By: Dan Grant
Jay Williams had retired to begin with. Derrick Rose knew this. He was there when it happened. He was just a teen when the former Bulls prospect wrecked his motorcycle, thereby ending what had been a promising career. The young Rose saw such frivolousness and shook his head. This was supposed to be the Bulls point guard of the future. This was supposed to be the new icon – not Jordan of course, never Jordan – but the new era? Yes.
But Old Williams’ career was dead as a door nail.
Nobody ever worried about Derrick Rose. He was always going to make it, always going to be a star. He led Memphis to a National Title game. He was drafted first overall by his hometown Bulls in 2008. He won the MVP award in just his third season. He even inadvertently forced the league to create a new pay scale exception named after him. Rose was the future of the NBA. He really was.
It all felt great. There was never a hint of doubt. There were mild worries about his three point range and whether or not he would have to change his game as he got older – I mean really, who could keep driving to the rim like that? But, it was always a foregone conclusion: this guy is elite. This guy is the next one. This is a foil for LeBron and Durant. This is a face of a franchise, a conference, a league.
April 28th, 2012: Rose tears his ACL in Game 1 of the first round of the NBA playoffs. He misses the subsequent season amid a flurry of rumours about his being cleared to play but ‘afraid’ to return.
‘He doesn’t trust his knee’ they whispered.
‘He’ll never be the same’ they whispered.
Derrick Rose makes his triumphant return… but looks rusty. Pre-season hype claiming that Rose is able to actually jump higher is accurate, but sees limited effect on his game. His mid-range and three point games both look, correctly, like he missed an entire season in the NBA.
An early signature win over the NBA leading Indiana Pacers seemed to bode well for young Rose, seemed to indicate that he was becoming more polished, ready again to assume top 5 status in the league.
November 22nd, 2013: Derrick Rose tears his medial meniscus in his other knee. He will miss remainder of 2013-14 season.
‘Humbug!’ said Rose.
‘And look, you’ll be back for 2014-15, with no issues at all’ said Coach Thibodeau with a smile.
‘I can send you game film and on the weekends, once you’re up and about of course, you, me and Deng can hit up the Appleby’s by the airport, maybe get into some trouble, what do you say?’
‘Coach-‘ Derrick started.
‘Oh not an Appleby’s guy, eh? Well OK, I’ll just leave this game film here. Try to imagine what you’ll feel like once you’re totally healthy and see if you can think of a way to guard LeBron and Paul George at the same time because I’m sure those bastards will wind up on the same team by then-‘ Thibodeau began to get red in the face.
‘Coach!-’ Derrick tried again.
‘They’ll probably bring that clown Korver along for the ride!’ Thibodeau collapsed into a recliner, panting. He removed a bottle of pills from his breast pocket and choked down an indiscriminate amount.
Derrick looked at him, nonplussed.
‘I’ve got an ulcer or two’ the coach explained, ‘you can only sustain rage for so long before they develop. I’ve been angry, or at least mildly peeved, since 1998. Got a bad haircut at Supercuts and it was all downhill from there!’
‘OK Coach’, Rose forced a grin, ‘thanks for coming by. I need to get some rest now’.
Thibodeau looked at his watch ‘But it’s only 1am! This is when I usually start breaking down high screens in the Turkish under 15 league!’
‘Well coach, you need to develop your game your way, and I’ll develop it mine’, Rose chided him.
‘That’s the problem, Derrick. You’ve been gone so long, I don’t think you’re developing it at all!’ Thibodeau wailed.
‘Humbug’ said Rose.
As Rose lay in his bed that night of November 26th, one day after undergoing successful surgery on his right knee, he was riddled with self-doubt.
‘All that rehab… for nothing’, he thought, frustrated.
‘How am I going to be able to be me? I gotta be able to go hard to the rim, to stop and start in traffic. I have to be explosive. That’s my biggest weapon on the court!’
‘Maybe I should just hang it up’, he lamented aloud, to himself.
There came a voice in the darkness. ‘That’s an interesting thought Derrick!’
Rose quickly tried to leap up, but with his heavily bandaged knee, was trapped in his bed.
‘Who the hell is there?’ he shouted
‘Derrick, don’t worry, it’s just me – Jay Williams!’ Williams smiled winningly from a dark corner of the room.
