Derrick Rose was reunited with his teammates for the first time in more than two weeks at Knicks practice on Saturday. He didn’t wear a shirt during the final minutes of the workout, but he did wear a look of relief afterward.
“Oh man, it felt like heaven to be out there, man,” Rose said in his first interview since a Los Angeles jury found him not liable in a civil sexual assault trial on Wednesday. “I got through my little situation, but I’m happy to be focusing on nothing but basketball right now.”
Rose played in the preseason opener in Houston on Oct. 4 and then departed for the trial in which he and two friends were accused of raping one of Rose’s former liaisons. For more than two weeks he had a part of his personal life laid bare to the public. He said he came away from it “a little” vindicated, praying for everyone who was involved that night including the victim, and planning on “being a better person, being a better dad, brother, cousin, uncle — being the best I could be.”
“I’m a grown man. I put myself in this situation and I had to get myself out. I was focused the entire time,” Rose said, adding that his biggest regret about the time in Los Angeles was missing his son’s birthday.
Given the result of the civil trial and its lower standard, it is a long shot that Rose could face a criminal prosecution.
He was self-assured and clearly back in his comfort zone with the Knicks as they prep for their season opener on Tuesday against the defending NBA champion Cavaliers in Cleveland. Though he missed five preseason games, nine practices and four shoot-arounds, he believes he will be up-to-speed for the game because “my basketball IQ is very high.”
“I’m very confident, man,” Rose said. “I really believe this is why I’m here: to hoop.”
Rose worked out by himself in Los Angeles after court adjourned each day and on Friday was able to meet with the coaching staff for a crash course on the changes and adjustments employed since the game in Houston.
Of his first team action in 16 days, Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said: “He looked good. We did some up-and-down. His conditioning was good. And he’s picking up on the stuff we’re doing pretty well. It looked good today for being off a couple weeks.”
“I love being around my teammates. I love the way that we are coming together as a team, team chemistry,” Rose said. “Our biggest problem is defense right now. Offensively, we’re going to be all right but our defense has to be on point.”
The Knicks scrimmaged at practice and Hornacek was able to see his starting five — Rose, Courtney Lee, Kristaps Porzingas, Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah — play together for the first time since minicamp. The coach said he wants Rose to play starter’s minutes and believes he is conditioned to do it despite the time away, but is prepared to substitute at any sign of fatigue.
The jury of six women and two men deliberated only about four hours before returning a decision and Rose said “I just remember being nervous” after closing arguments.
And the photos with jurors taken after the trial that went viral on social media?
“I didn’t have anything to do with the jurors wanting pictures,” he said. “They wanted the pictures. It wasn’t like I forced the pictures or wanted the picture to put it out there. They wanted pictures so I took a picture.”
As he looked back on the events of this month, there was a palpable feel to Rose’s sense of relief to be returning to basketball.
“The issue was a huge issue. I took it very serious,” Rose said. “I love the way that me, along with my friends, how we presented ourselves and we love the way that we [were] represented along the way.”