One of the most divisive stories of this past NBA season concerned Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose's non-return from the torn ACL he suffered in the first game of the 2012 postseason. Although he was cleared to play by doctors in the spring, Rose declined to return despite heavy pressure and rumors from various sources, including rapper Waka Flocka Flame. The Bulls exceeded expectations and reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they were dispatched by the champion Miami Heat in five games, but it's easy to think they may have faired better with their best player in the lineup.
Rose has kept relatively quiet throughout most of this process. However, in his first interview since that series against the Heat, he has opened up about the rationale behind his decision not to play. Watch the video from Bulls.com above, and read K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune for a few of the quotes:
“I’m not a selfish guy at all,” Rose said in a Bulls TV video that aired on the team's website. “But having this injury and knowing what I had to go through and being smart, this is something I had to be selfish with. I couldn’t worry about anyone else but myself and my health.” [...]
Rose also addressed the accounts that he dominated in practice.
“When you’re in practice, of course it’s not game-like speed unless it’s like training camp,” Rose said. “Game-like experience is totally different. You have strategies. You have double-teams. When I play, I get double-teamed a lot. (In practice), we play the same defense we play in the game so there weren’t any double-teams. I was able to roam around freely.”
Rose reiterated he wanted badly to return.
“Every day I was working out like my leg is going to feel better,” he told the website. “I was pushing myself every day, eating right, just trying to take care of my body so I could be out there as soon as possible. It didn’t happen.”
These comments are not going to help Rose in the eyes of his critics. His choice to sit out was seen by some as a case of turning his back on the team, of focusing on his own (extreme) comfort over the needs of a team that may have had a chance to win a title. Those expectations were always a little exaggerated — the Bulls were a limited team with many, many injuries in 2012-13 — but players have certainly rushed back to play for worse teams in the past. In a way, Rose is confirming everyone's worst thoughts about him.
By another perspective, though, he's actually being too hard on himself. While it's true that Rose's decision was grounded in his personal needs, it was also for the good of the franchise over the long run. If the Bulls weren't going to contend — and I think there's a very good argument that the challenges of integrating a star back into the lineup in March would have been too difficult — then it made good sense for the 24-year-old Rose not to risk injury by playing NBA basketball before he was totally comfortable doing so.
This is not to say that his decision wasn't motivated by self-interest. But, in this case, his choice happened to match up with the long-term needs of the franchise.