Derrick Rose is a sad sports tale of what could have been

Derrick Rose is a sad sports tale of what could have beenDerrick Rose is a sad sports tale of what could have been

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We are besieged with the melancholy subject of “What if?” all the time in baseball, especially when it comes to pitchers. What could Mark Prior have been? Or Matt Harvey, for that matter? In some ways, that’s always an underlying reality waiting just beneath the turf.

It’s worse in football, of course, because the nature of that high-collision sport demands there will be casualties: knees, ankles, shoulders, skulls. We know as fans — and, worse, the players know as participants — that it can all go away in a flash of pain and bad luck. Part of the deal.

We are less used to seeing that happen in basketball, where the wonders of modern surgery allow the most prevalent injuries a fighting chance to heal. Oh, there have been some injury-affected careers — just how good would Willis Reed have been, to name one, if he didn’t have to spend half his prime wincing in agony?

But what’s become of Derrick Rose is as sad a development in all of sports as you can conjure. Rose announced the other day he’s taking time away from the Cavaliers, essentially, to determine if he loves basketball enough to tolerate the pain that walks hand-in-hand with it for him now.

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Derrick Rose with his MVP trophy.EPA

Maybe you have to remember what Rose was like when he was young — at Memphis in college and then with the Bulls — the sheer confidence and swagger with which he played the game. Basketball still is a game where most of the glories go to taller and stronger players, so for a guard to win an MVP, as Rose did in 2011, speaks to a rare athlete with supreme gifts.

And Rose had all of that.

And then he went down in a heap in the 2012 playoffs, a shocking news item that became something else when his return and recovery kept being plagued by setbacks. And every time you saw him, it was like seeing 75 percent of him: He looked the same, and in moments, he could approach his old standards. Just not always.

It was a unique opportunity last year, getting a chance to watch Rose play a year with the Knicks. There were distractions, yes — a trial at the very start of the year involving an ex-girlfriend in which he ultimately was exonerated and an AWOL moment where he up and went home to Chicago without telling anyone.

But it was when he would go on the floor and play that it was something equal parts satisfying and heartbreaking, watching him try to replicate the player he used to be, watching him mostly go at that 75 percent pace, which for someone with Rose’s talents, had to be galling.

I remember two moments especially from Rose’s time as a Knick. One was after a game in December, before the season spiraled out of control, and he’d made a vintage Rose drive to the basket late in a close game. Rose was being asked about that move like it was something that had been drawn up by the Lord himself.

“You know,” he said, trying to limit the hyperventilating, “I used to do things like that a lot.”

A few weeks later, Rose was being treated on the court for one of a dozen nagging aches and pains that have gone along with him the past few years. While he was doing this, his 4-year-old son, Derrick Jr., was dribbling precociously and at one point drained a shot from just outside the key at the Garden.

“Steph Curry!” the child wailed.

And Rose bolted upright, laughing a laugh that wasn’t really a laugh.

“Steph Curry?” he asked his son. “What about Derrick Rose?”

The boy just laughed. Eventually, Rose did, too. But that was just another sliver of a peek behind the window of his soul. So was his departure from the Cavs this week. It was good to remember what Rose was once upon a time when you saw that news. Because it’s increasingly clear Rose himself knows he’ll never see that player again.

Vac’s Whacks

A Jets win today means even in this low-expectation, no-expectation football season, there will at least be one meaningful December game. And that’s something to root for.

I’d really love to sit in on a film session with the New York Football Giants because it really does seem that all the secrets to the universe are revealed in them, to listen to the coach.

Very quietly, we are getting quite the three-headed hockey season this year.

Hard to believe that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is almost getting ready to leave us again, after we waited so long for its return.

Whack Back at Vac

Mel Gross: You mean you could not find room for one lousy Knicks team to include on your list of most depressing team? Not that I can think of a specific year as there were so many.
Vac: And if that doesn’t describe life as a Knicks fan, what does?

James A. Nollet: Shohei Ohtani wants to both pitch and hit, right? Then why on earth would he ever want to sign with any American League team? Even if all he does with any National League team is pitch, he is guaranteed a few hitting appearances in every game he starts in the NL.
Vac: I have to admit: I’m totally fascinated by this.

@FranTaylor117: The Knicks are appointment TV again — couldn’t ask for more than that.
@MikeVacc: Unfortunately, when they go on the road, that appointment needs to be with a sports psychologist.

Frank Giordano: Even your newspaper has us dreaming the Jets will go on a run and grab a wild card. This Sunday, my son and I will sit down together and dream … no matter what happens, isn’t this great?
Vac: It’s why I’ll never understand fans who root for a tank. I get why they do it. I don’t get why they enjoy it.