MINNEAPOLIS -- As Derrick Rose prepares for yet another return to the NBA, this time as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, the former MVP admits he is motivated to show all his doubters he still can play the game at a high level.
"Big time," Rose told ESPN after Saturday's practice. "I'm 29, they're acting like I'm 39. I'm still able to push the ball up the floor, they're acting like I'm in a wheelchair. All these injuries --- like even coming here to take my physical, [the Timberwolves medical staff] looked at my physical, they couldn't believe how my body was in good shape. Little things like that push me to go out here and work even harder, because on the outside looking in, you probably think I walk with a limp, you probably think I'm wearing ice bags every day, this and that. Man, it's totally opposite of that.
"I feel great. My body feels great. And this last time, even getting injured, my injuries, period, the last time I got injured I was pushed, taken out of the air. How can I stop that? How can I stop from getting taken out of the air? I tried to prevent myself from falling, I twisted my ankle, but people from the outside, the basketball fans now, they're on Snapchat, they're on Twitter, Instagram, whatever, just looking at highlights, just looking at reports, 'Oh, he injured himself again.' Did you watch the play? No. You're writing a comment before you even watched the play, you didn't even watch the whole game, so I can't take you serious."
Since becoming the youngest MVP in league history at age 22 during the 2010-11 season as a member of the Chicago Bulls, Rose has suffered a slew of injuries, including a torn ACL in his left knee during the 2011-12 season. He knows there are still fans who will support him, but he also says there are a large majority of fans who want to see him fail and can't believe he still is in the league.
"This is how I feel about it, the whole perspective on it," Rose said. "You could have your perspective on me, as far as I'm a bum, I can't play, I can't shoot, this and that, all right, cool, I have no hard feelings with that. I'm cool with that. [If] that's how you feel, that's how you feel, but at the same time, I don't need your f---ing validation. I know who I am, I know what type of player I am. So you respect that and I respect that [point of view] and we should be good. That's how I feel about it."
Rose started the year as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers but suffered an ankle injury early in the season and took a sabbatical from the team to ponder his future in the league. Once he decided to come back, he played in only a handful of games before being traded to the Utah Jazz and summarily waived right after the trade deadline. Given what he has already gone through and the injuries he has endured, Rose is content to brush off all the people who say he shouldn't be back on an NBA team.
"It's a joke," Rose told ESPN. "It's a joke. I can't take it too serious where like I said if you don't know who you are you could easily get caught up into the mix of wanting to defend yourself, but I don't need to do that because a lot of people's grudges with me or they dislike me. It's like [for] personal reasons, you know what I mean? Or jealousy or something like that, so I take it for what it is and just laugh at it and smile at it because I don't need that karma to even speak on them or even waste my energy trying to defend myself with people like that."
At age 29, and after the recent birth of his second child, Rose says he is more confident than ever in speaking his mind and trying to let his play on the floor do the talking. He believes he will have a chance to succeed under Timberwolves (and former Bulls) coach Tom Thibodeau, given the pair's familiarity with one another dating back to the their success in Chicago. Playing alongside former Bulls teammates such as Taj Gibson and (when he returns from a meniscus injury) Jimmy Butler as well as several former coaches, Rose seems comfortable in his surroundings again and is optimistic about his future.
"I feel like I don't have to prove anything," Rose said. "It's more me being happy with playing basketball and knowing that I gave it my all. And I walked away from it whenever I choose to walk away from it. This next phase in my life is preparing me for life after basketball, but while I'm in it, basketball is my everything. I never think about nothing else. I don't got a foundation, I don't got all these things that other players have because basketball is my No. 1. I feel like you can't love two things at once; the way I love basketball and how much I sacrificed for the game, I'm all-in. I'm all-in until the day I retire or whenever that day [comes when] I go away from the game. I'm all-in."
Rose, who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago, faced enormous criticism within his hometown when he decided to sit out the 2012-13 season following surgery to repair his ACL, despite being medically cleared by Bulls doctors.
He was asked whether he had any regrets about not coming back or regrets about some of the public statements about his long-term future that irritated some fans.
"None," Rose said. "None. If anything, I'm doing it for the younger generation. Like you said, not coming back [after the first ACL injury], like what was wrong with that? You feel what I'm saying? But listen, if I would have came back early, most guys would have probably retired with -- I've had five surgeries -- most guys probably would have retired after three surgeries, like, seeing how financially stable I am. They would have gave it up. Like, 'All right, I'm good. I don't got to do that no more.' But for me, I still got love for the game, I still have passion for it, and I still want to give it my all. And I got two kids now looking at me, so I want to be able to grow up and talk mess to them about it. Like, 'All right I don't want to hear no excuses [when times are tough].' Like, 'Look what I did, I don't want to hear nothing.' I want to raise strong individuals, that's going to help this society."
Being back with Thibodeau, Gibson, Butler and all the former assistant coaches and staff who were with him in Chicago has Rose, like a lot of people around the league, thinking about the good times the Bulls experienced during the group's time together.
"I think every player that was on that team probably thinks about the days that they had when we had things rolling," Rose said. "But if anything, I feel like it pushed you, I feel like it pushed everybody because you want a taste of it. It's almost like winning a championship I would think. You want to feel that again, we made it to the conference finals, that's the furthest I made it, but s---, I want to get there again. ... I want to, if I have the opportunity, just feel a championship, you know what I mean? Just get there so that I could say it. Once I get there, you never know what could happen. But the reason for me coming back here is for me just to be comfortable, be around people that I know. They understand me, I understand them, and I can communicate with them."
As far as how much longer he plans on playing, Rose says he doesn't want to put a limit on his future.
"Until I can't no more," Rose said. "Until I'm mentally, physically just drained. By that time I'll be already transitioning into my second life, my second phase. I'm just organizing myself for that now. Like 10 years in [the league] you want to make the transition smooth, but while I'm in here every day, I'm giving it my all."