Two huge stories broke yesterday that will dramatically alter the landscape of the NBA for at least the next two years.
First, tragic news from Chicago validated Bulls fans’ worst nightmare: After missing all of the 2012-13 season with a torn ACL in his left knee, Derrick Rose’s comeback campaign was abruptly ended with news that he will miss all of 2013-14 with a torn meniscus in his right knee.
Across the country, Laker fans got the first bit of good news on Kobe Bryant since he returned to practice. Bryant signed a two-year, nearly $49 million extension yesterday that reaffirms what has been hinted at since his Achilles injury: Kobe is back, and he intends to help the Lakers compete this season and beyond.
When he will make his first appearance of the season has yet to be determined, but one must assume that he is healthy, or else the Lakers’ management would not feel comfortable giving him a huge extension.
If Kobe returns at full strength, it will be an incredible feat. A torn Achilles tendon can be a career-ender, especially for veterans like the 35-year-old Bryant.
However, if there is any player that can do it, I’d bet my money on Kobe Bean Bryant. The man’s competitive drive and dedication to improvement is unmatched by any contemporary athlete not named Michael Jordan. He has played through broken fingers, tweaked wrists and ravaged knees. An injury to his foot is just the latest challenge to overcome, and Kobe has shown for years and years that he doesn’t mind taking some physical punishment.
However, the basketball gods can be cruel. As an old man continues to defy the odds and return to prominence, a young man with all the talent in the world has his potential taken away with a simple buckle of his knee.
Rose has the potential to be every bit as good of a player as Kobe is, if not better. Rose was better than Kobe at a younger age, and has a work ethic that compares. Unfortunately, NBA fans will have to wait another year to see if Rose is the same player he once was, and the question must be asked if we will ever get the pleasure of watching him dominate the game offensively again.
If there is a silver lining for Bulls fans, it’s that the meniscus was salvaged and repaired via surgery, and Rose is expected to be able to make a full recovery. The results of the surgery show that the injury is not as severe as the torn ACL was, and Rose managed to come back from that in the best physical shape of his life. Rose never quite found his rhythm this year, but the athleticism was back.
There is still hope that Rose can return next season and become the MVP-caliber player that he was before the injuries. He was a 22-year-old MVP and is only 25 today, still yet to reach his prime years. But to the average observer, playing like an MVP after two missed seasons in a row due to knee injuries is a hard scenario to imagine. If the Bulls’ locker room atmosphere is any indication, we could have just witnessed a Hall of Fame-worthy career deteriorate before our very eyes.
But keep in mind, the last player to win an MVP award besides LeBron James was Derrick Rose. To doubt his return to greatness is to tempt the competitive spirit of a man who was seemingly born to be a champion. Rose has elite, athletic DNA, and his triumphant return would be a testament to his greatness and to the achievements of modern sports medicine.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 26th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.