Late Tuesday night, word flashed across the nation’s sports minded smartphones that the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose would be shortly heading into surgery, this time to repair a fractured orbital bone in his face which was broken by a teammate’s accidental elbow. There is no timetable for his return, though he may be ready to go by the Bulls’ season opener on October 27 against LeBron and the Cavs. For NBA fans, this news felt right in line with the sui generis life of Rose, a player of incredible talent who has an equally incredible knack for hurting himself.
Elbows– both errant and intentional– literally abound on basketball courts across the country. Charles Barkley preferred a classic swing; Oscar Robertson threw them with his legs; Kevin Garnett is lucky his face wasn’t six inches to his left when Vince Carter threw his in the form of a fist after completing one of the most incredible plays ever in basketball. Dudes named Big A, Sarge, E, and Trey still and will always swing them at neighborhood Friday night runs, their courts lit through a haze of bugs by jaundiced cones of light.
And in a more figurative sense, elbows can be found everywhere: uneven sidewalks, distracted drivers, banana peels, identity thieves. Yet despite their diffuse peppering across the world, there is not a wide-ranging crisis of elbowing. Of everyone being continually elbowed as were they old, sandstorm blinded merchants fumbling their way into al-Rakes-on-the-ground, outside of ancient Damascus. Instead, when we notice them, elbows seem to find ways to hammer specific individuals again and again. It’s a fundamental property of the universe. Its inner workings, mysterious. Its consequences, undeniable. Call it the Rose Theorem.
Phrased another way, it’s luck. Good luck or bad luck, it’s the difference between Kevin Ware or Paul George successfully landing their 10 billionth basketball jump or compound fracturing their legs. Hyper competitive, Type A people hate to view the world through this lens, but the Rose Theorem clearly states that there is a large amount of randomness associated with life, and thus with success. While it may be true that Peyton Manning worked and worked and worked every day of his life to be the best football player in the world, were it not for elbows, he might not even be the best in his family. And no we’re not talking about Eli. Why? Randomness. The Rose Theorem.
Aaron Rodgers recently gave Russell Wilson a little shit about Wilson believing that God determines which football teams win and lose. This common athlete supernarcissism (You believe God chose you to win your NBA D League game while taking time away from giving some 13 week old baby cancer? Really, now?) is a perfect flipside to the Rose Theorem. Because– despite so much effort and sweat and dry heaving– we all still sometimes lose. And surely there is some other, greater power at play, counter balancing the scales and cancelling out our effort. Right? Right???
The Rose Theorem says that in a random environment, events will sometimes cluster together. Injuries, championships, entertaining commercials. But these streaks are not predictive. In fact, they’re rare. They’re heads five times in a row when flipping a quarter. Effort and talent still count for just as much as they always did; though they remain subordinate to the capricious hand of fate. Sometimes a comet comes down and kills you and all your dinosaur friends. Sometimes David Stern suspends Amar’e Stoudemire. Sometimes you’ve worked incredibly hard and you’re finally healthy after an MVP, a torn ACL, and a torn meniscus, and then someone smashes your face with their elbow. It’s not God, or Ramsey, or even Derrick Rose. But it is his Theorem.
Which is another way of saying: thank God all you want, Tim Tebow. No one is fixing your throwing motion but you.