Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 5/18/13
Derrick Rose teaches us an important lesson. (Credit) Every sports fan has his or her own “Santa isn’t real” moment. It’s that one instance when suddenly, the idea that sports is a business makes sense. That these guys don’t exist solely in the prism of their sport, that their interests don’t always align with ours, or even that the game doesn’t mean quite as much as we thought it did. We try to ignore these moments. We pretend that they never happened, or we try to justify them in ways that don’t quite make sense. But really, it’s only a game, and when we pretend otherwise, we’re only setting ourselves up to get hurt. When I watched "The Decision", I was angry. I was bitter. I was confused. But most of all, I was disappointed. I’d never seen LeBron as anything other than King James. When you spend a decade hearing comparisons to "His Royal Airness" and watching him knock out milestone after milestone, you just come to expect certain things. He was supposed to bring championships to Cleveland. He was supposed to do it and never stop. He was supposed to be Michael Jordan and become him in the way that Michael Jordan did: the “right” way. So, when he teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to take a shortcut, I felt cheated. Like the promise of watching LeBron James become Michael  Jordan had been torn away, replaced with the Cliff Notes of a far more disappointing story. I think that’s when I realized that the players don’t think about things the same way we do. These moments are balanced out by the good ones. The undrafted rookie leading his team to a Super Bowl, the 30-point comeback or the record breaking home run. Every now and then, we forget what the league really is and see it as the mystical, larger-than-life entity that they want us to see. I had one of those moments this year. It was Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals in Miami. Ironically, since "The Decision" I’ve embraced the Chicago Bulls as the team in basketball that does everything the right way. The Heat felt like a collection of players; the Bulls felt like a team in the purest sense. Putting aside the great defense and the even greater coaching, I always loved just how close they felt. Those guys weren’t playing for money or for status; they were going to war for each other, to prove that you didn’t have to be LeBron to win, that you could do it the “right” way. And sure, they lost. They lost plenty of times and in the most agonizing of ways. At the time, I couldn’t believe that they lost to Miami in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. The Heat winning just felt like a blatant disregard for every cliché about winning I’d ever heard. Turns out, I was right, I just had the wrong team proving the point. And that was ok. It wasn’t Chicago’s time yet. That’s kind of how the league works. It’s about waiting your turn. Unless the wheels fall off of the ride. And that’s what happened last spring. I’ve never been as crazy about Derrick Rose as everyone else. He felt like a more extreme Monta Ellis with a better pass to me. Certainly an All-Star, but also certainly no MVP. But he was still the basis of Chicago’s offense and they couldn’t recover without him. And that’s how it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be a drop off year. I think that’s why Omer Asik is with the Rockets right now. Only, that’s not what happened. There isn’t an adjective I can use that would fairly praise the Bulls for what they did this year. Nate Robinson couldn’t get on the court two years ago for Boston or OKC, and now he’s their lead guard? Carlos Boozer went from an amnesty lock to a potential All-Star? This makes no sense. Unless you believe in those same boring clichés I mentioned earlier. Because really, there’s no logical explanation for why the Bulls were so good all year. You just have to accept that there are parts of the game that they just get and other teams don’t. So, I wasn’t particularly surprised when they beat the Brooklyn Nets in seven games. That’s the way it was supposed to happen because the Bulls did it right. Which brings us to last Monday in Miami. Screw intangibles, screw teamwork, screw everything. The Heat operate under a different set of rules. It was a fun run, but nobody can really challenge Miami. Except for the Bulls. Forget about homecourt advantage for a second. Ignore the 27-game winning streak and LeBron and all of that. All that matters is that the Bulls, without the two players most responsible for getting them to that point, just beat the same team that dominated them in 2011 on their home floor. That’s when I, and everyone else, really became a believer. For two nights in May, let it be known that the unstoppable Miami Heat looked eminently beatable. To everyone, that is, except for one person. There’s an unwritten rule in sports. It’s not exclusive to the pros, it’s just something that’s understood. If you can play, you play. If you’re injured, sit out, you’re not doing anyone any good. But if you can play, you play, because you owe it to your teammates to fight for them. They would do it for you. Which brings me to the point I’ve spent 900 words building up to. Two months ago, doctors told Derrick Rose he could play. I don’t think I need to tell you that he hasn’t played. Like with "The Decision," I’m disappointed. The focal point, the face of the team I’d spent three years praising, had backed out. Rather than embracing everything that made the team great, he showed us that the Bulls are just like everyone else. That at the end of the day, it’s only a game. I don’t know what was going through Rose’s head. I have to believe Adidas didn’t want him to risk another injury. Maybe he just didn’t want to risk looking bad. Whatever it was, it isn’t a valid excuse. The Bulls probably weren’t going to beat the Heat. In all likelihood, nobody will. But at the very least, they opened the window by winning in Game 1. They’d stolen homecourt advantage from the champs and more importantly, had a chance to swing the momentum of the entire series. Can you imagine the noise the United Center would have made had the PA announcers shouted: “now entering the game, number one, Derrick Rose!” How would the emotionally fragile Heat have dealt with that? It would have been a Willis Reed-esque moment, the kind we’d remember for decades. But it didn’t happen. And do you know what that says? Derrick Rose didn’t believe that his team could beat Miami. Think about that from the perspective of a Chicago Bulls player. Let’s say you’re Joakim Noah. You’re playing at 60%, half of your rotation is out and the other is severely hobbled. Honestly, Rose might have been the healthiest Bulls player on the bench. How must it feel to hear him talking about the big picture and coming back when he’s ready while you’re trying to win a series? How frustrating must it be to see him going full speed at practice only to cry injury when it counts? How can his teammates possibly respect him as a leader? I think this is the end of the Bulls. At least this construction of the team. I don’t see how Derrick Rose can look his teammates in the eye after this. No matter what they’re saying, I think this is going to cause chemistry problems that cannot be fixed. I think within two years, everyone but Jimmy Butler and perhaps Taj Gibson will be wearing different uniforms. No matter how much they tried to prove otherwise, the individual will trump the team in Chicago. Sooner or later, we’re going to hear the truth of what happened to Derrick Rose. It’s going to be some excuse nobody is satisfied with. There’s going to be a lot of money involved, and I’m going to roll my eyes sarcastically and say that I’ve ceded the 2011 MVP to LeBron. But ultimately? It doesn’t matter. There isn’t a satisfying excuse at the end of this rainbow. Just another reminder of what sports really are. Just the sobering realization that no matter how much we love the game of basketball, it will never quite love of us back. By: Sam Quinn Twitter: @Rhinos_Cry_Too

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

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