Derrick Roses dramatic return to the public eye didnt quite go as planned.
The reigning league MVP appeared relaxed and in good spirits - whether or not getting a haircut is any indication of how someone feels or not is debatable, but if the 23-year-old had a woe is me mindset, it wouldnt make much sense that he would care about his personal grooming - as he trudged down the United Center hallway, crutches in tow, before Tuesday nights Game 2 of his Bulls first-round series against the 76ers.
Rose would address his teammates and discreetly make his way on to the court, then the bench and finally, before tip-off, present the game ball to the officiating crew. The assembled crowd seemed stunned by his presence, but also didnt seem to know what to make of it, as the ovation for the fallen hero was more muted and less deafening than one would expect, though the All-Star point guards teammates considered his words of advice inspirational.
Its always great to have him. No doubt in my mind, its always great to have our leader in here, said John Lucas III, one of Roses closest friends on the team. He said a few words and told us what we had to do, go out there and play our heart out, and get this W.
Unfortunately, despite Rose returning to the United Center for the first time since suffering a devastating, season-ending torn left ACL injury in the waning moments of Saturdays Game 1 win - he sat in a luxury suite with his family and close friends during the contest - the Bulls were unable to pull off the victory in his honor. Except for the second quarter, in which Lucas and Joakim Noah truly energized the crowd, the energy level in the arena, a staple throughout the regular season, was mostly dormant.
Its hard to stand when youre down by 20, but our crowd, we have some of the best fans ever, reasoned Lucas. Theyre going to stick beside us through thick and thin, and I felt like we let them down today.
Afterwards, a sullen locker room reflected the teams emotion and as much as they have tremendous personal affection for Rose as both a player and a person, they refused to use his absence as an excuse for the loss, echoing their mantra for the entire campaign.
Derrick is not here. This is a different team, snapped fellow All-Star Luol Deng. Weve been through it. Weve played a lot of games. Theres a lot of games that weve won. You guys can go back and watch them, how we won them. One guy doesnt have to get out of character. Were a team and were going to get it done together.
While he wasnt on the court or available to the media following the defeat, Rose did make an appearance in the locker room and addressed the short-handed squad.
Recounted Lucas: Hes our leader and he was like, Get your heads up. Its just one game. The series isnt over. Its just beginning.