I never thought I would see a day in Chicago when Derrick Rose would have his heart questioned, but it’s obvious that we’re officially there. While we can debate to no end whether it’s right or wrong for him to sit on the bench when he’s been medically cleared to play for two months now, the fact remains that there is a definite faction in this town that is flat out frustrated with #1. They see his teammates playing on less than two healthy legs, throwing up in the locker room due to the flu, getting stitches in the head, wearing gear that enables them to play but probably isn’t terribly comfortable and so on. These guys don’t care. They just suit up and go to war.
Ironically, in the Bulls (and the absolutely brilliant Tom Thibodeau) turning their MASH unit of injured players into a Cinderella story, the questions about Rose grow larger – in fact, there’s a giant issue here far beyond this season that speaks to his brand, namely:
How much of a hit does he take as a result of all this?
Do endorsements slow down?
Do not as many of his Bulls jerseys or Adidas shoes or Giordano’s pizzas get sold?
Is he seen as any less of an icon?
The answer for many of us who follow any kind of major sport lies in the psyche of the typical fan, which is always this:
If you help our team win, all is forgiven.
You can think of hundreds of examples of brands that have been slightly dented to outright damaged over the years and still come back (usually Michael Vick or Kobe Bryant come to mind first, though).
Just look at the examples in our town alone.
Michael Jordan was, is and always will be the greatest basketball player of all time but never met a poker table he didn’t like, has not exactly reminded people of Red Auerbach as a General Manager and gave what was probably the angriest, most bitter Hall of Fame induction speech in the history of halls and speeches.
Of course his brand didn’t really suffer from any of that. People remember that stuff occasionally but they’re still going to buy his merchandise and think of him with reverence.
People can occasionally recall Scottie Pippen not going to into a game at the last second because he had a migraine. We’re a great sports town so we may remember that stuff where people in other places wouldn’t – hell, they don’t even stay for the game. But that’s not going to stop people here from thinking of the much larger picture of how great he was as Robin to Jordan’s Batman during those championships.
Some folks wish Brian Urlacher was still with the Bears while others still gripe about how he said, “I don’t care about what the fans think.” Yet I’d bet some of those complaining did it while wearing a #54 jersey.
Bears fans wanted to trade Jay Cutler a couple years ago when he came out of a playoff game with the Packers due to injury and called him “soft.” Some even saw him at a club going up and down the stairs that night. Yet that seems like a lifetime ago and now we talk about how we need to get him a thousand more players to protect him. Sure, many may not love him, but if they hated him they wouldn’t want to acquire so many offensive linemen to prevent him from eating Soldier Field turf.
See the pattern?
The same will hold true here with Rose and bodes well for the future of the brands he’s associated with – especially since this is still mostly a medical challenge rather than a character one, even with people questioning his heart. We can dissect an athlete’s comments and actions (or lack thereof) to death in the moments immediately during or after. But in our attention deficit culture of rapid-fire tweeting, what-did-the-Kardashians-do-today, wondering who we’re going to be at war with next, etc., we simply don’t have it in us to hold on to these minor quibbles with athletes and celebrities for very long. If our issues with famous people we will never know are not literally here today and gone tomorrow, it’s safe to say that we will forget about what those issues were 6 months from now.
The exception would be if Derrick opens the 2013-2014 season by saying, “You know, I’ve practiced hard for all these months but I’m still just not comfortable with playing.”
But that can’t possibly happen. Can it?