The broken play that led to Derrick Rose beating the buzzer with a 26-foot triple that hit the sweet spot on the United Center backboards wasn’t supposed to be like this.
You see, Rose was supposed to do this on the regular, standing toe-to-toe amongst opponents like LeBron James in high-pressure playoff atmospheres so much that this night should’ve been a replay of something we’ve seen so many times before—so much so that Rose’s expressionless reaction should’ve been worn by everybody in attendance Friday night.
Shots that make muscles of the most chiseled athletes go limp, shots that shake the belief out of 12 men in blue and shake the doubt out of 22,000 wearing red by watching them yell and raise their hands to the heavens was supposed to be an everyday occurrence.
But life—and basketball mortality doesn’t always work that way, as the last three years have shown us with the prodigal son who, a week ago, brazenly and nonchalantly told assembled media that “I’m built for this (bleep)” after giving up a game-winner to Jerryd Bayless in Milwaukee.
“It was a broken play,” Rose said. “I was supposed to get the ball in the corner, but when I ran to the corner I wasn’t open so I ran toward the ball.”
Broken play, broken dreams, wasted seasons, the sharp knives of surgery and criticism were all fresh in everybody’s mind—except the man running toward the ball.
“I don’t mean to sound cocky but that’s a shot you want to take if you’re a player in position,” he said. “I’m thankful and grateful that my teammates gave me the ball. They believe in me.”
Rose ran toward the challenge and into basketball immortality, just like he’s taken on every challenge, in some form, for his entire existence—the reason why everyone defends and praises him vigorously, even when they’re prodded to do otherwise.
“That is Derrick’s greatness,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “There’s not many like him. In fact, there are not any like him.”
But that broken play and Rose’s dogged determination to get to the ball is likely no different than his quiet determination to get on the floor.
Nearly 10 feet from where Rose sat on the NBA’s podium, calmly discussing his first playoff game-winner, was a much different scene two and a half months ago when Bulls GM Gar Forman told the world Rose had yet another successful knee surgery and that a return could be possible.
“I think Derrick’s ready to attack it. I do,” Forman said that day. “Like I said, I think he’s anxious to attack this rehab and get back on the floor with his teammates. In comparison to what Derrick had to go through the last several years, this surgery was minor.”
All around that Friday morning, the basketball world was filled with a mixture of optimism and doubt. Ironically, when Rose’s mysterious injury was announced, the NBA’s players gathered around social media like his career was done, nearly holding vigil at his proverbial bedside.
One of those players was LeBron James, who issued statements over twitter and Instagram, saluting his then-fallen competitor.
“Man (I) feel bad for D.Rose! Keep your head up homie and stay strong G!” James tweeted in the wee hours of Feb. 24, likely from the mindset that matching wits two months later was nothing more than a dream.
But Friday it was James who was on the other side, missing a crucial layup that could’ve put the Cavaliers up one and turning the ball over seven times in a less-than-stellar night that in a way, set up the stage for Rose’s moment in time, as not even the game’s best player could interrupt Rose’s date with stardom.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
And in case anybody believes this is the zenith, Thibodeau is so quick to remind everyone Rose isn’t far removed from surgery, that these games are essentially part of an extended rehab.
“He’s still shaking the rust off,” Thibodeau said. “The more he plays, the comfortable he’s getting and the more rhythm he has.”
[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
The man who had everything about his basketball character questioned when he couldn’t guarantee a return to the floor, picking at open media wounds that never closed, while some never considered his own very real emotional and physical wounds that caused those words to come from his mouth.
He overcame his own doubts, the frailty of his body and finally, the greatest superstar of this time to author an ending few saw coming.
“When people talk, it’s all their opinions,” Rose said. “I can’t get mad at your opinions. I’ll let God handle that. My job is to make sure I’m prepared for every game and come out and compete. What everybody says, nothing I can do about it. Everybody is entitled to their opinion.”
And with one shot that sent Chicago into delirium, it was another reminder that although it wasn’t supposed to be like this, maybe “what will be” can be more glorious than “what could have been”.