It was three years ago when Derrick Rose thought out loud before an array of flashing cameras and eager sports reporters.
“Why can’t I be M.V.P. of the league?” he asked.
Few, if any, had a solid answer for him. He’d won Rookie of the Year, been named an all-star, and dug the Chicago Bulls from the dirt. Who could argue with Chicago’s golden boy? His Airness reincarnated. A hometown kid with an appetite for greatness.
Now Rose stands on a different podium. He is M.V.P. of the league. The reporters—asking indolently if he can be a top-10 player—have been silenced. They’ve left the room and the City of Chicago has taken their place.
He answers to Chicago now, and the question has changed.
“Why can’t we be NBA Champs?”
In 2012, the words “we can” seemed to be on the tip of his tongue. But a pop, a twist and a cringe later and Rose—along with the Bulls—were done.
It was one of the most devastating injuries in Chicago sports history, and one that Rose still hasn’t returned from. And despite wild anticipation from the sports world, it’s one he may not return from as soon as thought.
“I wouldn’t mind missing this season,” Rose said in early February, explaining that he still couldn’t dunk adequately. “I don’t want to return unless I’m 110%.”
The Bulls, however, seem to be doing just fine without him. They’ve climbed to fifth in the Eastern Conference, and have picked up some impressive victories on the way.
With or without Rose, the playoffs are possible. The spotlight shines brightly on Rose in the wake of Adrian Peterson’s monster season. Fans are asking, if AP can recover from an ACL tear to play football and have one of the greatest seasons of all time, why can’t Rose play some basketball?
The answer is simple: the Bulls don’t need Derrick Rose the way the Vikings needed Adrian Peterson. The Bulls can win in the regular season without their star.
But Derrick Rose needs the Bulls. Because Derrick Rose is a little bit different. He wouldn’t leave Cleveland for a title shot. He’s doesn’t need shout outs in rap songs. He just wants to be the greatest.
Unlike Lebron, who insists “I’m L.J., not M.J.” there’s something in Rose that welcomes the comparisons to Jordan. There’s something in Rose that says “I want to be compared to Michael Jordan, and I want to win.”
The old argument is obvious: he will never be regarded as the greatest without a championship. But it takes something even more than that. The greatest is synonymous with triumph. To be the best it’s necessary to destroy all borders—to silence even the most stubborn critic.
63 points in a playoff game. 38 points with the flu. Six championships.
That’s what makes the greatest the greatest. Mr. Rose may want to rethink what it means to be “110%”