On Wednesday, it was announced that Rose would need surgery to repair a tear in his medial meniscus. He's out indefinitely, with the spectre of not seeing him on a basketball court until next Fall looming. A similar injury limited Rose to just 10 games last season, and he has played in just 95 games over the four seasons since winning MVP, as medical professionals have worked to repair damage in both knees from several injuries.
Injuries are a sad and frustrating part of sports (said the guy sitting on his futon), but that becomes intensified in the case of someone like Rose. An immense talent, knocked down before reaching his theoretical peak and then repeatedly tripped and swatted by the fates as he tries to get back on his feet. We all try to avoid drifting towards worst-case scenarios, but we have all seen too many Greg Odens and Brandon Roys not to. And this is just the struggle for outside observers. An emotional and psychological struggle of an entirely different kind is going on in the hall of the United Center and with Rose, his friends and family.
However you dealt with the news of Rose's injury this week-sadness, cautious optimism, something in between-you had to acknowledge the actual reality of what is happening to him. For us outsiders, with no stake in this game but fandom and human empathy, I would like to offer a different path-stubborn refusal to interact with reality and a hasty retreat to the world of fantasy and imagination. Just imagine a world where The Fates harbored no grudges against Rose, where he has always been the very model of orthopedic health.
In this world, the Bulls' loss at the hands of the Miami Heat in the 2011 Playoffs was not a last glimpse of Rose's potential, unblemished by lingering questions of health. It was a step forward, one of those narrative-driving, "I get knocked down, but I get up again," moments that foments the rising action of a career arc. Rose struggled mightily in the last four games of that series, shooting 32 of 98 from the field and pairing 27 assists with 15 turnovers. Frequently guarded by LeBron James, Rose was slowed and the Bulls' offense withered without his life-giving dynamism.
In this world, that experience led to a knockout lockout campaign. With no nagging injuries to slow him, Rose rode a rising tide of intensity and focus, sent forth by the tremors of the previous season's playoff struggles. He was not the MVP, that honor still belonged to LeBron James, himself undergoing a personal transformation traced to playoff struggles. Feeling slighted at the MVP results and driven to exorcise playoff demons, Rose entered the postseason roaring and snarling, running through bricks wall.
In this world, his playoff campaign did not wrap up at the end of Game 1 with a torn ACL. His Bulls, tied with the San Antonio Spurs for best record in the league, did not lose to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. By Adjusted Net Rating, this iteration of the Bulls was the best team in the league by a healthy margin and the best version of the Bulls in the Rose era. In this world, the NBA championship did not run through Oklahoma City or Miami, it found a home in Chicago.
In this world, it was Rose who grabbed playoff redemption and wrestled it to the ground, cementing a different sort of legacy.
This is where our chosen fantasy narrative departs most strongly from reality, and sets forth on paths unknown. Rose and the Chicago Bulls as 2012 NBA Champions changes everything-the legacies and narratives of the Spurs, the Heat and the Thunder drift far enough as to be unrecognizable. Too many threads pull in too many different directions to follow coherently. But we can follow Rose and we can follow the Bulls.
In this world, the Bulls become dynastic. And not in the way they have-being consistently good, consistently more than we expect and still consistently derailed. In this world, the Bulls are consistently fantastic. Rose does not miss an entire season, or the vast majority of the next. He stays healthy and dramatically explosive, physically. He continues to refine the softer parts of his game as well, not as a survival mechanism to try and escape knees working against his intentions, but because sometimes just running past or jumping over everyone becomes boring. In this world, Rose unintentionally settles the argument over what Russell Westbrook would look like with a little more self-control and keeps the "best point guard alive" debate open in a way that feels viscerally important.
In this world, the Bulls spend February of 2015 looking down on the rest of the Eastern Conference from great heights, chasing another championship, perhaps the latest in a long line of final victories. The emergence of Jimmy Butler and revival of Pau Gasol may or may not be a part of the story, but in this world they are inevitably secondary to the story of Rose's greatness. In this world, there are no regrets or missed opportunities, no would've, should've, could'ves.
In this world, there is just a beautifully healthy Derrick Rose, unfettered by physical pain or the accompanying emotional baggage, slicing through the lane and skying to the rim. There is just Derrick Rose, the basketball player he was always supposed to be.
