It's the most deflating sports story of my 20 years in Memphis. Think about that. I've seen some dreadful Tiger football over the last two decades (and no, not just under Larry Porter). Saw this city teased with NFL football one season before a franchise skipped eastward to settle in Nashville (and reach the Super Bowl!). And the first two Grizzlies seasons made you wonder if finally being major league meant nothing beyond the punchlines going national.
But the stench of those struggles and disappointments don't linger. Not like the Derrick Rose Affair. A quick summary:
Playing with skills that would have made him NBA Rookie of the Year in 2007-08 (the only season he'd play college basketball), Rose led the Tigers to a 38-2 season and one Mario Chalmers heave away from the program's first national championship. A year later, though, an NCAA investigation concluded that Rose had enrolled at the U of M with SAT scores achieved by a proxy. Down comes the 2008 Final Four banner at FedExForum. Wiped from the record books are all of those record-setting 38 wins. Rose's coach, John Calipari, takes off for Kentucky and the most lucrative package for a college coach in the land.
Rose himself? Not only did he win the 2009 NBA Rookie of the Year trophy, he had to make room in his case for the 2011 NBA MVP hardware. (Rose was named MVP after what would have been his senior season at the U of M. In hindsight, his playing any college basketball at all is laughable.)
And the stench lingers. The fact that three local attorneys — importantly, representing unnamed season-ticket holders enraged by the Rose Affair — managed to sue Calipari, Rose, and Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson for some of the damage done makes for a nice metaphor. Especially considering each of the three principles named in the suit has apparently agreed (as part of a settlement) to make payments to the school's scholarship fund. In sports, nothing says "I'm sorry" like a signed check. Hats off to the lawyers who made this happen: Martin Zummach, Frank Watson III, and William Burns.
But those checks also say "Go away." Calipari needs $232,000 — the amount of a returned bonus, according to The Commercial Appeal — like he needs an extra bottle of hair gel. Derrick Rose makes more than $5 million a year to play for the Bulls, a figure that will leap exponentially when his next contract is drawn up. Most uncomfortable, certainly, is the hit Johnson will take if he has to return his bonus for the vacated championship season (reportedly $70,000 after taxes). But Calipari was Johnson's hire. Rose was Calipari's recruit. Follow the authority, if not the money.
That banner will never hang at FedExForum. The thousands of Tiger fans who cheered what they considered a transcendent team will never get any "damages" from those responsible for the vacated season. (What a cruel word. Imagine something you hold dear . . . now consider it "vacated." Ouch.) Beyond unnamed season-ticket holders represented by determined lawyers, every last fan who cheered the 2007-08 Tigers deserves, at the least, an apology for sheer incompetence. (At best, Calipari and Johnson are guilty of incompetence in the Rose Affair. At worst, they're guilty of lying to their employers and fan base.) But the apology won't come. Only the stench of a lost, however memorable, season.
Memphis Madness is a week from tonight, the start of a new college basketball season, with the usual hope for big wins, star performances, and maybe a championship. And yes, the season will feel new, fresh even. But madness? With the Derrick Rose Affair — like that ugly stench — it lingers.