Connect with us


Untapped Potential: Derrick Rose


On April 28th, 2012, Derrick Rose fell.


The raucous Chicago crowd’s cheers and jeers quickly turned to silent thoughts and prayers as the point guard writhed in pain on the baseline. Did that really just happen? Our best player injures himself in the final 90 seconds of a playoff game where victory was guaranteed? The Bulls would finish the last minute of the game en route to a win over the 76ers, but that wasn’t the story making the front page. Derrick Rose had torn his ACL and would miss the foreseeable future. Immediate questions swirled the youngster and his playing career. Where does this leave the Bulls? Is he too injury prone to be a centerpiece of a franchise? With how explosive he plays the game, would he ever be the same?


Humble Beginnings

Michael J. Lebrecht/SI

It’s Saturday, March 17th, 2007. Simeon Academy, a public school on the south-side of the Chicago, secures its second straight basketball state championship. Donning his soon-to-be-retired number 25 jersey, Simeon’s Derrick Rose has finished off his high school career on the highest of notes. Rose was raised without a father in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, where he confided in his mother Brenda and three older brothers. However, his upbringing did little to change the obvious: Derrick Rose could ball. He gained national attention soon after enrolling at Simeon, showcasing his otherworldly athleticism and prowess as both a scoring and playmaking point guard. Rose would finish his time at Simeon with three All-American selections and was named Illinois’ 2007 Mr. Basketball. Soon after, he announced his commitment to the University of Memphis, then led by coach John Calipari, to continue his basketball career.


You all know where the story goes from here. The freshman Rose finds immediate success at Memphis, averaging 15 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds per game. He receives votes for the Cousy and Wooden awards and is named to the All-American third team. Most importantly, the Rose-led Memphis Tigers cruise to an all-time NCAA record 38 wins, only marred by a loss in the national championship to Kansas. 


America was enamored with Rose all season. Calling him explosive was almost an understatement, the pure speed and unmatched leaping ability of Rose made his acrobatic finishes around the rack almost unstoppable. The term “man among boys” often gets thrown around for the brutes of the game, bullying others with their sheer size and strength. Yet I think Rose, standing at only 6’3’’ and weighing 200 pounds, gave us a new example of a man amongst boys. Defenders were left in the dust and could only observe from the ground whenever Rose slashed through opponents and soared to the basket. Needless to say, NBA scouts had this kid at the top of their draft boards all year. Rose chose to forgo his remaining eligibility at Memphis to declare for the NBA draft.


Back to Chicago and First Impressions

Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose holds NBA Rookie of the Year trophy on Wednesday, April 22, 2009, in Northbrook, Ill. Rose became the third Bulls player to win the award Wednesday, joining Michael Jordan and Elton Brand.

M. Spencer Green/AP Photo

The day of the 2008 NBA Draft lottery arrives. With Rose projected to go number one to almost any team that wins the right to select first, the night felt a lot like the Derrick Rose sweepstakes. And with how storybook his college career concluded, many felt that they saw how the night would go already. The Chicago Bulls only had a 1.7% chance of winning the number one selection and the right to draft their hometown hero. Nevertheless, the first ping pong ball out of the machine had the Bulls logo on it, and Chicago’s NBA team was going to bring Derrick Rose Home.


Surprising absolutely nobody, Rose came hot out of the gate. He was the first Bulls draftee since MJ himself to score in double digits in his first ten games. Tack on three Rookie of the Month recognitions, a Skills Challenge trophy during all-star weekend, and an eventual playoff berth, and Rose absolutely ran away with the Rookie of the Year honors. Matched up against the defending champion Boston Celtics, D-Rose notched 36 points in Game 1, tying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record. The Bulls took the Celtics all the way to seven games, but lost in Boston to conclude the series. Rose would use the momentum from his rookie season to boost his game in year 2, receiving his first all-star selection. Averages of 21 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds per game propelled the Bulls to another playoff bid. Another first round exit was met with optimism, however. The Bulls front office was stacking up the roster to build around Rose and take a step forward in the 2010-2011 season. Was Rose capable of leading a championship caliber team? Could the hometown kid be the one to bring the Bulls back?



