Weems, DeRozan Bring The Game To The Fans

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by Mike Ulmer
August 19, 2010

Willie Mays was 23 years old when he went from athlete to icon.

Already a star with the New York Giants, Mays was photographed doing what he loved to do: play stickball with kids in his Harlem neighborhood.

The photo ran in Time and Newsweek. It captured the rarest of phenomenon: an athlete playing. Not competing, not administering game plans, but playing with whoever happened by.

It’s a notion that transfixes us still. Imagine being onstage the night Meryl Streep tackles a night of community theatre.

The few who possess great gifts rarely venture to the sandlot or community centre. Rucker Park in New York, where Vince Carter and so many others earned their blacktop bones, delivers the hero to the neighborhood, albeit in a setting that is organized, merchandized and publicized.

The Pavilion in Thornhill is not. Wednesday, DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems went to the people.

The game was the product of a tweet inviting Weems to come north. He and DeRozan, yearlong residents of the city, agreed and the two climbed into DeRozan’s Range Rover.

Our Raptors NBA TV's Jeff Landicho sat in the back seat with a camera. The footage is hilarious, two young men breaking each other up, rapping to Master P and proving that while some rappers can be basketball players ball players can’t rap.

Jeff’s footage of the game (keep checking raptors.com) showed a collection of kids and adults playing for and against the Raptor duo. There are dunks aplenty. Weems schools a brash-talking kid with a long, game-ending jumper.

Mostly what you see is play, not for the standings, not for a contract. Just joyful play.

That is mostly what the Raptors will bring to the court this season. There is no replacing Chris Bosh’s 24 points a game. Leandro Barbosa will bring some fire to the two spot but the point guard position is unsettled. Power forward Ed Davis and centre Solomon Alabi are undertaking their rookie seasons. Projections come with no guarantees, but the club record for victories in a season seems safe.

Under ideal circumstances, the Raptors would be contemplating a slightly faster but still methodical immersion into the NBA for DeRozan.

Last year, DeRozan was excused from the kind of heavy lifting inflicted on rookies of a bluer chip. Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans was accorded an astonishing 37.2 minutes a game, the highest of any first-year-player. Evans responded with 20.1 points a night.

There is an immutable logic to DeRozan’s stats. He was 15th in rookie minutes with 21.6 a game and 14th in points per game with 8.6.

Of course, much has changed since DeRozan’s last basket, but the ability of DeMar DeRozan and the rest of the young players to weather the inevitable disappointments will help determine the tenor of seasons to come. They will play a lot. They will be accorded prime time minutes in hostile arenas and they will be asked to sort out tough shooting nights by shooting more. They will be accorded more defensive responsibilities.

But where the jaundiced view work, the young see play.

Carter, to name just one player, began his descent the day the joy seeped out of his working hours,

Fifty six years after the fact, many of the people who watched Willie Mays are dead and yet the picture is still as timely as the day it was taken. Same with DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems scraping the rafters of The Pavilion.

None of the people left would remember how New York finished that season. Why should they? They met and played with Willie Mays. He was among them. Years from now, the number of people who were there that August day at The Pavilion will mushroom. They will tell people how DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems galloped among them and describe the most memorable game of their life, a game without officials or sponsors or dancers, a game stripped down to the chassis.

There was nothing for anyone but joy.