With less than a minute remaining in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Monday, Nate Robinson realized Ray Allen had been charged with guarding him. And he realized Ray-Ray has trouble staying in front of blazing speed.
So the Bulls guard blew by him for an easy layup. Ballgame.
I will let somebody else break down the whys of this Bulls victory — why Miami seemed to cede the final 60 seconds, why Chris Bosh did not realize Robinson is approximately 45 inches tall and thus the rim easily defended by simply standing there with his arms up and why few believe this actually means Chicago has a chance for the upset. I was watching mostly for the bench, waiting patiently for the camera to find Derrick Rose.
It did not take long. Rose was one of the first ones off, looking sharp in his suit. Also evident in that moment was his excitement. The energy he had expended seconds earlier while cheering on the bench was now being used in the huddle. Whatever anybody is saying about Rose — and a whiny few have been saying a lot — he is emotionally in this with his team.
His reaction felt important to me because, for a while now, I have been hearing media and fans — not Bulls teammates or NBA types, which is instructive — calling Rose a girl part for not coming back already. He shredded his ACL a year ago, went through surgery and rehabilitation, got medically cleared about two months ago, and now we have been waiting to watch him play. He has not ruled himself out for this series against Miami; nor has he ruled himself in. And for this, he is being shredded for not caring enough, for wimping out, for not being Chicago tough.
What Chicago critics are basically calling him is Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, and them’s fighting words.
Cutler, you will remember, somewhat infamously sat out the second half of the NFC Championship game against Green Bay in 2011. He had injured his knee in the second quarter (what was later determined to be a torn MCL), and he bailed. Before the Packers’ W was done, fellow players, analysts and media had taken to Twitter and TV shows questioning his toughness, his desire, what kind of teammate he was, his manliness.
Full disclosure: I did as well.
So why does Rose deserve the pass Cutler did not get? The answer is simple for me. Perception matters. Everything we do is judged through the lens of who we have been; this is the whole idea behind the benefit of the doubt. There is such a thing as a life resume — for athletes, for all of us.
And unlike Cuter, D-Rose has a long resume of moments showing what he is all about — the absolute reckless abandon with which he attacks the rim, his leadership, how crazy excited he was for Monday’s playoff game and for Robinson. Contrast this with Cutler, who stood on the sideline that January day looking all sullen and pouty. The knee might have kept Cutler off the field, but it did not preclude him from being into the game. He looked cold, bored and mostly disengaged.
Cutler did not get the benefit of the doubt because his demeanor very much jived with what his modus operandi had been.
I am not suggesting a player, or person for that matter, cannot change. I am merely saying that until you change, who you have been impacts how people view what you are doing. As former NFL coach Bill Parcells loves to say, players always show you what they are. Listen.
D-Rose has shown me what he is; certainly, he has shown his teammates. This explains why Joakim Noah went all in for him after Monday’s game.
“Derrick’s a brother,” Noah told reporters. “And to see him go through this is tough, but at the end of the day, it’s really funny how quick people are to judge. But people don’t know what it’s like to lead a team, especially after you tore your ACL.
“If you tore your ACL and you have to be the starting point guard and have the expectations that Derrick has, then maybe you can judge, but everybody who hasn’t been in that situation before should really shut up because I feel like it’s just so unfair to him and to his team. We’re fighting, and everybody’s going to just (bleep) on somebody who’s been giving so much to this organization. It’s crazy to me.”
D-Rose has shown himself to be Chicago tough, an all-in guy, a competitor, and a bad ass. And he has earned the benefit of the doubt.