For Grizzlies fans, rooting for Derrick Rose is complicated

New York Knicks, Derrick Rose, Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports
New York Knicks, Derrick Rose, Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports /

(Warning: Contains graphic sexual content.)

I was eleven when the Memphis Tigers, led by John Calipari, Joey Dorsey, Robert Dozier, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and recent Memphis Grizzlies free-agency pick-up Derrick Rose advanced to the Final Four for the first time in 23 years, and the Championship game in 35 years.

It was April 7th, 2008, and my brother and I loaded into a packed Malco Paradiso theater for the NCAA Championship game — a special screening on the largest projector in the house for about twelve bucks a head.

The night of the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship between the Memphis Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks was a much darker affair than the other humid summer nights spent at the Paradiso pitching quarters into the Time Crisis or House of the Dead machines in the arcade.

The giddiness was palpable in the final three minutes, with the Tigers up 56-51 against the blue-blooded Jayhawks, helmed by Bill Self, Darrell Arthur, and Mario Chalmers. Kansas’ Sherron Collins gets blocked at the rim by Dorsey, then the Tigers’ sixth-man Shawn Taggart makes a layup, preceding a Sherron Collins drive blocked by Dorsey. Dozier gets intentionally fouled, and sinks both free throws, stretching the lead to nine with two minutes left.

Then the floor falls through.

Darrell Arthur makes a pull-up. Kansas’ Collins steals an inbounds pass, gets the ball back, and sinks a three. Douglas-Roberts makes two free throws, and the lead’s back to six again.

Dorsey fouls out, and Chalmers makes both free throws. 62-58 now and the Tigers are up with a minute and fifteen seconds to go.

Douglas-Roberts misses his first on a one-and-one after receiving another intentional foul. Arthur’s turnaround jumper. Make.

That subtle pain in the stomach starts to grow.

A Douglas-Roberts miss. Twenty-four seconds left, the Tigers go up by two. Antonio Anderson for Memphis blocks a shot, then Douglas-Roberts is sent to the line again for two.

He touches his shoulder tattoo, his usual ritual. This time, it’s less of a tap and more of a nervous punch onto the Psalms 37 passage.

There was no God in this Malco that night. No delight. No reward.

We were in Hell.

Douglas-Roberts missed both. Rose gets fouled, and splits the pair, raising the lead to three with time for one Jayhawks possession left.

Chaos ensues: two near-steals don’t materialize; Chalmers hits the shot to tie; Nantz on the call exclaims, “He Tied it! Unbelievable!”

When 3:36 was left on the clock, Nantz’ partner on the broadcast, Billy Packer (in his last night doing color commentary for the Championship broadcast), told the viewers that Joey Dorsey’s fourth foul, “unless [the] game can get to be in overtime…shouldn’t be a factor.”

It did. It was.

Self held sturdy with his box-and-one zone defense. Nobody could penetrate, passing lanes were cut off by Kansas’ length, and without Dorsey, Memphis was a sieve.

We were about a hundred people, packed in a theater, getting a snuff film poured into our retinas.

When you’re a kid or a preteen, the disbelieving silence, cinched lips, and glazed eyes of adults are terrifying to encounter.

My brother, ten years my elder, had that face.

Almost everyone in the theater had it too — blankly staring in awe of what we all were witnessing.

I remember those looks so vividly because I physically couldn’t watch the screen, as massive as it was. Instead, I spent my time glancing left and right down the dim aisles, looking for distraction or consolation.

None came.

The Kansas Jayhawks won the 2008 NCAA Championship in overtime, 75-68.

Even with fans shuffling out, the kids drying tears, and the adults getting a handle on the situation, thankfulness and pride prevailed over the years.

An outpouring of love for that Tigers team has continued to grow, especially as the Tigers haven’t made it that far into the maw of the Dance since.

All that love culminated this offseason when the Grizzlies signed Derrick Rose to a two-year, $6.5 million dollar deal. Rose is back in town, and the majority of Memphis’ basketball media were enthused, including myself…at least partially.

The Grizzlies reportedly “want Rose on the floor.” Although he’s played 53 combined games in the past two seasons, mostly due to straight-up coach’s-decision DNPs, a solid backup role could be a really nice opportunity for Rose to gain some momentum and get back into form.

