Every year, the NBA releases the first round of All-Star Game fan voting as a way to drum up excitement for its yearly showcase of the best players in the league. This season’s first batch of voting holds few surprises; among the top vote-getters are LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry, and... Derrick Rose.
Yes, Derrick Rose, he of the respectably above-average 18.9/4.8/2.8 stat line, is currently on pace to start for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. Among West guards, Rose is beating out Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and reigning MVP James Harden. He’s gotten more votes than Kevin Durant!
This is what happens when a redemption narrative beats out common sense or actual history. Ever since Rose’s 50-point explosion on Halloween, the media have crafted a story about how the former MVP bounced back from obstacles including an exploded knee and a stint on the Knicks to regain some flicker of his former glory. The T-Wolves might not be any good, but at least the Rose comeback has given the team a good headline. (It also gave his return to Chicago on December 26 a sense of meaning, especially once Bulls fans started an insane “MVP” chant for their former star.)
Lost in all the redemption stories pushed by cushy news coverage and straight-up shilling profiles, of course, is that Rose is also “coming back” from being credibly accused of gang rape in 2015. Rose spent most of that year and 2016 dealing with a civil trial that exposed the fact that Rose didn’t know what consent meant, claiming that he got it over text message. The jury eventually found Rose not liable, and a new trial looks unlikely.
Ultimately, Rose probably will not start the All-Star Game. Thanks to a change to the system back in 2016, fan voting only counts for 50 percent of the starter vote, with the other 50 percent coming from players and select media members, so we’ll most likely see a Curry-Harden backcourt tip off in Charlotte come February 17. But the fact that Rose is receiving so much fan support is something that the basketball media needs to reckon with.
It’s not impossible to cover what Rose is doing on the court alongside with what he was accused of. As Deadspin’s Laura Wagner wrote the day after Rose’s 50-point game, when the redemption narrative really kicked into high gear, humans are able to process more than one thought at a time:
That’s fair enough; sports and morality have nothing to do with one another, and if you accept that success doesn’t make someone a paragon—something an entire industry of sports mythologizing has argued against forever—you accept the corollary that you can appreciate or even celebrate a shitty person’s achievements without ignoring their shittiness.
It’s legitimately impressive that Rose has been able to turn his career around and become a net-plus player after being one of the worst players in the league after his injuries. It’s also reprehensible to make it seem as though that turnaround is all that has happened to Rose since he was leading the Chicago Bulls back in the early parts of this decade.
The rape accusation is at least as much a part of the story of Derrick Rose as the injuries, but NBA writers largely ignoring it has fueled a comeback narrative based on an incomplete truth. That narrative might not be the only reason Rose is a fan favorite again after all these years, but it’s hard to believe that he would be the sixth-most-popular player in All-Star voting without it.