CSNChicago.com is taking a look back at what turned out to be a memorable year in the Windy City, by counting down the 13 biggest Chicago sports stories of 2013. Check back each day to see what other storylines were good enough to make the list.
The saga of “The Return” actually began in 2012, when Derrick Rose tore his left ACL in Game 1 of the Bulls’ playoff series against Philadelphia, but the reaction to it actually started in the 2013 calendar year.
When trickles of information about the point guard rejoining team practices and various accounts of his performance leaked out, that’s when public opinion and not just sympathy developed. As the Bulls battled through an injury-riddled regular season and the postseason approached, the will-he, won’t he — and should he? — debate took shape in earnest, especially as the on-court drama of the Bulls upsetting Brooklyn in seven games to earn a date with rival Miami came about.
Ultimately, Rose didn’t suit up and more than his fundamentally correct decision to continue the rehab process, the former league MVP’s refusal to officially rule himself out, coupled with the undermanned Bulls’ courageous efforts without the superstar turned the tide against the hometown hero. The Bulls would ultimately fall to the Heat in five games — after winning the first contest in the series, just as they did in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, with Rose’s services — and the offseason hit, with the promise that Rose would be back on the court to begin the 2013-14 season, whether or not the Chicago native had lost some fans, in the Windy City and elsewhere.
“The Return” started well enough, as Rose looked to be back to his previous form, while leading the Bulls to an undefeated preseason record. After the exhibition campaign, however, signs of rust from his year-and-a-half layoff came to the surface, though there were moments, such as his game-winning shot in the Bulls’ Halloween home opener against New York and another United Center victory, in which he showed off his touted improved long-range shooting to give Central Division foe Indiana its first loss of the season, that made all of the waiting worth it for his most ardent fans.
But some of the hiccups — from sitting out the Bulls’ preseason affair in Brazil against Washington and a road game in Toronto, to numerous poor shooting nights and the likes of 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams getting the best of him — were impossible to ignore, giving credence to the faction that insisted he return to the floor in the previous season, particularly in the wake of reports that Rose was cleared to practice. Still, whether or not his presence manifested itself in a Bulls’ championship, or simply a return to the league’s elite teams, his comeback campaign was one that provided hope for the franchise’s future, fairy-tale season or not.
Then, the night of Nov. 22 happened, bringing back memories of April 28 the previous year. It didn’t take place in Chicago and it certainly wasn’t as dramatic, but when Rose was assisted off the floor in Portland, unable to walk under his own power, it left even unbiased observers with the same sinking feeling as the first injury.
To see Rose on crutches in the locker room, nobody able to look at him directly, his teammates barely able to talk about him was depressing. To find out the severity of the injury and subsequent, season-ending consequences after surgery to repair his torn right meniscus was even more so.
But to hear the unsympathetic opinions of many fans took the cake and solidified that in 2014, whether it’s at the start of next season or, as Rose left the window open a crack for in his press conference, the end of this, he’s no longer universally beloved in the city he’s spent all but one of 25 years. The Bulls’ success moving forward still depends on him getting back to a superstar level, something totally possible, but pragmatically, not a foregone conclusion after major surgeries on both knees in less than a two-year span.
Regardless of how Rose recovers from this latest setback, it’s safe to say that 2013 is a year he’d like to put behind him.
Top 13 stories of 2013