Rose Battles Adidas Elephant

When Derrick Rose went down in the 2012 playoffs, he knew he was in for a fight. The road to recovery was paved with surgery, exercise bands and an unfamiliar spot at the end of the Bulls’ bench. And though we tend to view Derrick as a basketball savant, it’s hard to imagine the following hasn’t added stress to an already-messy plate:


When Aggrey Sam broke the story, opinions were mixed. With an awe-shucks midwestern attitude and a remarkable 2010-11 season — culminating in being voted NBA All-Star Starter and league MVP — we knew how he got there. But was any player worth that kind of  deal, let alone a player without a ring?  How would such a shy guy handle the pressure of “going Hollywood?”

As Chicago’s number 1 returned for another season of assumed destiny in 2012, the injuries piled up, culminating in an ACL tear heard ’round the basketball world. But what did not tear was the gold-leafed contract with Adidas; and this is the part where Adidas shined:

With the launch of #TheReturn, Derrick’s injury suddenly had upside. Being a superstar is as much about off-court narrative as it is on-court brilliance — a guy called MJ can attest to that. In watching Adidas’ story through the clichéd Rose-colored glasses, fans could believe again. Not to mention Derrick could still help the company that so invested in him, albeit in an unforeseen way.

In the face of a marketing lemon, Adidas and Rose made lemonade.

But how many more episodes of #TheReturn can people endure before cringing like they did at #TheInjury? We’re on Episode 7 and rumors are flying, both good and bad. In a surprising twist, the rumors are centered around Rose’s mindset more so than his health. On one hand there is Derrick the leader, proud of his team’s winning ways. But then there’s his brother, mentor and manager (via ESPNChicago.com):

Joakim Noah is a great player. Luol Deng is a great player. But you need more than that. You have to put together pieces to your main piece. The players can only do so much. It’s up to the organization to make them better.”

And with Derrick’s own admission that he won’t return until he’s “110 percent“, be it this season or next, folks are left wondering basic questions presumed to be answered by now: “What, why, and for how long?” A video posted earlier today does nothing to quell fears. The news is about Derrick Rose dunking, but notice that he jumps off his right, un-injured leg:

And so here we are, cheering for our basketball savior through the eyes of a brilliant marketing campaign. But as the days wear on and #TheReturn becomes less inevitable — at least this season — NBA fans are left wondering what Adidas will do if #TheReturn drags into summer. And how will the fear of that let-down fuel Derrick’s decision this season?

Rose’s comeback isn’t solely focused on overcoming LeBron or anyone else; it’s about overcoming the ghost of Derrick Rose past, an image conjured by Adidas and Rose himself. Every time he steps on the court, he’ll be competing against whomever is in front of him, and also the player he used to be. The presence of the Adidas ad only ratchets up the tension in this fraught dynamic.

For all the hope and awe the ad provides, it also places a glaring target on the calendar roughly 8-12 months after Derrick’s injury. One can only hope that Rose isn’t affected by the implications and expectations of a shoe contract, however enormous its footprint.

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