The life of a star professional athlete is everyone’s dream. All the money you could ever need, a city that loves you, and a legacy that will long outlast you. This storybook career only happens for a select few players, but there’s another group that we don’t often talk about.
For every legend, there’s a guy who never quite made it. Someone who tasted the success, had it all, and couldn’t seal the deal. In the NFL, we see this on all sorts of levels. Johnny Manziel never even really got to taste professional success. Vince Young had several good seasons just to end his career on a practice squad. Jay Cutler has basically been turned into Chicago’s punching bag. Granted, these guys still got rich, but the psychological toll of seeing your name in lights right in front of you just to have it stripped away in an in inglorious swipe isn’t something that should be overlooked.
On Monday, Derrick Rose went MIA for the New York Knicks as they fell to the New Orleans Pelicans 110-96. It was a bizzare evening as media outlets and team officials did their best to track down the former league MVP, who had returned to his hometown of Chicago to attend to “a family issue regarding his mother.”
The absence came after a particularly tense period in the relationship between Rose and Knicks’ coach Jeff Hornacek. Rose, who failed to notify any teammates or team officials of his absence prior to leaving, had been benched in the fourth quater of back-to-back games. His actions were unacceptable, but the complex range of emotions beneath them are deeply concerning.
Back in 2011, Derrick Rose had it all. He had just been named NBA MVP, he was averaging 25 PPG, and he was doing it all in his beloved hometown of Chicago. It seemed like he was destined to become one of the NBA’s next superstars. Rose started off the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season with high hopes to build off his MVP year and take the Bulls deeper into the playoffs. Beginning in January, however, Rose was forced to miss games with injury after injury, ranging from a sprained toe to back spasms. At the time, Rose told reporters, “For someone to not miss more than seven, 10 games in a year (my first three seasons), to miss 20 something, 30 something games, it hurts, man.”
Despite Rose being sidelined most of the regular season, the Bulls were able to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference, setting up a quarterfinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers. Rose was able to get healthy before the series began, so he was ready to lead the Bulls on a playoff run. Fate wouldn’t have it that way. Midway through the game, Rose suffered an injury while landing after a jump. After an MRI, it was revealed that Rose tore his ACL. The news hit everyone around the league hard, and the fairytale career that Rose had worked so hard to obtain was falling apart around him.
Rose would go on to miss the entire 2012-13 season, and played in 10 games the following year before tearing the meniscus in his right knee, an injury that sidelined him the rest of the season. In his final two seasons in Chicago, rose missed a combined 47 games and it was becoming apparent that Jimmy Butler was taking over as leader of the team. Before the 2016-17 season, Rose was sent off to the New York Knicks along with Joakim Noah.
Rose’s trade to the Knicks was seen by many as an opportunity for a fresh start. Rose would no longer be asked to shoulder the burdens of being an NBA superstar, but rather be a good player on, well, a bad team. From the outside, it hasn’t seemed to us like things have been going that bad for D-Rose. Sure, the Knicks suck, but he’s averaging decent numbers and he seems to get along with teammates, so what’s there to worry about? Well, the struggles between Hornacek and Rose had certainly drawn more attention to Rose’s unhappiness, but Monday’s disappearance has now made it headline news. This was no mistake. Rose wanted it that way. Why else wouldn’t he tell anybody? Did he think nobody would notice a professional athlete dipping out on game night?
More than anything, this is a cry for attention, and maybe a cry for help. He told the media he was taking care of his mother. ProBasketballTalk is reporting that he “talked about walking away from basketball.” The same source also reported that Rose will seek a max contract this summer. Derrick Rose is not in a stable place right now. Rumors are swirling all around him, often contradicting one another. After all this chaos, it’s hard to see a scenario in which he stays put happily in a Knicks uniform, but furthermore, it’s unclear if Rose has been happy since his MVP season.
When you look back on what’s happened to Rose since that year, you realize that he’s been through the ringer. After his second severe injury, he was basically turned into a meme. He had a promising young career with his hometown team, and his own body took it away from him. He started off 2016 by saying he’d like to finish his career with the Bulls, and ended it on an unfamiliar team with a coach he’s less than enthusiastic about. Monday’s absence wasn’t just strange and quite frankly unexplained, it was a sign that the former MVP’s mind is focusing far beyond his teammates and is questioning his current place in life altogether. He didn’t skip out on the game because he was mad at Hornacek. Rather, the feud forced him to look in the mirror to question if he was truly happy where he was, and the only place he felt he could find that answer was home in Chicago where it all started.
It’s unclear where Rose goes from here, but it’s had to see this situation dissolving anytime soon. In the meantime, we should all be paying attention.