Once upon a time, the league had never seen something quite like Derrick Rose.
At a chiseled 6’3 with eye-popping explosiveness and an absolutely relentless approach to the game, the No. 1 pick of the 2008 draft made several plays a night of which no one else on earth seemed capable. He had the Chicago Bulls thinking championship during his third NBA season, leading Tom Thibodeau’s defensive-oriented squad to a league-best 62-20 regular season record by averaging 25.0 points and 7.7 assists per game – team success and individual dominance that combined to make him the youngest MVP in league history.
Though Chicago was humbled by the superstar-laden Miami Heat in the ensuing Eastern Conference Finals, the sky was still the limit for Rose and company following 2010-2011. The Bulls earned the East’s top playoff seed again one year later, appearing destined for the rematch with Miami that the entire basketball world longed to see.
But it never came to be. Rose tore his ACL during the final moments of Chicago’s easy Game 1 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the first-round of the postseason, triggering a series of injuries – most recently marked by a fractured orbital bone last week – that have left him a shell of his MVP self. The Bulls parted ways with Thibodeau over the offseason, and will face several key personnel decisions when free agency begins next July – ones that will be directly influenced by whether or not Rose flashes a return to form in 2015-16.
The shelf lives of superstars differ wildly. For every Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, or LeBron James, there’s a Penny Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, or Brandon Roy. That Sunday marks Rose’s 27th birthday is indicative of just how much time he still has left to play like his old self and avoid the fate that plagued short-lived franchise players of the past.
What would be the best gift for Chicago’s hometown hero? A clean bill of health from this point forward. And here’s hoping Rose is lucky enough to get what he, the Bulls, and all basketball fans across the country have hoped he’d receive over the past several years.