watched Rose’s career devolve from the heights of an NBA Most Valuable Player award into the current slog that it is following two major knee surgeries and an array of lesser injuries, including the strained hamstring and pair of sprained ankles that have hampered him this season.
As Rose’s body has broken down and he’s fallen under criticism from fans and media, I’ve felt that the athlete who many hoped would be Chicago’s next Michael Jordan has instead looked a lot more like its modern-day Prior. But as I’ve thought more about it of late, I’ve come to realize that Rose isn’t just the Bulls’ version of Prior, he’s their version of Wood and Sayers, too.
Consider that when Rose entered the NBA in 2008 and won Rookie of the Year award, he emerged as a truly transcendent athlete for his position, driving to the basket with more explosiveness and playing above the rim more often than perhaps any point guard before him.
In 1965, Bears running back Sayers was a similar talent in the NFL. From what I’ve been told by those who saw him play, he was maybe the closest thing to Barry Sanders before Barry Sanders, as the slippery Sayers set a league record for touchdowns en route to winning Rookie of the Year honors and then set a then-single-season record for all-purpose yards in 1966.
Nine games into his fourth season, Sayers was on his way to leading the league in rushing for already the third time when he tore ligaments in his right knee. That injury robbed him of his speed, and two years later a second injury, this time to his left knee, effectively ended his career. Sayers eventually was forced retired at just the age of 29, as Chicago was sadly left lamenting the career that could have been. Already with Rose, we know his truly transcendent days are behind him, and that indeed is sad.
With the Cubs, the hard-throwing Wood evoked a similar “What if?” feeling among baseball fans, although the 20-year-old pitcher who struck out 20 Houston Astros in just his fifth career start had less than one full season under his belt before he needed to undergo Tommy John surgery. His greatness was but a blink in our eyes.
With Wood having gone under the knife early in his career like Rose, there was never any doubt about the legitimacy of his injuries, which ultimately put him on the disabled list 16 times in his career. Wood was a truly great talent saddled by a truly bad body, and I do believe Rose is very much the same.
Like powerful Cubs right-hander Prior, Rose’s toughness also has repeatedly been called into question. Unlike Wood, whose injuries I never doubted, I often wondered during Prior’s checkered career with the Cubs whether he knew the difference between being hurt and being injured. Or if he cared.
After all, it wasn’t until into Prior’s fifth season in 2007, after seemingly countless trips to the disabled list for vague injuries, that he finally underwent an actual surgical procedure on his shoulder. Until then, many were left to doubt Prior’s desire to play. Bulls fans today have similarly doubted Rose’s desire after he missed the playoffs in 2013 despite being cleared by doctors to play and after he made recent comments about sitting out games to avoid having soreness during “meetings” 20 years from now.
This past weekend, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, “If a guy is injured, he should sit. If a guy is hurting, he should play. It’s really that simple. Right now, Derrick is not ready to go. He’s injured. The guy has had two major injuries. If he needs time, we’re going to give him time.”
In the meantime, Chicagoans can ponder who Rose reminds them most of on this day. After all, Sayers’ heartbreak, Wood’s disappointment and Prior’s frustrations all can stake their claims.