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Joey Logano celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
FT. MYERS, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Boston Red Sox players participate in drills during a Spring Training workout at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida on February 19, 2015. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Columbus Blue Jackets' Marko Dano (56) dives for the puck past Philadelphia Flyers' Jakub Voracek (93), of the Czech Republic, during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Philadelphia. Columbus won 5-2. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Illinois guard Brittany Carter (20) and Rutgers center Rachel Hollivay (1) grab for the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Piscataway, N.J. Rutgers won 80-56. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Nashville Predators center Craig Smith (15) scores a goal against San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) in the first period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
Rafael Nadal, of Spain, eyes a ball at the quarter-finals match of the Rio Open tennis tournament against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, early Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Texas Rangers players warm up during spring training baseball practice, Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015, in Surprise, Ariz. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
MEMPHIS, TN - FEBRUARY 19: Chris Hawkins #11, Trahson Burrell #0, Calvin Godfrey #40 and Pookie Powell #3 of the Memphis Tigers celebrate from the bench against the Connecticut Huskies on February 19, 2015 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. Memphis defeated Connecticut 75-72. (Photo by Joe Murphy/Getty Images)
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Alexei Marchenko (47) and Chicago Blackhawks right wing Kris Versteeg collide after going for a puck in the air during the overtime period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015, in Chicago. The Red Wings won in a shootout 3-2. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
SANYA, CHINA - FEBRUARY 18: In this handout image provided by the Volvo Ocean Race onboard Team Alvimedica, Seb Marsset drives south as equatorial clouds begin to appear on the horizon in every direction, the first signs of ITCZ convergence and volatility during Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland on February 18, 2015 in Sanya, China. The Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 is the 12th running of this ocean marathon. Starting from Alicante in Spain on October 04, 2014, the route, spanning some 39,379 nautical miles, visits 11 ports in eleven countries (Spain, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, China, New Zealand, Brazil, United States, Portugal, France, The Netherlands and Sweden) over nine months. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world's premier ocean yacht race for professional racing crews. (Photo by Amory Ross/Team Alvimedica/Volvo Ocean Race via Getty Images)
PHILLIP ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 20: Troy Bayliss of Australia rides the #21 Aruba.it Racing-Ductati Superbike Team Ducati Panigale R during the practice session for the World Superbikes World Championship Australian Round at Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit on February 20, 2015 in Phillip Island, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
MALMESBURY, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 18: A skateboarder jumps from a ramp that has been erected inside the 12th century former Benedictine Malmesbury Abbey on February 18, 2015 in Malmesbury, England. For the seventh year running the abbey's interior has been transformed into a skatepark which will welcome youngsters from across the south west for three days to try the variety of ramps, quarter pipes, grinding rails and trick boxes underneath the famous Norman vaulted stone ceiling. . (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
FALUN, SWEDEN - FEBRUARY 22: Irina Avvakumova of Russia competes in the Mixed Team HS100 Normal Hill Ski Jumping during the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships at the Lugnet venue on February 22, 2015 in Falun, Sweden. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 18: Shanne Braspennincx of the Netherlands Cycling Team competes in the Women's Team Sprint qualifying round as her coach yells during day 1 of the UCI Track Cycling World Championships held at National Velodrome on February 18, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) looks for an open teammate as Houston Rockets forward Joey Dorsey (8) and guard James Harden (13) defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Feb. 20, 2015, in Dallas. Dallas won 111-100. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)
WARSAW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 20: Jun-Ho Kim of Korea competes in the Men's 500m on day one of the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships at Stegny Ice Rink on February 20, 2015 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield - ISU/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 19: Cam Talbot #33 of the New York Rangers stops a shot in the third period against the Vancouver Canucks on February 19, 2015 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.The Vancouver Canucks defeated the New York Rangers 5-4 in an overtime shootout. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
WANAKA, NEW ZEALAND - FEBRUARY 22: An athlete competes in the Challenge Wanaka on February 22, 2015 in Wanaka, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 20: Paul Millsap #4 defends as Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks blocks a shot by Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors at Philips Arena on February 20, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
WARSAW, POLAND - FEBRUARY 21: (EDITORS NOTE: This image was processed using digital filters) Team China compete in the Women's Team Sprint during day two of the ISU World Junior Speed Skating Championships at Stegny Ice Rink on February 21, 2015 in Warsaw, Poland. (Photo by Jordan Mansfield - ISU/Getty Images)