‘Ohhhh Jay. OK, I guess. I mean, this is kind of weird. What’re you doing here? It’s the middle of the night’, Derrick asked.
‘Well Derrick, I’ve got some news for you. It’s not exactly bad news but it’s not good news either’, warned Jay.
‘What a weird thing to say. But news? What kind of news? Did we finally amnesty Boozer?’ Derrick asked excitedly.
‘No Derrick, that would most decidedly fall under good news, wouldn’t it?’ said Jay, smiling. ‘No, the news I’m here to tell you is more of a warning – you’re going to have more visitors tonight’.
‘Visitors?’ Derrick sat up. ‘Don’t tell me Thibodeau is coming back. I can’t watch film with him anymore. That guy needs to take a vacation. I just had surgery, I can start my rehab in a couple of weeks’.
‘No Derrick’, said Williams as he moved into the light, ‘I’m here to let you know that you’ll be visited by three spirits.’
‘Three spirits?’ Rose repeated ‘What is this? Am I dreaming? Reggie, are you behind this?’ He looked around for his brother.
Williams emerged further from the darkness, standing starkly, the chains around his legs now fully visible.
‘No Derrick’, he looked down despondently, ‘It’s not a joke’.
‘You’re chained up, bro!’ Rose exclaimed. ‘What gives?!’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied Williams ominously. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?’
‘Girded? What the hell is going on here?’ Rose tried to rise from bed, but fell back due to the weakness in his leg.
‘Derrick, I’m trying to say, if you don’t change some things, you’re going to wind up just like me’ Williams explained more kindly.
Rose recoiled, as if slapped. ‘Like you? I just got hurt playing ball! You crashed your damned motorcycle into a telephone pole! You broke your pelvis and severed a nerve in your leg! I’ll never wind up like you!’
Williams smiled sadly, ‘The spirits will explain the rest Derrick. I really do wish you the best of luck.’
‘But Jay! I have so many more questions!’ Derrick again tried to rise, again failed, ‘Jay! Come back!’
Williams dragged his chains and slowly moved out of the room. ‘Be mindful of the spirits, Derrick. They’re your only chance at redemption’.
His chains scraped the floor as he moved out of the room. The door closed softly behind him. Derrick could hear the chains long afterward.
Despite his racing heart and utter fear, he soon fell into a restless sleep.
‘I am here looking for one of the most dominant forces in the NBA!’ a voice boomed out over the sleeping Derrick, waking him instantly.
He looked up into a smiling face.
Grey-blond hair framed the face of a giant of a man. White teeth glistened. A vague smell of patchouli mixed with mari— well, that’s not that important. There was a very distinct smell, that’s all that matters.
‘Hello Derrick!’ he boomed. ‘I’m-‘
‘Bill Walton!’ Derrick broke into a wide smile. ‘Man, I know who you are’.
‘Well gosh, that’s flattering’, Bill smiled.
‘Man, when I was a kid, you were the best colour commentator I ever heard!’ Rose gushed.
Walton cringed. ‘Derrick, you do know I played in the NBA right?’
‘You did?’ Derrick asked, flabbergasted. ‘When? Who for?’
Walton sighed. ‘Well I was drafted by the Trail Blazers in ‘74 – first overall, like you! We won the championship in 1977, the first year I was able to play in even 65 games. I missed a lot of my first two years with random injuries. We were on our way to repeating in 78 – we were 50-10! – when I broke my foot for the first time. I won the MVP that year anyway and came back for the playoffs. Too soon it turned out. I broke my foot again in the second game of the playoffs and I can’t lie, I was really never the same.’
‘Oh mannnn’, Derrick groaned, ‘that must have been rough’.
‘Oh it was Derrick,’ Walton grimaced ‘I missed three of the next four seasons with foot and ankle problems. I finally got healthy enough to win a Sixth Man of the Year award –
‘Oh well that’s good!’ Rose brightened.
‘-in 1986, with the Celtics’.
‘1986! That’s like, what, NINE years after you broke your foot? What the hell took so long?!’ Rose leapt out of bed.
‘Hey! My knee! I’m all better!’ Rose immediately grabbed a basketball and dunked it with maximum vengeance.
