Faith buoys Rose, but proof is in work

CHICAGO -- A couple hours after Derrick Rose spoke to reporters Monday for the first time since undergoing his latest knee surgery, I drove to Fullerton Avenue, parked my car near the highway entrance and walked under the Kennedy Expressway to see the Rose "memorial."

Two artists have created a kind of living exhibit to the Chicago Bulls star there, where a salt sign that looked like the Virgin Mary attracted pilgrims 10 years ago.

"Pray 4 Rose," it said on a picture of Rose wearing a crown of thorns affixed to the underpass wall. There are crutches, printed-out tweets, roses, votive candles, a basketball and framed pictures.

I talked to a man named Octavio, who had been gotten his car washed across the street. He saw the memorial and stopped. He took a picture of his son, Jayden, a 6-year-old wearing a Jumpman sweatshirt, in front of it.

"He thought he was dead," Octavio told me. "I said, 'He's not dead. He's just hurt for the third time.'"

Octavio and his son couldn't get back in their car. The dog somehow locked them out.

Earlier in the evening, Rose smiled when he learned this work of public art existed.

"Oh wow. Wow," he said. "That's what I mean. How can I be mad or upset or devastated about anything? I know I've got people out there that really love me and really care about me as a person."

Faith is something Rose talked about with reporters Monday.

"It's not trusting my body," he said. "It's trusting my faith."

But does Chicago have faith in him? Does he have faith in himself? He'd like to think so, but as Rose is fond of saying, "Who knows?"

Few know better than Rose that the future is promised to no one. So no one should be too surprised that in his first public comments since Feb. 27 surgery on the medial meniscus in his right knee, Rose was noncommittal but positive when asked when he expected to come back from a knee operation less than two weeks ago.

"Who knows?" he said. "Whenever I feel well, that's when I'm going to step back on the court."

When asked if he thinks he'll be back this season, the only question worth fretting over, Rose said, "I think so. That's the plan. Whenever I feel right, that's when I'm going to step back."

That's good news if you think he'll be ready in a month or so. But because every word Rose says is parsed as if he were in a graduate-level semiotics class, it's expected people will get upset at his perceived indecision.

I'll say it for him: Rose will be back this season. If I had money, I'd bet on it. But because I don't, I'm not on the hook for anything but an educated guess.

I guess you could say I have faith.

When it comes to Rose and his "who knows?" attitude, all I can say is trust in his actions and ignore the connotations you have with his words and facial expressions.

Sometimes that's hard. His recent past doesn't warrant much optimism.

Rose was asked if he were "OK with the organization giving you a four- to six-week timetable to come back?" He replied, "Who cares? I'm not even thinking about that right now. I'm thinking about getting the most out of every day."

Some will seize on the "who cares?" part of that sentence. But what Rose was really saying was tantamount to coach Tom Thibodeau's mantra: "You can't skip steps."

The rehab comes first. The return comes second. After all, Rose's rehab is just beginning. He can't jump yet and is working on strengthening his legs and establishing a proper balance to his body. But compared to the previous two surgeries, this rehab has a much shorter timetable. That's why the Bulls gave a return estimate this time.

Perhaps the most important thing Rose said before the Bulls' loss Monday to the Memphis Grizzlies is that he's "killing every workout." Because it's the work he does when no one's watching that will get him back to the floor. He has to have the right mental approach too, and given that this is his third knee surgery since the 2012 playoffs, one would understand any tentativeness -- yes, even at his salary.

But the word around the Bulls is Rose is positive and working hard to get back. If there's one thing he knows how to do by now, it's rehab. If there's one thing he doesn't want to do, it's miss his fourth consecutive postseason.

Rose is still judged for not returning during the 2012-13 season, after ACL surgery the previous summer. In late 2013, he opted to have his torn medial meniscus repaired, which requires a longer rehab process.

This time, Rose had no choice -- that torn medial meniscus had to go -- and he said he isn't worried about the future.

"It was all about getting back on court," he said. "Something they had to take out. At the time, I didn't really care [about later side effects]. I wasn't thinking about the future. I didn't think that far ahead. I just wanted it out. I just wanted to walk right, get to rehab right away."

The ACL tear lingers over everything, Rose said. So when the Bulls sent him to get an MRI to diagnose knee soreness, he thought the worst.

"Always, always," he said. "Knowing I had the ACL injury, whenever you have a knee injury after that, you're thinking it's always an ACL. Me thinking that and knowing it wasn't, it was a sigh of a little relief."

Rose said he's in a "positive place" right now, as he grinds toward a better tomorrow.

But faith alone won't get the Bulls very far in the postseason. They need a healthy Rose. The only thing he can do now is work when no one's watching. Words mean nothing.