Updated: July 30, 2013 7:53AM
The “mysterious” ailment that wound up being a precursor to a career-ending stroke for Houston Astros fireballer J.R. Richard should have been an object lesson to reporters eager to play doctor in assessing the effect of injuries on athletes.
It happened 33 years ago, but it was still a good reason to avoid choosing sides in the Derrick Rose debate that was a distracting sideshow to the Bulls’ intrepid two-round playoff run last month. Only Rose really knows what’s best for his body, and he’s 24 years old, with a gazillion-dollar future ahead of him. Right?
But I know I would have been tempted to ask the 2010-11 MVP for 10-12 minutes when the Bulls were down to eight able-bodied players for Game 6 of the Nets series, with one of them, Nate Robinson, regurgitating his pregame meal into a garbage can on the sideline.
It’s neither fair nor logical, but I found myself thinking of Rose when Andrew Shaw returned mere minutes after dropping to the ice from a puck to the face during the Blackhawks’ surreal Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night. Later, Shaw didn’t want to leave when stitches from his wound opened and he started bleeding again.
Jonathan Toews is 25, a two-time Stanley Cup champion and an appealing guy with a future as enticing as Rose’s. The Hawks’ captain was incredulous when asked if he would play in Game 6, just 48 hours after he had been forced from Game 5 with concussion symptoms from Johnny Boychuk’s ferocious hit to his head. From what we now know of concussions, maybe Toews was crazy to risk his long-term health. He scored the Hawks’ first goal, set up their game-tying goal and was his typically relentless two-way self all night in earning the right to hoist the Cup. Let’s hope he remembers it all down the road.
Bryan Bickell will never match Rose or Toews in ability or earning power. The sturdy Hawks winger is an unrestricted free agent at 27, playing for a contract that might finally establish him as a viable NHL regular. Bickell came up big in all 23 playoff games, on a damaged knee that might require surgery.
He’s a hockey player. It’s what they do. Boston’s Patrice Bergeron played with a fractured rib and a punctured lung that landed him in a hospital after Game 6.
Remember Duncan Keith returning to the ice two shifts after losing seven teeth to an errant puck in Game 4 of the Hawks’ semifinal victory over the San Jose Sharks in 2010? With the possible exception of Patrick Kane’s solo celebration of his off-the-radar, Cup-winning goal in Philadelphia, Keith’s missing teeth are the enduring symbol of an emphatic end to 49 years of frustration for the Hawks and their fans.
It’s no reflection on Derrick Rose that he’s a basketball player — a great one — and not a product of hockey’s stoic, macho culture. Anyone who has ever seen Rose compete knows better than to question his heart.
But it’s that macho culture, along with an irrepressible combination of talent, savvy and pluck, that helps explain why these Hawks might come to rival the ’85 Bears as local legends.
From the snarling, mustachioed coach to the most anonymous special teamer, those Bears accentuated their talent with a defiant, tough-guy swagger that embodied how Chicagoans like to see themselves. The Jordan-era Bulls were too cool, too elegant, too perfect to evoke that level of passion. From their staying power as pitchmen and media personalities, you’d never suspect the Super Bowl XX champs couldn’t come close to winning again after ruling the football world in ’85.
The Hawks have already done them one better by winning twice in four years, with a roster that required a substantial overhaul to comply with the rules of their game. They’re not just good, they’re smart, well-managed and ambitious, demonstrating professional know-how at every level of the organization. In just six years they have become the standard-bearer for how things should work in Chicago sports.
It’s mostly attributable to the vision and commitment of Rocky Wirtz, who took over as Hawks chairman after his late father died in 2007. The Stanley Cup drought ended just three years later, but Rocky Wirtz was uncomfortable as the center of attention. Too much of it seemed a repudiation of his late father, whose tight-fisted, reactionary ways had come to symbolize the franchise’s futility.
Dollar Bill Wirtz and chief henchman Bob Pulford are rarely mentioned these days. This one is all Rocky’s.
A grateful city smiles.