Hall of Fame basketball writer Sam Smith probably has forgotten more about basketball than most people remember.
But when it came to Derrick Rose's knee injury and the backlash he took for sitting out the 2012-13 season, Smith saw something he hadn't witnessed in 30 years covering professional sports: fans turning on the homegrown star of the hometown team. RedEye talked to the co-author of "The Jordan Rules" for his take on Rose's injury and the 2013-14 Bulls.
Talk about why you were upset by the backlash toward Rose.
I was shocked at the level of vitriol towards a popular and cooperative player. I'd never seen anything like that, questioning an injury. I've never seen a player's injury questioned to that level. It would be one thing if it was Rasheed Wallace, but Derrick Rose is a good guy. He's cooperative and friendly to everybody, and to challenge his character and his motives, I was personally getting upset. I thought the character assassination for this guy, of all guys, given the severity of the injury, it was just unprecedented.
A lot of the criticism of Rose came right here in Chicago. What did you make of that?
I felt like I became a defender of Derrick, not just because I write for the Bulls website, [but] because of how I felt about that. I was on a local radio show with an ex-football player and he was talking about how he had an ACL injury. This was a fat lineman who was 300 pounds and could barely move, and he was comparing himself to Derrick Rose. That's how ridiculous it got.
And that was another thing: there was an awful lot of Chicago talk radio that was really negative and really critical towards him. And I understand that it's just conversation, but for the guys who played professional sports and know about that injury and the severity of it and what it can mean to your future, it was too much. Derrick is the future of the Bulls, and without him nobody is talking about a championship or any serious contending for the Bulls.
Most of the anger seemed to stem from people thinking he would come back last season. Did you think he would play last year?
I thought very early on, from the beginning of the season, that he wasn't going to play and I thought it was the right thing.
Do you think the disconnect came from people not knowing the fundamental difference between being hurt and being injured?
Yes, way injured. This guy had a serious knee injury that required reconstructive surgery. What makes Derrick unique in many respects is, to me, I've never seen a player like him in the history of the NBA at the point guard position to play explosive like that. Here is one of the great gifts to sports, a point guard who plays like this. If he were to lose that, it would be terrible. You want to have this guy come back and hopefully be what he was. So to take the risk of him coming back before he's ready would've been really irresponsible.
I give a lot of credit to Derrick. Iif it were me, at his age, I would've been influenced by the talk and tried to come back and play. I thought he was really the most mature guy in the room by saying that sitting out was the right thing to do. and [saying] I'm not going to worry about what people say about me. I think that was really impressive the way he handled it considering the community response. But it was really disappointing for people from Chicago who knew the character of this kid to question or say that he was a coward, or that he let down his teammates. That was unbelievable.
How much do you think Adrian Peterson's comeback from his ACL injury with the Minnesota Vikings influenced what people thought about Rose?
It's a different situation. First of all, he's a football player running around in armor and he's not jumping. The key to Derrick is his explosiveness and how he can do these things in the air. People tend to take the one exception—and Adrian Peterson was an exception because nobody had ever done that before—and think that everybody should be able to do it. That was really unfair to Derrick to compare him to the one guy who did something very unusual. And I don't think it came out, but Derrick had talked to Adrian Peterson and he told him not to look at him because he couldn't have played basketball coming off the same injury.
How do you think the Bulls will do this season?
I think they're very good and I think they have a real chance to be in the Finals. But with that said, so do eight other teams. I think the league is really good and there's four legit championship teams in the East, four or five in the West, and you can be really good and not get there. But this is the best starting five since Tom Thibodeau has been here. And the first two years that Thibodeau was here, they led the league in wins. They closed the gap at shooting guard, potentially, with Jimmy Butler. They have All-Stars in [Joakim] Noah and [Luol] Deng, [Carlos] Boozer has been good, and if Rose comes back to his level, I think you've got as good a starting five as anybody can put out there.
Bryan Crawford is a RedEye special contributor.