By Dan Bernstein

By Dan Bernstein

Derrick Rose has had an unfortunate knack for saying some really dumb things in his star-crossed NBA career, a fact exacerbated by his long absences due to serious injuries.

His game has been his communication, speaking in floor-length gallops and violent forays toward the rim rather than cleverly considered words. The ease with which he moves with a basketball equals the level of discomfort he seems to have when trying to talk, when he seems reluctant to even open his mouth enough to speak.

So it was no surprise than an innocuous question about his latest comeback – this one already complicated by two sprained ankles – resulted in a bizarre statement of his current priorities when managing his health.

“I know a lot of people get mad when they see me sit out,” he said, “but a lot of people don’t understand that when I sit out it’s not because of this year. I’m thinking long term. I’m thinking about after I’m done with basketball, having graduations to go to, having meetings to go to. I don’t want to be in meetings all sore or be at my son’s graduation all sore just because of something I did in the past.”

As is often the case, we have no idea what he’s talking about with this stuff. But we can begin to understand why he says it.

It sounds like he’s trying to parrot the NFL player’s trope about quality of life after football, not realizing that his sport carries none of the same risk to brain or body. His son is two years old, so he’s concerned about the high school graduating class of 2030 or so. And it’s anybody’s guess on what meetings would need his presence, but you can bet that Bulls VP John Paxson is thinking that the $95 million deal that accounts for nearly a third of the team’s salary-cap space buys the possibility that Rose might eventually have to seek out a particularly comfy boardroom chair.

This is what happens when a young man with almost no education is coddled and shepherded from an early age by an insular coterie of relatives, friends and opportunists.

By the time he was in junior high, the NBA was seen as a real possibility for his path out of a life surrounded by poverty and gang violence. Every single decision made for him by his older brother – the leader of his handlers and similarly lacking in education – was to protect the career, protect the long term, protect the potential windfall and the way out. A bubble was placed around Rose not only for his own good, but the maintenance of the potential path to a better life for other interested parties.

The impact of that singular focus is still seen today, even after guaranteed contracts from basketball and endorsements that combine for close to $300 million.

This is the way that everyone around Derrick Rose has been thinking for years, and it continues to influence him, clearly. That this is his seventh season makes little difference, when all he has understood in his blinkered environment is preservation.

Those criticizing Rose’s dedication or work ethic miss this point.

It is not his fault he tore up his knees, and the respective rehabilitations from ACL reconstruction and meniscus repair take a physical and mental focus that can only be fueled by an athlete’s truest desire. Rose wants to play, and again at the high standards he once set, but he is still fighting to overcome an upbringing that valued the future over any current moment.

There is some sadness here in his failure to appreciate where he already is at just 26 years old. He will undoubtedly gain wisdom with more life experience, eventually seeing that years spent working only for a carrot in the distance can sometimes mean missing the importance of the present.