These days, everyone has an opinion on Derrick Rose and Robert Griffin III.
Fans, media and the teams paying the players, want a blue-chip prospect to pan out quicker than usual. And the ones that are homegrown like Rose and immediately ascend to all-world status like RGIII, are under an even hotter microscope of scrutiny and burden of expectations.
What sticks out in the minds of many is that both have had devastating leg injuries in the playoffs. The sports world—even teammates—have weighed in on what to make of the struggles of the two, but not many people know what it is like to play professional sports in the city they grew up in.
Especially one where there’s a strong lineage of basketball legends.
Bernard King, a Brooklyn, N.Y. native, played 14 injury-plagued seasons in the NBA. Four of which were with his hometown New York Knicks.
Before his induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame last year, King reflected on how it felt playing in his hometown and dealing with multiple injuries. "Playing at home, it just meant that I had to rise to another level," King told Newsday. “My attitude was always, No. 1, I'm from Brooklyn," he said.
King went on to say, "I grew up on the toughest basketball courts in the world in one of the toughest communities in the nation, and my thought was if I can make it all the way from there to the top of the NBA and rise to the top of my profession, I can handle this.”
In Chicago, it seems like it is more newsworthy when Rose plays as opposed to when he doesn’t. When Rose tore his ACL in the playoffs two years ago, he got the benefit of doubt that Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler never got after tearing his MCL during the 2010 NFC Championship game.
Scoop Jackson, a Chicago basketball aficionado, is a columnist with ESPN.com. and TSL contributor. He believes that the fans and media have been critical of Rose without fully understanding the severity of his injuries.
“People are being for the most part overtly critical of his approach to returning and not taking into consideration that he's had 11 different injuries in only 30 months and doctors have not been able to give him an answer as to why his body keeps breaking down,” Jackson said. “So to take issue with the player is stupid to me. When no one is giving him answers to a continuum of problems, how is he supposed to feel? How is he supposed to respond? How is he supposed to react? How is he supposed to play?”
Recently, Rose made some questionable comments about his life after basketball that didn’t sit well with many because of its defeatist tone.
Rose told ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell that when he sits out he’s thinking of his future.
“I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out or whatever, but I think a lot of people don't understand that when I sit out it's not because of this year. I'm thinking about long term. I'm thinking about after I'm done with basketball.”
Rose also did something that most pro athletes don’t do by taking a stand on an issue that has divided the nation.
Illinois State Senator Napoleon Harris played eight seasons in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. While he says he understood Rose’s comments about life after a pro career, he thinks of the advice given to him by pro football Hall of Famer and former teammate, Warren Sapp.
“Hey Rook, you can’t take your wallet on the field,” Harris was told by Sapp. “At the end of the day, it matters about the production.”
He says that Rose’s words were taken out of context. “We as fans are emotionally attached to our teams. As a former professional athlete, I understand there is life after sports. I don’t think people understood the context he took it in,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of pressure. He’s not just performing for fans, he performing for friends and family as well.”
Due to those comments made by Rose, it appears that anything perceived as a negative is going to stick somewhat.
Complex Magazine posted a story weeks ago saying that Rose “stole” (their words, not mine) a jersey from a fan seeking his autograph after a game against the Portland Trailblazers. In the footage posted, Rose is seen taking the jersey from a fan and heading into the locker room. Some took that as Rose stealing the jersey from the fan.
Typical of social media, Complex engaged in a game of click bait.
The Chicago Sun-Times, who posted a similar story, later retracted the claim after speaking the Bulls’ PR staff.
It turns out that the jersey was brought back to the fan. Rose apparently was being a stand up guy and took the jersey into the locker room to fetch more autographs.
They may have discovered that the men walking with Rose was team security. It is highly unlikely that they would stand by while one the NBA’s most popular players commits a theft.
Last Saturday, before the Bulls took on the Golden State Warriors, Rose wore a t-shirt that said “I can’t breathe.” Those were the last words of Staten Island man Eric Garner before he died as a result of a chokehold from an NYPD officer.
As expected, social media lost its s—t. Bryan Crawford, who grew up seven blocks from the Rose household in Englewood, covers the Bulls for the RedEye Chicago. He believes the flack that Rose gets from all over is baffling.
“To me, it’s almost unprecedented that a guy like Derrick Rose has been attacked for nothing than more getting hurt,” Crawford said. “This is a guy who’s never committed a crime or been arrested.”
Crawford also believes that radio personalities and columnists ought to know better when going after Rose.
“The biggest issue I have, from a media standpoint, is a lot the loud talkers aren’t around in the locker room to talk to Rose,” he said. “As a media member, we have a responsibility to give readers and fans of the sports we cover a perspective they can’t get from watching the game on TV.”
When it is all said and done, Rose might join the list of Chicago athletes whose careers weren’t the same after injuries caught up with them such as Gale Sayers, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood.
Joakim Noah, the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of Year, said this when he defended Rose:
“This is not a one-man team. But at the end of the day, we need him; we need him, and I don't want to see him down. I know sometimes it's frustrating, you've got injuries, and you’ve got tweaks. Every time something happens to him, people act like it's the end of the world, and that's f—ing so lame to me. Relax.”
Unlike Rose, Griffin III has been thrown under the bus by coaches, teammates and local D.C. media (some say he’s thrown himself under the bus with the way he’s handled his injuries, the media and immersed himself in celebrity life too quickly).
However, Griffin III may have done himself a disservice when he made a thinly veiled shot at his teammates. "If you want to look at the good teams in this league and the great quarterbacks, the Peytons (Manning) and the Aaron Rodgers, those guys don't play well if their guys don't play well," Griffin told reporters. “They don't. We need everybody. I need every one of those guys in that locker room, and I know they're looking at me saying the same thing."
Washington coach Jay Gruden called out Griffin III for not being able to respond well when things don’t go his way:
“His biggest thing, he’s been coddled for so long. It’s not a negative, he’s just been so good, he just hasn’t had a lot of negative publicity,” Gruden told NFL.com. “Everybody’s loved him. Some adversity is striking hard at him now, and how he reacts to that off the field, his mental state of mind , how it affects his confidence, hopefully it’s not in a negative way.”
Griffin III has since been benched in favor of Colt McCoy. Last Sunday’s game showed the world that the Redskins may have given up too much for Griffin III. During the coin toss before Sunday’s game against the St. Louis Rams, coach Jeff Fisher sent all of the players the team drafted from the picks they received from the trade that sent the No.2 pick to Washington out as captains.
Even though Griffin III isn’t the highest paid Washington player, he is the most notable due to his endorsement deals and television appearances. Some believe that teammates may have grown weary of Griffin due to that.
“There’s definitely going to be some resentment. Players are going to get mad because of jealousy,” Harris said. “When he got sacked and his teammates didn’t help him up, that could’ve been ‘Hey, we don’t trust this guy.”
Harris also says the team should be cautious in handling Griffin III.
“When he got injured the way he did, it could be a confidence issue. He’s playing with the fear of getting hurt again. You don’t go from an all-pro to an all-joke overnight.”
However, the reality is that fans and owners have expectations. They want to be entertained and given a return on their investment. The patience they have for a compromised superstar who has in essence thrown in the mental towel doesn’t last long.
Teams aren’t willing to wait on a player to produce like they once did. Especially ones that start out so well and aren’t the same after injuries. The bright side in all of this is that both Rose and Griffin III are still young players who can be effective once given time to fully recover from multiple injuries.
If they can ever fully recover.