TELANDER: As MJ roared back once, so must Derrick Rose
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com February 18, 2013 10:57PM
Updated: March 20, 2013 6:42AM
In case you haven’t heard, Michael Jordan just turned 50.
More important, in two weeks, Derrick Rose will turn 24 1/2.
One man’s halfway to 100. The other is halfway to we-don’t-know-where.
This is for sure: Rose is not a kid, a project, a diamond-in-the-rough anymore. He’s a wounded, prime-of-his-career superstar who finds himself teetering on the ledge between an ascendant past and an uncertain future.
At not quite 25, Jordan won the greatest All-Star dunk contest ever at old Chicago Stadium in 1988, beating Dominique Wilkins with a free-throw-line takeoff immortalized by photographers. In those photos, from front and side, you can see Jordan suspended in mid-air, jaw thrust out fiercely, the ball cocked defiantly by the side of his head.
There is no such iconic photo of Rose. Yet.
Which is the issue. Derrick Rose has yet to do what all great heroes must do — return from setback. Become even greater than before.
When he told USA Today recently that he wasn’t sure how his rehab from knee surgery last spring was going, that he didn’t know if he would be able to play at all this year, Rose sounded worried and hesitant and defensive. He never has been through anything like this ACL injury, and it has left him shell-shocked. That is understandable.
It doesn’t help that a football player, the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson, had ACL surgery last winter and just eight months later set out on the second greatest season ever for a running back, winning the NFL’s 2012 MVP trophy. Rose has been out almost 10 months, with no end in sight.
It’s not fair to compare Rose’s healing process to anyone else’s.
‘‘Everybody’s body heals differently,’’ Peterson said at the Pro Bowl. ‘‘That’s something nobody’s going to understand.’’
It’s ‘‘also a matter of genetics,’’ Peterson told NFL.com, sounding a tad Jimmy the Greek. ‘‘Look at my dad. And my mom’s side, my aunts and uncles, they’re all ripped. At 50 years old, they’ve got six-packs and eight-packs.
‘‘My body just heals differently. . . . I really credit my genetics for my recovery as much as anything else.’’
Like Rose, Jordan had been forced to come back from an early injury that scared and frustrated him. Jordan’s injury occurred his second year in the NBA, when he broke a small bone in his left foot. It didn’t seem like much, but for an athlete who puts tremendous torque on his lower body, there were concerns it could be a recurrent issue that could end his career.
But Jordan, who sat out most of the 1985-86 season, wanted to return so badly that he fumed when owner Jerry Reinsdorf and general manager Jerry Krause put strict time limits on him when he finally returned. That harnessing, indeed, was the genesis of the legendary contempt Jordan felt for Krause from then on.
‘‘You have to let me be a human being,’’ he complained at the time. ‘‘I’m not a piece of meat.’’
There is no comparing Jordan’s and Rose’s injuries, since every man’s body and temperament are different. Maybe Jordan has more people in his family with six-packs and eight-packs, too. Who can say about any of this?
But what is known is that the Bulls need Rose, and he knows that, and if he doesn’t return — in near-perfect shape — this season and many others may be ruined.
Monday afternoon, Rose played in 5-on-5 drills at the Berto Center with teammates. It was the first time he had done anything so close to real NBA competition since the injury. There in the little press room, blocked from the court by the windows with the opaque blinds pulled down, we could hear the intensity of the competition.
After practice, Rose was gone, but center Joakim Noah said that Rose played ‘‘just a little bit. Not too much.’’
Jordan was soaring through the air and dunking for all time when he was 24. Rose, glumly, has said he can’t even dunk yet. Did he do it Monday?
‘‘No, not yet,’’ Noah said.
Guard Kirk Hinrich, himself just back from an infected elbow, said of Rose, ‘‘He got out there, and it’s good.’’
And it’s vague. And it’s hurtful. And poor, befuddled Rose is in the midst of it, seemingly as clueless as the rest of us.
His words, actually, have no bearing on any of this. It’s his actions, his confidence, his healing that are all.
Jordan never had missed a game until he broke his foot, going all the way back to Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. That first big injury freaks every supreme athlete. His identity wavers.
If Rose can learn from His Airness, it’s to follow his own timetable. And if it’s even for two seconds in the last game of the season — and you can handle it — come back and play.
It could be your moment.