Houston Rockets Fans Can Empathize With Chicago:
The story is all too familiar; a star player’s career cut short or put in jeopardy due to repeated injury. The promise of a long term competitive team with repeated runs at the Larry O’Brien Trophy squashed in an instant.
This is likely what the Chicago Bulls fans are digesting today as news spread that star point guard and former MVP Derrick Rose will once again undergo surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.
The same knee and the same injury he endured last season after a return from missing a year due to a torn ACL in his left knee.
Arguably no organization can relate to this situation as profoundly as the Houston Rockets. Having celebrated two championship seasons behind the leadership of Hall of Fame center Hakeem Olajuwon the franchise was understandably optimistic when they drafted Yao Ming first overall in 2002.
Ming brought with him the hopes for the franchise to repeat the success of his predecessor Olajuwon, one that gained momentum when the team traded for superstar Tracy McGrady.
In some ways the Rocket situation is even more tragic given Olajuwon and McGrady were both hampered by on-going injury yet it was the repeated injuries to Ming’s left foot which has many Rocket fans reflecting back today.
Over the course of Ming’s nine seasons in Houston the list of surgeries performed on the 7’6″ center is staggering:
- 2005: Bone spur, left foot
- December 2005: osteomyelitis, (bone infection) in his big toe, surgery to remove infection and partial shaving of bone (left foot)
- April 2006: broken bone in left foot
- December 2006: bone fracture, right knee
- February 2008, left foot stress fracture
- April 2009: left foot hairline fracture (causing him to miss entire 2009-10 season during which time he had reconstructive foot surgery)
- December 2010: left ankle stress fracture
It’s possible Yao Ming was predestined to have issues with his feet due to his size and weight, yet it’s equally possible the initial injury was either never treated properly or allowed to heal properly.
In the case of Derrick Rose it seems more likely his knees are prone to injury and the style of his play leaves him highly susceptible to re-injury. Rose’s game is predicated on speed, drives, changes of direction and lateral quickness; all disciplines that require strong knees.
Whereas Ming suffered all his injuries to the same appendage (other than the knee injury that occurred due to landing awkwardly on a team mate) in Rose’s case both knees have shown susceptibility. Simply put, his body doesn’t appear to have the genetic ability to cope with his style of play.
I recall watching the November 13th game between the Bulls and Raptors when Rose made a driving cut to the basket and went down in a heap without any player ever touching him. It turned out to be a hamstring injury which led to him missing several games in a row. I remember the media saying at the time that other parts of his body would be more susceptible to injury as he rounded back into form after so long of an absence from the game.
But, this was an injury that occurred without Rose ever sustaining contact. For a player who relies so heavily on his moves to the basket and not just receiving contact, but encouraging it, I wondered how successful his effort to return to MVP form could possibly be. That incident alone showcased for me exactly how vulnerable the 26 year old was.
Over the years there have been numerous players careers cut short or ended by injury often to the same body area:
- Brandon Roy
- Grant Hill
- Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway
- Greg Oden
- Ralph Sampson
- Bill Walton
- Bernard King
- Gilbert Arenas
- Baron Davis
- Pistol Pete Maravich
- Larry Johnson
- Maurice Stokes
In some cases the players were able to return and compete at a reduced level of their former brilliance, in others the injuries were career ending.
Russell Westbrook for his part is an oxymoron as he suffered a similar meniscus tear which took 3 surgeries to fix and also missed time due to a broken bone in his hand. The difference is the Thunder point guard returned to the court dunking in his first games back from both injuries showcasing the opposite end of the genetic spectrum.
Not everyone has the healing power or resiliency of a Russell Westbrook and it sickens me that a talent like Rose will likely never play the game the same again. If he does return he’ll have to adapt his game which he is capable of given his basketball intellect and pure talent. But, in my opinion he won’t be able to ever play at the level he did in his MVP season, it’s just too risky. I’m not a doctor, nor am I qualified to substantiate with certainty Rose can’t ever play at his MVP level again. I’m simply basing this on the fact it seems oddly reminiscent of what the former stars listed above endured.
At the end of the day an athlete is measured by their stats but it’s their heart that defines them as a competitor and a person. Watching Rose pre injury his talent was unquestionable, but it was his passion and desire that pushed him to the top of his craft. Remembering his heartfelt acceptance speech crediting the single mother who raised him in the tough south side Chicago suburb of Englewood that he grew up in touched each and everyone of us.
Fans in Houston can recall the same sinking feeling they felt each time Yao Ming sustained another injury to his left foot that we came to feel was made of glass. Your hearts poured out for the big man who was never able to recognize his dream of reaching an NBA final. We remember how Tracy McGrady was never able to lift the Rockets past the first round all while he himself played injured and put on some of the very best post season performances in Rockets history.
The fact Rose will repeat the arduous and lonely journey back to recovery for the third time in four seasons must wear heavy on the point guard, his teammates and the strong supportive Bulls fan base. Knowing he may never reach the lofty goals or future promise we envisioned for him when he became the youngest MVP recipient ever it’s hard not to feel emotional.
First and foremost I am a fan of the game of basketball. I may have a favorite team, but it is the games where teams fight to the final buzzer I remember the most. It is the stars of opposing teams who push my personal favorites to the brink and subsequently their very best efforts that resonate with me longer than momentary giddiness over blow-out wins.
As such, my heart is heavy today for Derrick Rose who will likely miss the rest of the season and playoffs barring some miracle news from his medical team. I feel for the Bulls team and fans who have patiently awaited their franchise players return to health for what most considered would surely find them in the Eastern Conference Finals and quite possibly Rose’s first finals appearance.
Ultimately it is the game of basketball that suffers when a star of this caliber is ripped away from the game. One can only hope and pray the heart that drove him to be the best of his craft aids him in his path to one day return to that same prominence.
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