I Am Toronto: DeMar DeRozan Re-Signs With Raptors
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
DeMar DeRozan accomplished a life-long dream when the Toronto Raptors selected him with the ninth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Just 19 years-old, coming off a solid freshman season at USC, the Compton, California native was headed for Toronto. In his wildest dreams, he couldn’t have predicted speaking into a microphone seven years later, telling everyone watching that, “I am Toronto.”
“I honestly couldn’t have imagined it,” DeRozan said. “Even when I think about it now, I didn't have a passport until I came here and worked out. I’d never been in snow. I still was wearing Chuck Taylor’s in the wintertime. Just to look at how far I’ve come, it’s crazy.”
Toronto had become DeRozan’s home away from home long before he entered the free agency period this summer. Still, there’s always an uncertainty that accompanies free agency, the chance that a surprise can happen, a player can be swayed, a decision changed. Almost always, at least. For DeRozan, who has long stated his desire to finish his career with the team that drafted him, free agency was easy. He invited the Raptors front office into his home when the free agency negotiation period began, and 15 minutes later, he’d agreed to a five-year extension to remain with the only professional team he’s ever known.
“What a great day for us,” Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri said. “You look at this young man here and, to me, I get emotional because there’s nobody that has done it with more class, more dignity, more passion. I spend every day with this kid here and this is a blessed day for the Raptors.
“I am so proud that Canada has the opportunity to have somebody like this in our organization. We take pride in not only giving him this contract, but also seeing what the future is for our team going forward
DeRozan had pledged to help turn Toronto’s identity around, riding out the difficult seasons following Chris Bosh’s departure for Miami and helping to take the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games in the Eastern Conference Final this past season. Despite many other suiters around the league, returning to Toronto was the only option for him.
“Just to be sitting here, doing this [press conference], my whole mindset has always been Toronto,” DeRozan said. “Since I’ve been here, my whole goal, since I first got here, was to make this whole city and this whole country be known. It’s like we always got the short end of the stick. I always took pride and passion in wanting to change that.”
As DeRozan enters his eighth season, he already holds the franchise record for most wins in a Raptors uniform, notching it last season. Jose Calderon is the only other Raptors player to spend eight seasons with the franchise. He ranks among the top five all-time franchise leaders in 11 statistical categories. He is first in games started as well as most victories by a single player. He is second in minutes played, total points scored, field goals attempted, free throws made, and free throws attempted.
In each of the past five seasons, the Raptors have improved their record as DeRozan was named a two-time All-Star, and most recently, selected to represent the U.S. Olympic team in the Rio Olympics. As his star has grown, his heart has remained the same. Seven years later, DeRozan is older and wiser, now a father and locker room leader, but still the same guy with the same dream of finding success with the team that took a chance on him when he was a 19 year-old with plenty to prove.
“I woke up in the hotel today and I was seeing something from my rookie year and I was just blown away by how far I've come,” DeRozan said. “How much I’ve grown as a man, a person, a player.
“Every person who knows me knows if I'm in it with you, I’m in it with you,” he continued. “If you call me to walk with you to the store on a rainy day, I’m going to walk with you, in the rain, to the store. Period. That’s just what type of person I am. That’s how I’ve always lived my life. Once I’m in it with somebody, I’m in it.”
The loyalty that DeRozan has shown toward Toronto is evident on the court. From his relationship with head coach Dwane Casey, to the brotherhood he’s found with backcourt mate Kyle Lowry, Toronto’s core foundation has never been stronger. With his family present for the meeting, DeRozan’s first call after agreeing to terms with Toronto was to Lowry.
“I think he was in Scotland, golfing or something,” DeRozan said. “It was the same old conversation. It wasn’t surprising to him, it was more like, ‘Okay, why are you calling me? I knew this was going to happen. I’ll call you after I golf.”
The morning after DeRozan agreed to his deal, he was in the gym in Los Angeles at 9 a.m. with his younger teammates, leading workouts. From here, he will attend USA Basketball training camp and then head to Rio, along with Lowry. Along the way, the two are sure to reflect on the most successful season in franchise history. Taking Toronto to new heights was exhilarating, and it’s made DeRozan hungry for more.
“I put my blood, sweat, and tears into this organization and I wasn’t done yet,” DeRozan said. “I’m far from done. I haven’t accomplished what I want to accomplish yet. That’s just the hunger in me.
“And it’s just crazy to be sitting here,” he continued. “I’m going to be back for five more years. I am Toronto. Outside of where I’m from, I represent this thing harder than anybody. I’ve got so many goals that I want to accomplish still and I just can’t wait to put that jersey back on and keep going.”