Spoiler alert: this is the year where everyone became a D-Rose diehard. In 81 games, Rose averaged 25 points, 8 assists, and 5 rebounds a night. He notched 30+ points in 23 contests, even topping the 40 mark twice. With 23 double-doubles along with his first career triple double, the stat sheet was sure to be stuffed with the name D. Rose every night the Bulls laced ‘em up. Rose was announced as an all-star starter at point guard to no one’s surprise. As the regular season wound down, an undefeated April was capitalized with a nationally televised game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, where Rose dazzled the crowd with high-flying dunks and savvy playmaking. Even Knicks’ coach Mike D’Antoni had to admit he was in the presence of greatness, remarking “His athletic ability is ridiculous. He’s come farther, quicker, faster than anyone expected; he’s playing at a level that not many people play.” (I told you everyone was a D-Rose fan!) The Bulls finished with a 62-20 record and captured the top seed in the East. At the center of it all was Rose himself, who at 22 years old became the youngest league MVP of all time. The kid from the south side of Chicago was now the face of the franchise he grew up rooting for.


The LeBron James led Miami Heat would vanquish Chicago’s title hopes in the conference finals. Rose had disappointed in the playoffs somewhat, shooting only 39% from the floor and under 25% from deep. Fans had no reason to panic though, the Bulls were bringing back their core guys and Rose was about to cash in on a 5-year maximum contract extension.


The Injuries Begin

As the 2011-2012 season kicked off, the Bulls kept on rolling. Rose missed some time due to some minor injuries, but that didn’t stop the point guard from another all-star selection and some MVP votes in the lockout-shortened season. A minor decrease in offensive production didn’t prevent Rose from guiding the Bulls to another finish as the top dog in the Eastern Conference. All momentum was on Chicago’s side heading into their first round matchup against the 76ers. But as we all know, that would all turn completely upside down on that fateful day, April 28th, 2012. 

Rose would sit out the entire next season much to the dismay of Chicago’s fanbase. With the Bulls making it all the way to the conference semifinals without him, many were questioning why he wouldn’t come back to help contend for a title. Regardless, Rose would return in November of 2013 but shot under 30% from the field while committing almost 6 turnovers in his first three games.

Things kept spiraling from there. Later that month, Rose would tear the meniscus in his right knee, the opposite knee from his ACL tear. The unthinkable had happened again – Derrick Rose would miss the rest of the season. After all of his setbacks, many were dismissing the former MVP as an injury prone guard who could no longer lead his team to contention. In the past three years, fans had seen him take the court less than 50 times, and was more often seen sitting quietly on the sidelines in a suit. Still, Rose was only 25 years old and had many more potential year of solid basketball ahead of him. The Bulls would stick with their guy and wait until he was 100% ready to take the floor again.


Rose Returns

Rose returned to basketball right as the NBA kicked off the 2014 regular season. Playing on some games on minutes restrictions and sitting out others as a precaution, Rose made an impact for the Bulls, albeit a smaller one than he used to. The highs were equally met by the lows: an increase in his scoring and assists was marred by a below average efficiency. In January he hit a game-winning stepback jumper against the Warriors, making up for his 13 for 33 shooting performance and career-high eleven turnovers. Yet another torn meniscus would keep him out for the majority of the late regular season, but the breaking out of Jimmy Butler as a superstar helped propel the Bulls to another playoff berth. 


For the first time since he tore his ACL on his home court in 2012, Derrick Rose would suit up for the playoffs. And to those watching him play, it looked as though that injury never happened. D-Rose averaged 21.5 points in the first round, notching a vintage performance with a 34 point Game 3. In Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round, Rose hit the now-iconic bank shot at the buzzer where he finished with 30 points in the 99-96 victory. The Bulls now led the series 2-1, and the premise of a championship run was becoming more and more realistic. But despite Rose’s 31 points and clutch layup to tie the game in the final seconds, a LeBron James corner jumpshot tied up the series for the Cavaliers. With the momentum shifted, the Bulls fell in Games 5 and 6, a heartbreaking end to what felt like Rose’s first real season back playing. 


No Longer Seeing Red

Adding to his already long injury history, Rose began the season wearing a mask after a fracture to his orbital bone in his face. That sums up what it felt like to watch D-Rose play at this point. We all still saw the 6’3’’ guard that we adored for years, but something wasn’t quite the same. Flashes of his past brilliance resembling his MVP campaign came at times. But it was unsustainable for more than that. Nick Friedell admitted that “whatever the reason, Rose evolved into a different player – glimpses of brilliance were still there on certain nights, but the virtuoso performances were not”. The Bulls front office, recognizing that Derrick Rose’s best days were behind him, dealt their former franchise centerpiece to the New York Knicks. It was reported that Rose cried upon hearing the news from his agent.