The DNPs could be due to New York Knicks Head Coach Tom Thibodeau’s famously tight lineups.

Rose was an efficient scorer the last time he was playing regular minutes, and Rose’s play could very well return to that point.

Most of the enthusiasm hasn’t been for Rose’s on-the-court projections though. Instead, it has been a mix of nostalgia, well-intentioned hope for a Memphis legend returning to the city in which he made a name for himself, and relief for those hoping Rose offers that ever-shifting “veteran leadership” many have called for.

The specificity of Rose, as a former league MVP and leader on what looked to be Finals-bound Chicago Bulls teams back in the early 2010s, is a necessary contextual addition to that argument, but there are complications to that.

For one, prospectively instituting Derrick Rose as a mentor would necessitate a foregone conclusion that he has grown since his 2016 rape trial, in which Rose and two co-defendants were accused of assaulting a woman, referred to as Jane Doe, who had been in an open-relationship with Rose since years prior.

This was not a criminal court case but, instead, a civil lawsuit.

When pressed on why she specifically went for the civil court option, Jane Doe, whose BAC was .2 the night in question as reported by Rose’s toxicologist (2.5x the legal driving limit), stated that she didn’t want to cause any harm to Rose, merely to hold him accountable.

Rose has rarely, if at all, talked about the case publicly since 2017. Grizzlies fans, more than likely, do not know Derrick Rose personally, therefore one cannot assume zero growth from the time of the case to now and call for crucifixion, as much as the case itself feels mistreated and generally troubling.

Simultaneously though, to run in the other direction would also be presumptive. To give power to the benefit of the doubt is not only rhetorically questionable in terms of a logical argument, but doing so merely exacerbates the same failings that sports media have had within cases of this nature.

This is not meant to be a hit piece. This is not meant to make you feel rotten for rooting for Derrick Rose.

The situation, though, does open a fascinating discussion on how we as fans should or could navigate rooting for someone involved in a case like this without falling into the traps that both the media and many fans already have.

After a four-hour deliberation, a jury of six women and two men found Rose and his co-defendants not liable.

However, this verdict does not necessarily absolve moral wrongdoing.

Rose admitted in court that he believed consent is to be assumed in this back-and-forth between Jane Doe’s lawyer and Rose himself discussing what consent actually means

"Q: Did either Mr. Hampton or Mr. Allen [Rose’s co-defendants] tell you why they wanted to go to Plaintiff’s home on the night in question?Rose: No. No.Q: So they just said, ‘Hey, it’s the middle of the night. Let’s go over to Plaintiff’s house’ and they never gave you a reason why they wanted to go over there?’Rose: No, but we men. You can assume.Q: I’m sorry?Rose: I said we men. You can assume. Like we leaving to go over to someone’s house at 1:00, there’s nothing to talk about."

Furthermore, Rose’s lawyers, helmed by Mark Baute, who “prides himself on ‘breaking’ witnesses,” treated Jane Doe with open and calloused vitriol, arguing that consent was at least partly evidenced by her posting risque photos on social media.

The case was depressing on multiple fronts, including a point when the jurors gleefully posed with Rose after they found him not liable. Clinton Yates sums up my point here in his article for Andscape:

"In many ways, this whole situation from a larger standpoint isn’t even about him specifically as a bad guy. If he legit thinks she lied to extort him, fair enough. If she says she was violated, understandable.But the tactics, method and manner of the proceedings here are important. This could have been anyone. The justice system, the same one which finds way to exonerate police officers for killing unarmed citizens, isn’t suddenly fool-proof for sexual assault.A woman who believes she was raped confronted her accusers. The accused openly admit what they did, under the guise that if she can’t prove it was wrong, then it shouldn’t matter at all. Jury sides with men."

Again, it’s impossible for the average Joe to know the extent to which Rose has personally deliberated on the definition of consent or not since the case. There’s a reality in which Rose has tried to uproot the certain failings of his own behavior and thinking patterns that led to what looks to be a decidedly unfortunate situation.

There’s a reality in which such introspection remains incomplete, where Rose maintains that status quo, bolstered by his presumed innocence or at least the civil court’s apparent failure to find liability.

