CHICAGO - Derrick Rose last week missed one game, distraught and leaving suddenly without telling anyone after Knicks practice to attend to a family emergency back in Chicago. He returned the next day to team practice and to play the next game, was fined $200,000 and made public apologies to his teammates, the fans and organization.
LeBron James, we think, informed his team during his first season back in Cleveland he needed some time off. Though it’s not like they would have said anything if he didn’t after James’ celebrated return.
So for two weeks in mid-winter with the Cavaliers losing seven of eight games after being on their best run of the season, James went to Miami Beach to hang out with buddies and sit in the sun while his team slogged through those losses back in Cleveland, on the East Coast and even a few games on the West Coast in a grueling stretch of travel. James decided to return two weeks later when his team was going to Phoenix and Los Angeles.
So which player do you think created a media uproar that had critics calling for suspensions, seven-figure fines and even a trade or release?
And which player was viewed as helping the team for its playoff run by improving his mental stature?
There has been no bigger star — Rose was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2011, after all — who has been unnecessarily, unfairly and indiscriminately vilified as much as Rose has been.
And it continued last week with this incredible frenzy about Rose’s AWOL, as if the team were in a combat zone, or something.
The fact is Rose is unusually close to his mother, who raised him amidst grinding poverty on Chicago’s dangerous South Side to the point where as a kid Rose was out washing the windshields of stopped cars to get a few pennies for food. Anyone who saw Rose’s MVP and contract extension news conferences would attest to their relationship when he turned to his mother and said, “Mom, I guess we’ve finally made it.”
So Rose, in a new city with a new team, basically living alone without his family for the first time in years after a summer- long civil assault trial (not guilty) that led right into training camp without a break loses his mind briefly — and forgets to call his boss — when his mother is calling out for help for the family.
This is worthy of the incredible vitriol and condemnation?
But primarily media people and some fans, long guilty of essentially fixing Rose with the crime of being too inarticulate for their sensibilities, have hung this on Rose for not being who they want him to be instead of who he is.
First, there was the failure to return soon enough from ACL surgery. Which Rose long proved was the correct decision when he suffered two more serious knee injuries that required surgery.
You don’t always get educated in Chicago’s school system like the college-educated writers. You don’t always sustain the same level of intelligence when you are denied basic living niceties, like food, in your developmental years.
So when Rose tries to say it’s important to retain his health and it comes out wanting to be able to walk to his son’s graduation, it is interpreted as not caring about his job. When Rose tries to say all the players are talking about the new TV deal, it comes out he is anxious for free agency to leave the team or score a big contract.
Unlike who, exactly?
Here’s a player despite the series of media assaults who accommodates media more than perhaps anyone on this Knicks team. Even last week in the midst of this latest uproar, he was the only Knicks player to meet with reporters before the game with the Bulls. All the others hid in the off-limits trainers room. Rose didn’t have to appear, but understood media had a job to do.
Rose isn’t the player he was before, as if anyone is. Russell Westbrook is close, but even he doesn’t have the explosion at the basket a young, MVP Rose did. Rose is pretty good again. He beats guys off the dribble routinely, is back dunking and is arguably the best player on the Knicks day to day, if not in the long run like Kristaps Porzingis.
But no one — probably in the entire NBA — endures the media harassment and national condemnation the way Rose does for, at best, misdemeanors.
Sure, he should have called in, just a text. Answer the phone.
But not everyone thinks rationally and logically when the person closest to them in their life has an issue. It wasn’t personally life-threatening, but it did involve family members, and it was enough for Rose to know his mother was upset.
Nothing else was on his mind.
You mean to tell me no worker ever has taken a day off without notifying the boss the first thing?
That no NBA player has ever been a no-show?
I can name a half dozen who played with Michael Jordan’s Bulls in the ’80s who did, from Orlando Woolridge to Quintin Dailey to Ennis Whatley to others in the league like Bernard King and many others.
Of course, it was wrong, but it happens.
It cost Rose $200,000, about which he didn’t complain. Sure, he’s rich. But I assume he’d rather have the money. He had to publicly apologize, which I doubt few workers do when they show up the next day.
So why the level of rancor directed at Rose, who doesn’t demean reporters, say like DeMarcus Cousins?
Or officials, or his team or management. Rose was condemned for not being active in free agency in recruiting players because he said it wouldn’t be right to try to get someone else to replace one of his teammates.
Sure, that civil trial last summer had some ugly accusations. Most celebrities settle such things to avoid that. Rose said he did nothing untoward and it wasn’t right to be blackmailed. A jury agreed. That’s the American way.
Here’s a kid devoted to his mother and brothers, so committed to his son that the child frequently is brought to meet him on team trips and the two often are seen in the hotel playground.
Rose isn’t perfect, like the rest of his teammates, and us. But one thing he never did was what LeBron James did, which was go on a two-week vacation in the middle of the season in tropical South Florida while his team bounced around the country losing game after game. Not to condemn James.
But Derrick Rose should be the one, demeaned, condemned and suspended?
Perhaps his critics should examine themselves first.
Sam Smith covered the Chicago Bulls for 25 years with the Chicago Tribune. He is the author of the best-selling book “The Jordan Rules.”