We saw much of the same from Rose in 2017 with New York. He averaged solid numbers and had some sporadic breakout performances, but that was the extent of it. The relationship between him and the Knicks began to sour behind the scenes. In January, Rose flew home to Chicago to see his mom and was fined for not notifying the team. He became more vocal towards his disapproval of coach Jeff Hornacek’s offensive scheme. And once again, a torn meniscus in April held him out of games and put him back in the operating room for the fourth time in his 9 years of NBA service. The Knicks failed to come close to playoff contention, and Rose was signed by the Cavaliers in free agency for less than a tenth of what he made on his prior deal. 

No one deserves this kind of farewell. The young kid who burst onto the scene so quickly seemed to be slowly deteriorating in a long, drawn-out fashion right before our very eyes. It was more than just a player regressing to so many. An MVP winner who was the face of his hometown franchise and universally admired was now relegated to a small role on teams where it wasn’t even definitive that his presence really mattered. Another injury to his ankle in November of 2017 eventually led Rose to leave the team temporarily to question whether he desired to continue playing basketball at all. The Cavaliers eventually dealt him to the Utah Jazz in February and Rose was immediately waived. After what he overcame just to be able to be in this position, could this really be the end of the line for Derrick?


Career Revival

That question remained unanswered until a month later, when some old friends came calling. The Minnesota Timberwolves signed Rose for the rest of the season, reuniting him with coach Tom Thibodeau and his Bulls teammates Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. The Timberwolves used Rose’s veteran presence to help solidify their spot in the playoffs. Despite the early exit, Rose contributed off the bench against James Harden and the top-seeded Houston Rockets. Minnesota decided to bring Rose back for another year. In return, he would gift the Timberwolves and the NBA as a whole to one of the greatest comeback stories ever told.


Halloween night, 2018. Derrick Rose gets his first start of the season with the T-Wolves against the Utah Jazz. And little did anyone know, it would arguably be his best. A 30-year old Rose scored his career high of 50 points and secured the 128-125 victory with a block on Utah’s final shot. Rose was immediately mobbed by his Minnesota teammates as MVP chants erupted from the crowd. He was understandably emotional in his postgame interview, fighting back tears when asked what this moment meant to him, responding “Everything. I worked my [expletive] off”. His longtime coach Tom Thibadou told the media that Rose is is among the most mentally tough people he had come across. There are very few games that I personally can remember where I was at when I watched them. Most are nail-biter playoff matchups or ridiculous buzzer-beaters to win it. This game was neither of those. We all collectively saw the culmination of a man’s perseverance over a tumultuous career filled with crushing injuries and heartbreaking setbacks. The man once dubbed the ‘Windy City Assassin’ turned back the clock to his all-star days in Chi-Town. It didn’t matter whether you were a Bulls fan, a Timberwolves fan, or even a fan of the game at all. Seeing the veteran Rose overcome all of what he’s been through to once again shine under the bright lights made us all fans of him for life. 


Minnesota struggled the rest of the way and would miss the playoffs, but the best story of the year had already been told. Rose averaged 18 points per game on 48% shooting, the best efficiency he’s had since his second season. He returned to Chicago in December and received MVP chants from the opposing Windy City crowd after recording 24 points and 8 dimes in the blowout win. Rose would have a similarly impressive season with Detroit the next season, although injuries continued to limit consistent time on the court. He’d get traded back to the Knicks in the middle of the 2020-2021 season where he’d get signed to a 3-year, $43 million contract, a much more reasonable contract for a former MVP. He now is on the Memphis Grizzlies roster for the 2023-24 season. Injuries have continued to hold him out at times, but teams still have him around for his newfound role as a mentor to the young guys on his team. Stars like Jimmy Butler and Julius Randle have previously praised Rose’s leadership skills and have used his wisdom to lead their own teams. In whatever way he can, Rose has found a way to positively contribute at all stages of his career. Derrick Rose’s impact on the modern NBA cannot be understated.


On April 28th, 2012, Derrick Rose fell. He seemed to fall time and time again, leaving us to wonder if he’d ever be what he once was. He even questioned it himself. So many times in his life, he’s had all odds stacked against him. And yet every single time Derrick fell, Derrick rose.



Next week on Untapped Potential: baseball! Check out last week’s edition on former NFL wide receiver Josh Gordon. Stay tuned to Back Sports Page for more coverage and in-depth features on all things sports.

Andy Diederich is a contributor on Back Sports Page. He received a degree from The Ohio State University and now resides in Chicago, covering the Bulls and all things NBA. You can find Andy on Instagram at @tryspellingdiederich and on Twitter at @ndyDiederich.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Featured Articles

Featured Writers

More in Features