Derrick Rose can stay or exit, but his promising NBA career retired years ago

In the end, whenever that moment truly comes for Derrick Rose's career, all of us will be left with a brutal fact: One of the most promising careers in NBA history will have soured and turned into one of its most disappointing.

This is certain. It's only the timing that remains fluid. As Rose continues to be absent from the Cleveland Cavaliers amid reports of soul searching, injury, lost passion and vicious uncertainty, what really matters happened more than five years ago. Today, in this moment, it's all over but the whimper, whether that comes this week, or next, or in a year, or in five.

Life, even in basketball, isn't fair. It certainly has not been to Rose. 

The 2011-12 season served as a preview of what was to come, as the NBA's reigning MVP missed 27 of 66 Bulls games with various injuries. In Game 1 of the playoffs, against the Philadelphia 76ers, he tore the ACL in his left knee. And that was it, the end of the greatness, and the beginning of this shell of what D-Rose was supposed to be. 

We didn't know it then, or we failed, like Rose the past few years, to admit it. But a shining career, an all-time bright light for the game, had been extinguished too soon. What was left was just an echo.

In 2013, upon his return, Rose played 10 games before tearing his meniscus. Then he tore it again in 2015. By the time last season that he was skipping a Knicks game without permission for personal reasons, the Rose of his rookie season was no more a reality than the Tiger Woods that once changed golf. There was also the rape accusation, the trial, the jury's decision in a civil trial that the allegations against Rose and two friends were not credible -- all serving as a tawdry, ugly question mark that further eroded any memory of Rose the Promised One. Even without a conviction -- even if it's not fair -- some accusations change the way we view our athletes. 

So Rose was battered on the court and off, and the player and what he was supposed to represent to Chicago and beyond morphed into something ugly.

Sometimes the transcendent talents change everything. Sometimes they simply vanish, or should.

So how to remember Derrick Rose? There is no reason to wait. We can say goodbye now. Whether he emerges from his current self-imposed exile determined to do what he must to play -- delude himself -- or not, this is only a delay. His career is over. It's time to assess who exactly D-Rose was to basketball, and retire it ourselves. 

We live in a time of rampant hyperbole, but it is not a stretch to say Rose, in his rookie year, was one of the promised great ones. Those missed free throws against Kansas that would have sealed the 2008 national championship for Memphis did not at the time seem to add up to some once-in-a-lifetime missed opportunity. Not for Rose, nor his talent. They were simply a first hurdle. The Bulls, who drafted him No. 1 overall, were to be the beneficiaries of what Rose would do.

He won Rookie of the Year that first season in Chicago. By 2010-11, he was the youngest MVP in NBA history, and only LeBron James and the Big Three-led Miami Heat, in the Eastern Conference finals, made Rose look human.

Before Stephen Curry --  before the MVPs over LeBron, the comparisons, the rivalry, the need for the King to go one-on-one and assert his dominance -- there was a 21-year-old whose future pitted him against the greatest player on earth.

Rose was the rival and heir.

He is one of seven players with 2,000 points, 600 assists and 300 rebounds in a single season. The others are named Havlicek, Robertson, Jordan, Westbrook, Harden and James. He is one of just four all time to add 50 blocks to that season -- narrowing the list to Rose, Jordan, James and Harden.

That he was the youngest Most Valuable Player in history was a promise, to all of us: Behold the greatness. It was a promise to Rose, too: You are chosen, you are special, you will do wondrous things. 

Every player to have ever won the MVP, retired and become eligible has made the Hall of Fame. Rose will not. He might hang on and play as long as seven more years -- that many years, and $80 million, remain on an Adidas deal that pays him only if he hasn't left the game -- but it will amount to no more than further reminders of what was lost.

With the Cavs this season, Rose is averaging career lows in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. That fact, and the ankle injury that sidelined him, are just echoes.

The Derrick Rose of today is not the one I covered in that Final Four, or that Eastern Conference finals against LeBron James' Heat. He's not the one who was so great a rule in his name was put into place allowing young players to make so much money in a next contract. That Rose is lost to time, and no pondering, returns, effort, second chances, phenomenal teammates, healing or other magical cures will change a damn thing.

This Derrick Rose, wherever he is and whatever he's deciding, deserves our sympathy. 

Sports, often, reflect the best parts of ourselves back at us: The teamwork, the rewards for effort and battle, the striving for greatness, the inspiration, the glory. But sometimes it goes the other way. Rose is a cautionary tale not of bad decisions, selfish play, missed pressure-packed shots, ego or any other self-inflicted wound.

He's a reminder that things do not always go the way they should -- that life isn't always fair. 

Rose has morphed from an all-time great to a cautionary tale: Sometimes the best thing we can do is simply let go, move on and accept a reality we never planned on.

Sometimes life has other plans.

National Columnist

Bill Reiter began his career as a newspaper journalist before becoming a national columnist at CBS Sports. He currently hosts a national CBS Sports radio show from New York City from 6 to 10 p.m. ET called... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories