Monday, April 6, 2015

Wilted Rose

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

When I close my eyes, the visual is of him dribbling nonchalantly at the top of the key, the ball transitioning between his hands with each slow, rhythmic bounce.  As the shot clock reaches 10 seconds, the crowd begins an alarmed countdown, but he doesn’t seem to notice.  Slightly bent at the waist, his eyes are calm, his body is relaxed and his expression is neither fearful nor threatening.

As the crescendo-ing verbal chant reaches “six”, his dribble gets more deliberate and his chiseled body launches into motion.  A quick crossover and he is by the overmatched on-ball defender.  Entering the lane, a pack of large defenders collapses on him.  No matter.  He slashes by the first and seven feet from the basket he takes off with rare explosion.  Rising into the air he contorts his body in inhuman ways, splits the final two defenders in mid-flight and violently dunks the basketball.

The crowd leaps to its feet in adulation while a deflated opponent fetches the ball from under the basket.  Derrick Rose, having put an exclamation point on another routine act of jaw-dropping athleticism, cracks a wry smile and meanders back up court.

That daydream was once everyday life with Rose.  In 2008, Rose led a Memphis Tigers team, coached by John Calipari, within a single point of a national championship and nearly busted my golden March Madness bracket in the process.  Memphis eventually lost to Kansas in overtime, but not before Rose, clearly the best player on the floor, scared the bejesus out of me, Dorothy, Toto and anyone else with a real or financial connection with Jayhawk-nation.

Later that summer, Rose, a Chicago native, was the first pick in the NBA Draft…by the Chicago Bulls.  By 2010 he was an All-Star.  In 2011, at the ripe old age of 22, he unseated former Washington Bullets center Wes Unseld at the youngest MVP in league history. 

The fairytale overloaded in the opening game of the 2012 NBA Playoffs.  Penetrating the paint with reckless abandon (much like the story that lurks in my memory), Rose jump-stopped short of the rim.  Instead of finishing with trademark explosion, he grasped at his left knee in mid-air and collapsed near the baseline.  The verdict: torn ACL.

Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season and a meniscus injury to his right knee cost him all but 10 games of the 2013-14 season.  This year was his latest attempt to regain the ferocious, carefree form that once had him among the NBA’s elite.  It was going okay…but after another injury and surgery last week to his right knee, that fabulous version of Rose, the supreme athlete that’s stuck in my head, will likely never be reality again.

Rose’s terrible and unfair demise will change the way I follow sports, the final stage of an on-going process.  I like heroes and villains – we all do.  I like to love and hate and to cheer “my guys” and boo “their guys.”  The love and adulation for members of the home team will remain; it’s the utter disdain - for such things as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Duke Blue Devils and everything Dallas Cowboys – that’s waning.

As a Wizards fan, I shouldn’t like Derrick Rose - but I do.  I should find some sick pleasure in his myriad of career-sapping leg injuries - but I don’t.  Rose made the NBA better and basketball more fun to watch.  He never wore a Wizards jersey, but my goodness his skills were breathtaking (past tense, I’m afraid)…and I took them for granted.  I figured Derrick Rose would be Derrick Rose for years, just like I thought Bo Jackson would dominate the NFL and Tiger Woods would lay waste to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships.

I’m a fool.  Athleticism isn’t just finite; it is terribly fragile.  One wrong step, one awkward fall and a career can be altered or ended.  Assume nothing; maximize every opportunity; appreciate every moment - even if it means admiring a so-called enemy.  I supposed that’s the lesson in the scars all over Derrick Rose’s knees, a place where sports- and life-wisdom apparently intersect.  

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