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Former NBA star Tim Hardaway to Derrick Rose: I came back, and so can you

Derrick Rose Bulls is assisted off court after injuring his left knee final minutes fourth quarter Game 1 Eastern Conference

Derrick Rose of the Bulls is assisted off the court after injuring his left knee in the final minutes of the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first round playoffs at the United Center Saturday, April 28, 2012, in Chicago. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:46AM

When Tim Hardaway saw Derrick Rose fall to the floor and grab his left knee in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, he knew what had happened. The former Miami Heat guard didn’t bother to watch the replay.

‘‘I saw the game when he did it, and I knew exactly what it was,’’ said Hardaway, who now works as a community liaison for the Heat. ‘‘I knew it was his [anterior cruciate ligament]. I don’t like to see guys get hurt anyway, but when it’s an ACL, I know how much it hurts. It’s a serious injury. It’s a long road back.’’

Hardaway contacted Rose through his niece Mieka Reese, who is Rose’s longtime girlfriend. He told Rose about how he tore his ACL and assured him he will be better than ever — in time. Hardaway, a former standout at Carver, told Rose about how he came back to be a first-team All-NBA player and All-Star despite undergoing the surgery at a time when complete recoveries were far less certain.

‘‘He was pretty devastated,’’ Hardaway said of Rose. ‘‘You could tell. You’re hearing people, but you’re not really focused. I remember listening to folks when I was hurt, and all I could think was: ‘I can’t play. I can’t play the game I love to play, and I can’t help my team.’ That will be the hardest thing he’ll ever have to go through. He won’t be able to help his team win ballgames.’’

What Rose is trying to do, Hardaway accomplished almost two decades ago. Hardaway split two defenders while driving for a layup during practice when it felt like the floor reached up and grabbed his ankle. He looked down and saw his lower leg move in a way nature never intended.

‘‘It was traumatizing to see something like that,’’ said Hardaway, who missed the 1993-94 season. ‘‘I couldn’t catch my breath. I thought I was going to die.’’

Like Rose, Hardaway was a point guard who learned his craft on Chicago playgrounds. Like Rose, his quickness and killer crossover dribble gave him a major advantage against opponents. That’s why the message Hardaway recently delivered to Rose still resonates: I recovered, and so will you.

‘‘Next year is going to be very hard for him,’’ Hardaway said. ‘‘I’ve been there. It was very hard for me. It’s hard to accept.’’

Hardaway said it took him 11 months before he could play in an NBA game and another full year before he felt like his old self. Technology has improved and rehabilitation techniques have advanced, but Hardaway said he doesn’t think the timeline has changed much.

‘‘My biggest thing was getting my head and knee on the same page, so I could do the same things I did before the injury — doing the crossover, exploding to the basket, not being afraid to lay the ball up over a big guy,’’ he said. ‘‘I had to get to a point where I didn’t fear leaping off my left leg. That was the biggest challenge I had to overcome. It’s something you just have to go out and do.’’

Hardaway returned to his roots during the most critical part of his rehab and encouraged Rose to do the same. Hardaway said it was the playgrounds of Chicago that best prepared him for the rigors of returning to the NBA.

‘‘I went home to Chicago and played some summer tournaments, and they got me back to where I needed to be,’’ he said. ‘‘They picked me up full-court; they pressured me. That’s the way we played. That’s how we play in Chicago. We play hard and tough, and if you want to get back to the way it was, you have to play against people in Chicago. They will help you get back.’’

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