Amid Jeremy Lin’s sensational February run with the New York Knicks, Derrick Rose was sitting out Chicago Bulls games due to lower back spasms. Not only is Rose a physical specimen, but he also is highly competitive. So when a teammate in the locker room alerted the hobbled Rose about Linsanity and that analysts had already begun to mention Lin among the upper-echelon point guards, Rose became enraged and flatly stated, “When do we play [the Knicks] next?”
It wouldn’t be until another few weeks that the Bulls and Knicks would face each other. But Rose’s reaction upon hearing from his teammate the challenge revolving around Lin was a prime example of his competitive nature.
Rose has been known to possess an assassin’s mentality on the court, a trait Kobe Bryant believes the two have in common. He implements anything to give himself the edge and motivation. But at times over his career, especially last season, the competitive juices within Rose may very well have gotten the best of him. Rose’s combative fury could have had a role in the overcompensation he has placed on his body and the overexertion he has endured both physically and mentally.
As he missed 27 regular-season games during the 11-12 season, Rose admittedly overcompensated, believing that one injury led to another. He suffered a turf toe in January, lower back spasms in February, a strained groin in March, and a sprained right ankle and a sore right foot in April. As far as those injuries are concerned, all gave way to the other. His back issue in particular, which first popped up in high school, but trainers decided to find temporary treatments rather than a permanent one.
Across the professional sports landscape, overcompensation is absolutely a serious concern. As Chicagoland orthopedic surgeon David Guelich told RealGM, the professional athlete walks a fine line between overcompensation and overexertion and superior performance. In a recent interview on NBA TV, Chris Bosh explained how overcompensation played a prominent part in his own injuries last season, ultimately leading to his abdominal strain in the playoffs.
“The hamstring issue [in April] started it off,” said Bosh.
While overcompensation influenced Rose’s regular season injuries, his ailment to cap it all off, the torn ACL he sustained in Game 1 of the Bulls’ first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, was independent from the rest. Some believe everything accumulated and eventually led to Rose’s torn ACL, but studies do not support that theory. And yet, fatigue and overexertion could indeed play a role in ACL injuries among women athletes, according to Guelich.
“In female athletes, fatigue and overexertion can be a factor in an ACL injury, but only one of many factors,” Guelich said. “No such study exists linking these issues in an NBA athlete.”
Both overcompensation and overexertion, however, have seemed to put Rose in his current position, leaving him to reevaluate his mindset moving forward. Losses are hard to be forgotten by Rose. He never lets go of them, even to a fault at times. Mostly, each one lingers and stings within him, like when he locked himself in his house for a week after the Bulls lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals in 2011.
“All athletes of Derrick’s caliber have special physical attributes,” Guelich said. “But beyond that, so much of a professional athlete’s success is mental and emotional.”
In so many ways, collapsing onto the floor and tearing his ACL was one of the best lessons Rose has grasped in his four-year NBA career. He was immediately forced to search within himself, search for the reasons he had such a grueling campaign both on his body and mind. For so long, all the youngest MVP in league history knew was to play his hardest, put his body on the line and treat each possession like it’s his last – attributes that were on full display when he made the needless drive leading to his knee injury late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 with the win already in hand.
To his own harm at times, Rose has known just one gear. When he attacks defenders on the court, he can switch gears in a flash, yet he only knows one function when it comes to his effort level. The repeated injuries last season had to show Rose that he needs to tone down his drive at certain points during a game – never mind during a season.
For Rose, it had to become adamantly clear through this all: To sustain long-term health after returning sometime late next season, the dial must be ratcheted down. Whenever the time comes to turn the notch lower – whether it is mentally or physically – he has to learn how to step off the treadmill, as his former college coach, John Calipari, put it recently.
“This got [him] to step off the treadmill,” Calipari told ESPN 1000 last week. “Part of what happened with him was there were so many games, and he only knows one speed on that basketball court: I’m coming at you, teeth and feet. But when you start playing nine games in 12 days, come on.
“I used to tell him all the time, ‘You’re too hard on yourself, man. You’re going to get to the NBA and there are too many games. You can’t be on yourself like this.’”
During the marathon season, Rose didn’t have much time to reflect on these issues; all he understood was that he had to rehabilitate toward returning to the court. Now, the 23-year-old is training in Los Angeles under elevated supervision. And although he made a trip to visit well-regarded surgeon Dr. James Andrews earlier in the summer, Guelich said it is not unusual for Rose to receive second and possibly third opinions before or during post-surgery rehab to confirm that the process is going as planned.
Here was Rose in mid-March, so focused with his competitive juices flowing. He could only think about besting Lin in their head-to-head matchup while propelling the Bulls to an emphatic win. From the outset of that 104-99 Bulls’ victory on March 12, Rose looked to be on a mission and was as charged up as he had been all season long – draped over Lin’s jersey defensively, pushing the ball in transition at every opportunity on offense, and racking up a season-high 29 shot attempts for 32 points.
Rose was fuming when addressing reporters after the game, claiming to be the only superstar in the league who deals with the lack of foul calls. But more than anything, Rose had to be furious that he suffered yet another injury. This time, it was his groin. He pulled it in the first half but continued to play at his top gear until the final buzzer. From start to finish, teammates knew Rose wanted to prove a point against Lin on national television.
Once again, Rose seemingly overexerted himself, and he could never learn how or when to turn it down a notch. He is his biggest critic to a fault at times and will undoubtedly spend his recovery time searching for balance, a mentality change that became evident the instant he blew out his knee. With his career threatened in a way never experienced before, Rose must learn how to achieve balance in his performance to maintain the long-term health jeopardized by overcompensation and overexertion.