Either way, the NBA’s strategically cushy dealings on the subject were successful in preserving Rose’s image for most of the sports-viewing public, and one fifty-point outing in 2018 (when Rose was on the Minnesota Timberwolves) succeeded as PR-fodder regarding something that should not exist anywhere near those two things.

The point that is trying to be conveyed here is this: Derrick Rose nostalgia may be pinging around Grizzlies fans’ heads right now. Memphis fans such as myself dreamed for years that the franchise would bring Rose back to his old stomping grounds. His time on the Tigers was both beautiful and heartbreaking, containing some of the most memorable basketball moments lodged.

Chicago-era Derrick Rose will always be one of the most exciting players to ever lace them up on an NBA court. He, of course, had explosiveness, but he also had a sense of grace that hasn’t really been replicated by an NBA player since.

That much is and will always be true.

Maybe he does find a new gear and works well with the Grizzlies on the court. Maybe he’s a great teammate and will mentor Morant, the only player that’s been comparable to Rose before or after his peak.

But what one should hope will not happen is for Memphis’ sports mediasphere to treat any Rose story as some kind of redemption arc as the Timberwolves and national media did back in 2018.

That’s not to say that one should necessarily find it morally reprehensible to praise the veteran in any way. Very few know the extent of the personal work that he’s put into himself, therefore one cannot call for a complete blacklist treatment.

But assuming growth and development in light of these types of cases, which, in action, is simply sweeping it under the rug and giving the accused the benefit of the doubt, is, as stated, precisely how these types of behaviors and thinking patterns exacerbate in all forms of entertainment, especially forms of entertainment drenched in machismo and valor.

If Rose understands the weight of the case, his actions, and the hurt he and especially his lawyers caused the accuser, then he would more than likely agree — he would not want a roaming patrol of folks defending his actions or a groupthink of sportswriters or broadcasters glorifying his story as some stilted, F-ed up, grafted monstrosity costuming as redemption or bootstrap-comeback mythology.

What one should hope is that Memphis’ sports fans avoid the rhetorical pitfalls of sports-brain misogyny, especially the ones used by Derrick Rose’s lawyers in court back in 2016 when they berated the accuser as some kind of well-known gold-digging prospect who was always scheming on Rose’s money.

They harassed Jane Doe in court to the point of tears, then requested U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald to order Doe to stop crying. Fitzgerald adamantly pushed back on the request, before he wished Rose “best wishes” with his time on the Knicks unless, as he joked, he’s playing Fitzgerald’s favorite club, the Los Angeles Lakers.

Remember: the system does not work. A system that works for some is broken for all.

The jury, presented with Baute’s vitriol and shady tactics at best, were fans of the athlete involved.

The judge was a fan of the athlete involved.

Both of those parties are also mucked by the preconceived notion of gold-digging women accusing men in power for profit, a logical fallacy when matched with the public blackballing accusers have to face.

Just because Rose (and the others accused) was found not liable, it does not eliminate any and all possibility of wrongdoing.

So what should we do about it as Grizzlies fans and sportswriters?

The contract happened. It might turn out to be a positive addition, or it might not, and the relatively-paltry $6.5 million might fly off like a paper bag in the wind.

Rose is a break-the-glass-in-case-of-emergency point guard for a team who needs those following a lengthy suspension to their star guard. He might very well have some great moments for the Grizzlies, and I’m sure Tigers fans will be ecstatic to see that, and understandably so.

Whichever way it goes, fans should hope the usual miasma of assumptive discourse that usually surrounds the way sports media covers things like a rape trial with an athlete as the defendant can be dealt with upfront and honestly and one should hope Grizzlies fans point out the aforementioned bad-faith coverage, the type to paint a positive Rose angle as “redemptive,” so it can be weeded out like a parasite.

Grizzlies fans have every right to be excited for the former star’s arrival. That said, the coverage around Rose’s case offers a fascinating window of truth into how the public, and especially the corporate eye, choose to frame these kinds of stories.

Meditating on how to cover stories surrounding Rose or athletes in similar cases allows some sort of growth towards disbanding benefit-of-the-doubt rhetoric, an oversimplification that does nothing but hinder growth for all involved, as long as the media and fans involved don’t fall for the same traps they have in the recent past.