What Can a Business Leader Learn from the Missteps of Basketball Star Derrick Rose?

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When a company is confronted with any big issue, it must decide whether to adopt a “no comment” stance or offer a response. Depending on the situation, one choice may outweigh the other. But sometimes that decision changes over time—backfires, even.

Take, for example, Chicago Bulls superstar Derrick Rose.

In April 2012 Rose tore his ACL in his left knee during a game. This type of injury typically requires months of rehab, but fans hoped he would return during the regular season. When he didn’t, fans still hoped to see him back for the playoffs.

Asked on May 6 before Game 1 against the Miami Heat about his return, Rose said: “Still in the air. I might have a chance.”

Rose’s teammates pulled off a surprising win over Miami in Game 1 without him. Now fans and the media keep asking: “What’s he waiting for?” Doctors have cleared him, his teammates support him and the Bulls have a slight lead in what promises to be a tough series. This will-he won’t-he question is getting thrust into the national spotlight even more.

Rose’s response to this question has been vague, which has created rumors. Some say his heart isn’t in the game; others speculate that Rose doesn’t think his team has a chance of winning and therefore doesn’t want to risk injury; still others theorize that Adidas, a sponsor, told him to not play until he was back to 100 percent.

While Rose will probably come out of this situation with reputation intact, those crafting the messages for Rose and the Bulls can learn some lessons from this situation. And so can business leaders who are prepping for the day when their company will be under the hot lamps.

Lesson No. 1: Don’t let family, friends or an unauthorized person do the talking.

On Feb. 21 Rose’s brother and manager, Reggie, provided a statement as the trade deadline neared, slamming his brother’s team for not trading for better players—a message that should make a good CMO cringe.

Reggie said: “It’s frustrating to see my brother play his heart and soul out for the team and them not put anything around him.”

Rose was forced to respond after his brother’s comments by saying: “I have always felt that the Bulls organization’s goals have been the same as mine and that is to bring another championship to this city.”

He needed to be reactive instead of proactive in his statement thanks to Reggie.

Lesson No. 2: Vagueness comes with drawbacks.

While being vague has its advantages, it can also create as many negatives as releasing a statement. Vagueness leaves the media to try to fill in the blanks. It can even makes a sports star appear to be toying with fans—or make a company appear to be trifling with its customers.

Even Reggie honed in on this lesson when he said:  “Everyone is expecting Derrick to come back. If Derrick comes back, they’re going to sell more tickets. Is the reason for Derrick to come back to win a championship or make money? Right now, I don’t believe a championship. Everything in the NBA is financial.”

Lesson No. 3: Social media may help you control your message—if you use it.

On May 4 the Chicago Tribune reported that Rose has close to a million Twitter followers but hasn’t updated his status since March 7. Using Twitter may have been an easy way to keep fans updated without getting the media involved. He could have also used social media’s interactive nature to massage the best kind of message—one that would answer the most questions.

There is no easy answer and no response that pleases everyone. But Rose could have taken the spotlight off him and focused it more on his teammates if he came out and said he’s returning next season. It would have eliminated the cliffhanger.