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Derrick Rose Was a Victim of His Own Hype

And his knees. His terrible, horrible, no good, very bad knees.

Photo via Getty Images
Photo via Getty Images

It appeared on Twitter minutes after Game 7, sometime around when LeBron James wiped away his tears and yelled, “Cleveland, this one’s for you!” By the next morning, someone had posted it to the Chicago Bulls subreddit, where it climbed with upvote after upvote.

Lebron won it for his city. Derrick Rose is next. He will win it for Chicago.

The responses came quickly. “Lol,” somebody wrote. “No, he won’t.” “LMFAO.” “=(.”

Now it’s official: He may never get the chance. Derrick Rose is leaving Chicago, part of a five-player deal with the Knicks that will send Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant, and Jose Calderon to the Bulls, and Rose, Justin Holiday, and a 2017 second-round pick to New York. Rose will depart his hometown after eight years, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP award, three All-Star Game selections, and no championships. In 2012 and 2014, he played fewer than 40 games due to injuries. In 2013, he didn’t play at all.

From the day he was drafted first overall by the Bulls in 2008, Rose’s name was tied inextricably with the city of Chicago. I lived there then, and the local media crowed that he was the promised one. When the announcers called out the names of players in pregame introductions, they’d name their schools: “In the middle, from Florida, 6’11, No. 13, Joakim Noah!” “The 6-foot-7 guard from Marquette, No. 21, Jimmy Butler!” Rose always came last, and where they might have said his school, the announcers would instead yell, “FROOOOM CHICAGO!” The crowd always roared.

He was profiled in the Chicago Tribune at age 17 in a story headlined “Finally realizing how good he is.” After he won the MVP at age 22, the youngest ever to do so, he became, in the eyes of some, the next Michael Jordan. In 2011, when Adidas launched a “Windy City” colorway of Rose’s AdiZero Rose 2, it stitched a map of the “L” into the liner. The symbolism was perfect: Lost? they seemed to ask. Derrick Rose will guide you home.

It should have happened later that season. The 2011–12 season saw the best Bulls team since Jordan, with Chicago posting its best win percentage since 1996–97. And then, during Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Sixers, Rose landed awkwardly after an attempted layup and crumpled to the floor, holding his left knee. Three days later, Rose — his leg bound and ACL blown — hobbled onto the court at the United Center to hand off the game ball. He received a standing ovation.

In 2012, with Rose absent from Chicago’s backcourt, Adidas ran an ad that showed the grief of Chicago as its hero hit the floor: clouds over Lake Michigan, taxis abandoned in the Loop, newspapers blowing in the wind. “All in for d rose,” the ad read, showing the guard walking into the arena at last, with a hashtag for the occasion: #TheReturn.

But he didn’t really come back. He returned at the start of the 2013–14 season, but he played stiffly — gingerly — and then, because nothing is fair, the meniscus in his other knee gave out less than one month later. And that’s how it would go: hype, injury, rehype, injury. Rose never got to bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy home. He never even got close.

Now he’s been sent away by Jerry Reinsdorf, the man who built statues for Michael Jordan and Paul Konerko while they were still playing. He was thanked for being a son of Chicago.

I just keep thinking about his standing ovations. He received so many in Chicago, but they were rarely the kind you’d want: They came after injuries, like in 2012, or to congratulate him on comebacks, like the one that broke out before an exhibition against Brazil in 2014, when he finally returned from the meniscus injury. On Wednesday, LeBron James walked through downtown Cleveland in a sea of wine and gold, and he was greeted by whistles and screams and high fives and hugs. By trading him to the Knicks, the Bulls have likely made certain a reality that had been creeping up for years: Derrick Rose will never be the one to lead them through a similar sea of fans, and when Chicagoans remember the times he drove them to their feet, it was rarely without a tinge of sadness.