‘Wait…’ Rose looked around. ‘How come I’m not at home? How did we get to the United Center?’ He looked around at the vast arena of empty seats. He and Walton were alone.
Walton grinned, ‘I took you here to remind you of what you were Derrick. To remind you how good it felt to be you. You need to do everything you can to get that feeling back, or it will be gone forever’.
Rose grabbed a ball, bounced it off the backboard, caught it mid-air and dunked it.
‘Man, alright! I can get behind this!’
Suddenly his knee buckled. Then the other one.
‘Bill? Bill, ow, come on, what the hell is this man?’ Derrick howled in pain.
Walton stood over Derrick. ‘To truly appreciate what you’ve lost, you need it taken away again. You did the right thing the first time – you took the time to heal. I never did that and you’ve seen what it cost me. Just remember Derrick, it can all be taken away again like -‘ Walton snapped his fingers ‘-THAT!’
He lumbered out of the gym, leaving a helpless Rose lying on the floor under the basket.
‘Bill! Bill come back! Come baaaaack!’
The scene faded back to his bedroom. Derrick sat bolt upright in bed. ‘Oh wow. It was just a dream. The Jay Williams stuff too I’ll bet! Man. I gotta stop eating Taco Bell’.
He slumped back into his sheets. The clock on the bedside table read 3:00AM. He lay awake for what felt like an eternity, but slowly fell into a deep sleep.
The ball bounced across the concrete. Derrick stopped it with his foot.
He looked down. He wore street ball gear, complemented by two bulky knee braces.
The playground was abandoned except for a lone figure in the distance.
‘Hey man’, the player called across the court, ‘a little help?’
Rose leaned down and scooped up the ball. His knees were sore, but functional. He fired a chest pass across the court to –
‘Hey man. I know you. You’re Shaun Livingston!’
Livingston gave him a wary glance. ‘Yeah, didn’t Williams tell you I was coming?’
Rose took a step back, ‘Wait… don’t tell me-‘
Livingston drained a jumper, ‘Yeah buddy. I’m the second spirit’.
Rose glared at him. ‘You’re not going to leave my crumpled in a heap like that dick Walton are you?’
Livingston performed a quick crossover dribble and finished with his left hand ‘Nah man. That’s not my style. Besides, Bill was just looking out for you. You’ll see that in time. He was trying to make you appreciate what you’ve lost’.
Rose watched him handle the ball with grudging admiration. ‘Guy has skills’, he thought. He called out suspiciously, asking ‘And what are you here for? I got the message the first time’.
‘Well Derrick’, Livingston stopped and stood with a foot on the ball. ‘I’m here to show you what things are going to be like for you now’.
‘What do you mean? And what did you mean what I lost? I haven’t lost anything yet!’ Derrick regarded Livingston confusedly.
Livingston looked at him with pity. ‘Derrick, if you’re not careful, you’re going to be me. He gazed at Derrick intently. ‘I had all the potential in the world, just like you, man. I never even got a chance – way less of one than you had. Couple years in the league and then I busted my knee. Just one knee mind you, and you’ve done both. But the one I did was crazy.’
Derrick gritted his teeth. ‘Yeah I remember, man. Didn’t you dislocate your kneecap?’.
Livingston smiled ruefully, ‘My patella. That’s what the doctors call it. And that was just the beginning. Because it popped out, I tore my ACL, my PCL, my meniscus…’
Derrick made a gagging sound.
‘…sprained my MCL and dislocated my tibia-femoral joint, whatever the hell that is. Either way, it was so bad that a doctor told me they might have to amputate my leg when I first got the hospital’.
Rose shuddered, ‘Shit man. That’s rough. I remember you had skills too, you could really get up. But I don’t think I’m going to be like you. My injuries were a year apart, they were in different knees you know? It seems like apples and oranges to me’.
‘Yeah? Maybe you’re right’ Livingston smiled. ‘OK my brother. How about you dunk this then?’
Livingston picked up the ball and fired a three pointer. The ball floated and bounced off the rim, nice and high, perfect for a trademark put-back dunk. Derrick took off without thinking, seeing the ball hang up, timing his jump right around the edge of the restricted area…
…but missed completely.
His hand passed under the ball by a clean foot. He felt awkward, clunky. He hadn’t gotten nearly enough hang-time and his knees protested mightily when he landed.
