It was a woefully short comeback: 10 games and three 12-minute quarters into the 2013-14 NBA season and The Return of D Rose was over.
One could almost hear the hearts of hopeful Chicago Bulls fans everywhere breaking as the TV announcers drew attention to Derrick Rose hobbling in the backcourt. Rose had made a backdoor cut to the basket when Portland’s Nicolas Batum intercepted the pass intended for Rose. And in a split second, as he turned to transition back to defense, planting his newly reconstructed and rehabbed left leg, Derrick Rose’s “good” right knee buckled — a torn medial meniscus.
Just days earlier, Derrick Rose had led the Bulls with 20 points to a victory over Indiana, ending the Pacers’ 9-0 franchise record start to the season and prompting sports writers to hail his return to all-star form. Previously, his left knee ACL tear and consequent 17-month rehabilitation had been well documented. Word on the basketball beat was that Derrick Rose — the 2011 NBA MVP, the youngest ever in league history at age 22 — had not just healed from his ligament injury and surgery, but had actually improved on his already phenomenal athleticism, adding an impressive 5 inches to his vertical leap. Derrick Rose was supposed to be the centerpiece of a 2013-14 Chicago Bulls team built for a championship run.
My Twitter feed was awash with sympathy and well-wishes for Derrick Rose.
Jeremy Lin of the Houston Rockets asked for prayers on Rose’s behalf:
ESPN’s Bill Simmons appealed to the “hoop gods” for a less serious injury:
The disappointment of Derrick Rose’s second major knee injury in as many years feels particularly desolate after watching his recent adidas Basketball commercial. Released on Oct. 1st, 2013, the advertisement features Derrick Rose narrating, “Let me tell you something, if you took away the money, if you took away the fame, the spotlight, if you took away the lifestyle and all the things that come with it, if you took away all the flash, what would you have left? Everything.” Rose walks off the court and only the words “Basketball is everything” remain.
However catchy, that conclusion now appears glaringly problematic: if basketball is everything and you cannot play it, then, logically, you have nothing. Or perhaps, more painfully, you are nothing.
As Stephen A. Smith, in his reaction to Rose’s meniscus tear on ESPN First Take, dramatically stated, “Derrick Rose, as far as I’m concerned, is finished.”
In episode three of The Return of D Rose, in the middle of laborious workouts and rehabilitation, Rose says, “Hard work pays off. And I’ve seen it actually pay off. The year I won MVP, I worked extremely hard. So I know that all this stuff is going to pay off one day.” And that is precisely why Derrick Rose’s failed comeback pains us, why we partake so readily in his disappointment.
In what kind of a world does the most significant thing in a man’s life get ripped from him in circumstances beyond his control and in spite of every effort he has given?
As Bill Simmons suggests, if there were any fairness at all, if any caring deity in the universe, then surely the “good” and “fair” thing would have been for this whole knee injury scenario not to have happened in first place.
Even I, as a Christian, must ask the obvious question: why would God allow such crushing disappointment in a person’s life?
In The Problem of Pain, Christian scholar C.S. Lewis makes the following case:
Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands between them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them. I call this a Divine humility because it is a poor thing to strike our colours to God when the ship is going down under us; a poor thing to come to Him as a last resort, to offer up ‘our own’ when it is no longer worth keeping. If God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had. 1
When all seems well, we feel perfectly self-sufficient; we feel we deserve our good circumstances because we’ve worked hard to attain them. It is only when our fragile dreams collapse before our eyes that we are shaken from our illusory slumber. In the face of stark disappointment, we finally see our own utter vulnerability as mortal human beings; we understand the limits of our hard work; and we know the vanity of hoping too much in a decaying world.
But there is true hope to be found in this God who, in his care for our best interests, makes this life “less sweet” to us.
There is true hope to be found in this God who is unafraid to rip away the very life that stands between us and him, a life that would leave us wretched.
There is true hope to be found in this God who shows Divine humility, who still receives us when we cry out to him in our despair, “even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is ‘nothing better’ now to be had.”
Most of all, there is true hope to be found in Jesus Christ who is no stranger to pain, who endured pain that we might have peace with Him:
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:23-24).
Pain and disappointment are astonishingly commonplace. And we rightly feel compassion when we hear of stories such as D Rose’s. Perhaps then, the more important question in all of this is not why, but to whom will you turn when you face disappointment?
1 C.S. Lewis, “Human Pain,” The Problem of Pain. 1940. (New York: HarperCollins, 2001) 95-96.