Root for the Bulls but mourn Rose's absence

April 29, 2012|By Jack M Silverstein, For RedEye

"No one knew how serious the injury would be or how quickly the foot might heal. Early on, there was talk of six to eight weeks, but that optimism faded quickly. Suddenly Michael Jordan was being forced to sit out virtually an entire season as he rehabilitated his foot. The loss was singularly frustrating, for playing was his principal source of joy, and it gave him his sense of identity …" --From "Playing For Keeps," David Halberstam

Well that sucked.

For so many reasons, and for so many people, starting of course with Derrick Rose, who in one foul misstep was stripped of his livelihood. Think of it: 23 years old in the throes of your passion and atop your profession, and then snap—all gone.

Not for good, of course, but for a while, and definitely for the remainder of this postseason. When word came back that Rose's scary knee injury at the conclusion of Game 1 was as bad as it seemed—that it would indeed knock him out of the playoffs—I felt sad for this man so hungry for greatness. More than anywhere else, my thoughts are with the displaced Rose.

As for the remainder of my emotions, this is an odd position for a sports fan. What does it mean to be a fan of a team? Do you root for the Bulls to win a championship because they're your team and that's the way it is, or do you press on rooting yet hold a secret (and self-begrudgingly) hope the Bulls come up short so they don't win one without Rose?

I asked a friend of mine about that shortly after the game; he promptly laughed and asked if I'd gone mad. "They can't win without Rose," he said, and he's probably right. The best argument for the Roseless Bulls even reaching the conference finals (other than home court) is the thought of Deng, Rip and Boozer unleashing their collective offensive potential and each nearing the 20-points-per-game mark, something those three have not done in the postseason since, respectively, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Before you say "But that's impossible!" consider that a much less heralded trio of Andres Nocioni, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich achieved that feat for the Bulls in 2006 over six fateful games against the soon-to-be champion Heat, and that Hamilton (19 points) and Deng (17) both flirted with 20 in Game 1 while Rip, Deng and Boozer shot a combined 62 percent from the floor.

Throw in Joakim Noah's 10 points a night plus significant contributions from Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer and Taj Gibson and it's easy to remember how the Bulls managed an 18-9 record this season without their MVP.

So no, it's not impossible.

But let's say the Bulls polish off Philly, stave off Boston and through some blessed confluence of forces bring down Miami and then the West's champ for the currently mystical banner No. 7.

Despite the positive energy put forth by Rose's teammates and the #WinItForRose Bulls fans, how would fans really feel about this team winning a ring without this player?

I don't mean to suggest that you shouldn't continue supporting the Bulls or that you're wrong for wanting them to win a title even without Rose. I'm simply asking because it's something I have not yet sorted out in my own saddened, Bulls-loving heart.

How would I feel if this team won a championship without Rose? Bad for Rose certainly, since even those who have only seen him on TV can see his passion, and hence his disappointment in not being there with his teammates when they achieve their ultimate goal.

This isn't about not believing in the collective talent of players 2 through 13; if any team is equipped to roll on without its superstar, it's the Bulls.

This is about a man who should be there when the deed is done.

Even if this team has carved its niche as The Team That Can Win Without Its Star, its true identity includes Rose as its leader. The heartwarming scene of the Bulls handing their injured captain the Larry O'Brien Trophy notwithstanding, a Bulls championship without Rose would feel incomplete, quite moreso than Super Bowl XX felt without Walter Payton scoring a touchdown.

Think about the enduring postgame image of the 1991 NBA Finals: Michael Jordan crying on the trophy. Part of the joy of that championship was our knowledge that the ring meant the world to Jordan. If he'd gone down in the first game of the playoffs only to watch from the bench as Scottie Pippen and Co. somehow managed to topple Detroit and the Lakers for banner No. 1, it would have been more impressive yet, I believe, less satisfying.

So now we are left to wonder, and ultimately, to root. As Kyle Korver wrote to the fans online, "We are going to keep going strong. One quarter, one game, one round at a time. Until it's over. That's how we gonna do it."

Spoken like a Rose prodigy. I just wish the mentor was there too.

Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor. @ReadJack.

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