He bent over, hands on his thighs, breathing heavily.
‘What the hell was that man?’ He asked Livingston angrily. ‘What’s going on?’
‘That’s how high you can jump now Derrick. You can’t push off either knee because they’re both wrecked -’ Livingston began.
‘What? No way man! I went for the long rehab with the meniscus! My ACL is fine!’ Rose cried.
‘-and you’re not special anymore. You’re only 6’3”. You’ve got no post game. You’re just an average passer. You’re an OK shooter, but you only get open because people respect your drive. What happens when you can’t get to the rim anymore?’ Livingston continued.
‘Look Derrick’, Livingston intoned, ‘look hard’.
The scene in front of them changed. It was Coach Thibodeau’s office. Jabari Parker sat across from the coach, laughing as they watched video of Parker, in a Bulls uniform, draining jumper after jumper against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Rose looked at Livingston ‘What the heck is this man?’
Livingston replied, ‘This is 2015. Take a look around the locker room.’
Rose looked at the nameplates above the lockers. The familiar names were all gone. Only Jimmy Butler remained.
‘Where’s Joakim? Where’s Luol?’ Rose asked pointedly. ‘Wait… where the hell am I? Why isn’t’t my name up there?’
‘You play for the Magic now’, Livingston said. ‘The Bulls flipped you, Noah and their first round pick to Orlando for Parker, Oladipo and Vucevic on draft night two years ago.’
Rose gave a look of horror. ‘That’s a terrible trade! This can’t be real!’
‘Well it isn’t Derrick… yet.’ Livingston shook his head. ‘But it could be. You have to understand that it could be.’
Rose clapped his hands over his ears ‘No! I won’t listen! I won’t!’
‘You know what happens when you can’t get to the rim Derrick?’ He looked down. ‘This is what happens. You become me. You become a journeyman. You catch on wherever you can, trying to find the right situation where you can get 20 minutes a game, just to play again, because you miss it. But you’re not the franchise anymore.’
Rose shut his eyes and began to scream ‘Get out! Go away! Leave me alone! This is worse than Walton! Get away from me!’
Livingston smiled wistfully, ‘It’s not that bad Derrick. It’s the best guys like us can hope for’.
As darkness overtook Rose, he heard Livingston’s voice faintly, ‘there is still one spirit left to come. If you didn’t’ like me… well, you’ll see for yourself. Best of luck, Derrick.’
Derrick opened his eyes. He was back in his room. He no longer thought these were dreams. He didn’t think he would sleep again this night. The clock read 4:00AM.
Derrick jerked awake. He looked around. He was still in his bedroom. He looked down at his knee. It was still heavily wrapped, his crutches still beside his bed. Good. At least no spirit was here to –
He heard it then.
A boom, at the bottom of the stairs outside his bed.
A second boom, louder, closer. Whatever was making the noise was heading up the stairs to his room.
He reached for his crutches, only to find that they had vanished.
A third boom, this time just outside the door.
He scrambled under the covers, hiding from whatever it was outside.
The door creaked open slowly. A massive figure filled the doorway.
‘Hiya Derrick!’ Greg Oden gave him a toothy grin.
‘Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!’ Derrick screamed in terror.
Derrick Rose snapped awake again. The clock read 7:00AM
‘What a night’, he thought to himself.
He grabbed his crutches and headed to the window. He threw it open. His brother Reggie was shoveling the driveway.
‘Yo, Reg!’ Derrick called down ‘What day is this?’
Reggie Rose looked up at him ‘What do you mean Derrick? Like the date? It’s the 27th, man. Why?’
Derrick did some quick math in his head. ‘Only 332 more days until opening day 2014-15, that’s why Reg. Gotta hit it!’ He quickly hobbled back away from the window and picked up the phone.
‘Coach? Is it OK if I come in today to look at some video with you? What changed my mind? Nothing man, I just… yeah OK, we can go to Appleby’s later if you want. I’ll ask Luol’.
We here at the Same Page wish Derrick Rose the best of luck with his recovery. The league is undoubtedly better with him as a star in it. It’s a sad thing that we’ve seen so many stars come and go without fulfilling their true potential. Let’s hope Derrick isn’t the next one.