I still remember sitting in my recliner. The Bulls had an early tip and I settled in to enjoy the beginning of what looked to be a championship run. The game was chippy. There were shenanigans with Evan Turner running his mouth leading up to the game and I remember Boozer and Evan Turner getting into it and Derrick Rose running up and clapping with intensity and defiance in their face:
The Bulls were dominant. Derrick Rose was dominant. I couldn’t believe this was the same guy I had saw in person three days prior in Indianapolis. That guy finished with only 10 points and 7 assists. That guy looked passive and like he was trying to play hurt. But this Derrick Rose dropped 23/9/9 for a near triple double on the 76ers. This Derrick Rose had intensity and looked like he wanted another piece of LeBron James and the Miami Heat. This team looked ready to make that leap and they looked like they were a legitimate championship team.
But then it all came crashing down.
My wife came in mere minutes before. She was pregnant with our fourth child at the time and was at a training that day. She brought me a thoughtful gift – one I wrote about somewhat jokingly as being a cursed figurine – Little Scottie Pippen. I have him in a box downstairs and I don’t even look at it anymore. It just reminds me of that one play:
I went from being on top of the world and feeling excited to feeling like someone had just dropkicked my dog into the middle of a busy highway. I was just sick. Here was our star, the youngest MVP in NBA history, and the most dynamic player the Bulls had in years if not a decade lying on the ground in obvious agony. I remember all the optimism running through my brain. “He didn’t twist his knee. He probably just hyperextended it. I’m sure he’ll be back in Game 2, but maybe a little slowed. I doubt it’s serious.” But realistically, it was obvious this was something more ominous. The United Center went deathly silent. Doug Collins, the opposing coach, was one of the closest near Rose and went to check on him. Everyone was shocked and concerned for this young kid. Not long after Game 1 we learned that it was indeed a torn ACL and Derrick Rose was done for the Playoffs.
The ripple effect of this injury remains to this day. NBA history was irrevocably altered. Does LeBron James actually win that first title in 2012 or do the Bulls prevent them making their second Finals? What if Derrick Rose remained “Jordan” to Jimmy Butler‘s “Pippen?” Do the Bulls then have a potential dynasty in the making? The Bulls took Marquis Teague in the 2012 draft because of the uncertainty of Derrick Rose’s recovery. What if Gar/Pax listened to Thibodeau, who allegedly wanted Draymond Green at the time, and didn’t have to worry about potentially placing Rose? What if Derrick Rose continued being the All-Star caliber player he was? What if the Bulls were truly in a position to tweak their roster in hopes of putting a contender around Rose instead of denying that their star player was no longer a star? Would the Bulls have evolved with the rest of the NBA in the pace and space era instead of just being frozen in 2012 and hoping that group would eventually bring a championship? Would they be better off now?
There are so many unanswered questions. The Rose-era Bulls never reached their true potential after making the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals. Rose has suffered more knee injuries since then. The Bulls moved on and now have Jimmy Butler as their star player, Fred Hoiberg as their coach, and are desperately trying to replicate what they had with Rose.
Five years ago and it still feels like yesterday. It feels like we’re still waiting for Derrick Rose to return and maybe fans are frozen in time, still bitter about the way all the promise and the potential the early Thibodeau/Rose partnership presented and how it came crumbling down in one single play. We haven’t fully turned the page. We still think about these things, defend Rose to the death, and Bulls media still tweets out updates on him like he’s still “our guy.” We refuse to believe this era ended so abruptly.
But it did. Five years ago. The ghost of that injury hovers over the franchise and has hindered the franchise from moving forward because of the cap ramifications of Derrick Rose’s contract. Now the Bulls are truly beginning the process of building…something. That ghost will only disappear if the Bulls are able to somehow replicate what we had and somehow atone for that gruesome injury. I’ve never re-watched that game. I actually haven’t even watched the clip of his injury. I just copied and pasted the link. I can’t watch it. It’s too much. It’s too difficult to look back and remember what was before us, but five years ago, the path of the Chicago Bulls changed forever. I’m not fully over it yet.
Brandon Pence is the co-founder of B2 Hoops and the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge.” Follow him on Twitter here.