It has been nine months and nine days since Derrick Rose’s injury. Nine months and nine days since that dark afternoon in April, when a collective gasp from Bulls fans swept through Chicago like the gusts of wind that turn corners around the city’s tall buildings. The day the hometown boy, Derrick Rose, who seemed destined to return the team to glory, crumbled to the United Center floor, clutching his left knee.

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For the second straight season, the Bulls had finished with the best record in the league. They were en route to an easy victory in Game 1 of their opening round series with the Philadelphia 76ers and Rose was just one assist and one rebound short of a triple-double.

You know how it ends. The Bulls won the game but lost the series. And, even worse, they lost their young superstar to a torn ACL.

It has been more than 40 weeks since Rose’s injury. The team has, for the most part, prevented him from making any comments about the rehab process. The only real peek fans have gotten into the former MVP’s recovery has been through a series of YouTube videos released by his biggest sponsor, adidas. The last in the series, “The Return of D Rose — Episode 6: All In,” was posted two months ago. Since then, fans have had to rely solely on the minimal reports coming out of Bulls practice.

“Derrick has been cutting and shooting for a while” was the word from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau on Dec. 21. In early January, “Derrick is taking predictable contact,” and “Derrick is back to dunking.” Just last week: “Derrick is taking full contact.”

Next week’s All-Star Game marks the midway point of the 2012-13 season and has long been circled on the calendars of Chicagoans. While none of the Bulls higher-ups are willing to guess the date Rose might return, they have acknowledged a hope he’ll be back shortly after the All-Star break.

The promise he’s close is enough to get Chicago buzzing with anticipation. Beginning with the Bulls’ Feb. 19 game against the Hornets and continuing each game after, fans will be itching to hear those two simple words that brought them so much joy years ago: “I’m back.”

It’s been 284 days since Derrick Rose’s injury. Michael Jordan was gone from the game of basketball for quite a bit longer (529 days, to be exact), but somehow the wait for this “I’m back” announcement feels as long. (Perhaps because this time it’s all but assured, and not just wished-for.) Rose may not be the second coming of Jordan, but he’s the closest thing to a hero Bulls fans have had since His Airness drained his final shot in a Bulls uniform.

It’s been more than 408,960 minutes since Derrick Rose’s injury. But then, who’s counting?

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