Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the controversy engulfing Derrick Rose is that he has been supported by the majority of journalists who expressed an opinion. (For example, here.)
That’s not to say his continued absence from the Bulls’ lineup has been universally endorsed. Some have ventured into the dangerous territory of suggesting that Rose should be playing after undergoing surgery on his left ACL, and certainly the Bulls encouraged such criticism in March when they announced that Rose had been cleared to play.
Fans and radioheads wonder why Adrian Peterson can come back from ACL surgery after 10 months and rush for 2,097 yards. They also wondered why Rose can practice seemingly at near-full strength, yet can’t play a full year after his surgery.
And the answer is quite simple: If you are not inside Derrick Rose’s body – and only Rose is – then you are simply not qualified to make a judgment on how he feels.
Premier athletes have bodies that function at different levels of preparedness. Michael Jordan could ignore the flu (or stomach poisoning) and score 37 points in an NBA Finals game. Curt Schilling could have stitches to hold a dislocated ankle tendon into place and still pitch seven innings in a World Series victory despite blood oozing from the sutured area.
But many great athletes have bodies that are like finely tuned stock cars. A minor engine problem can cause them to misfire, and if they are not 100 percent, they simply cannot run. It’s not a matter of will or determination; it’s a genuine discomfort that prevents them from feeling healthy or confident enough to play.
Like so many occurrences in the NBA, there is precedent for injury controversy with teams, media and fans declaring a player should be playing when he is not. Perhaps the most famous involved former 76ers shooting guard Andrew Toney, who had several outstanding years with the great Philadelphia teams of the 1980s.
During four great seasons beginning in 1981-82, Toney averaged 18.6 points and shot an impressive 51 percent from the field – the majority of those on 15-to-20 foot jumpers. That was obviously excellent shooting for a guard.
He had so many great games against the Celtics – especially in the playoffs – that he earned the nickname “The Boston Strangler.” But in the 1984-85 season, he began experiencing pain in his feet and started missing games. The Sixers’ medical team could find nothing wrong and an ugly scene ensued. The team, in essence, said Toney could play. He said he couldn’t.
A public battle began between owner Harold Katz and Toney, and as Jackie MacMullan wrote in a thorough 1991 article in the Boston Globe, Katz even had Toney tested for drugs. Toney complied – and he was clean.