DeMar DeRozan has ascended back to All-Star form by being himself

DeRozan led all Eastern Conference guards in fan votes and was voted the top choice in the player and media rankings.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
FanDuel

Body

I've loved, laughed and cried

I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh no, no, not me
I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself then he has not
To say all the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
But I did it my way

My Way, songwriters: Claude Francois / Gilles Thibaut / Jacques Revaux / Paul Anka

DeMar DeRozan did what gets you most noticed in sports, and hardly anyone ever saw him.

He was the invisible superstar.

DeRozan was one of the elite points producers in the NBA for almost a decade, one season averaging more than 27 points, four times an All-Star, twice All-NBA. But when it most counted, the modern numbers went against him. He had to change. Instead, the team did. He was traded and his former team won a title and his new team went into a slide. He played the wrong way, of course. Didn't understand the game had passed him by. Oh yeah, that guy. Scores a lot; who's he with now? But DeMar DeRozan never wavered. He also understood that a player is more than others' perceptions, that his individuality is a strength.

He did it is way.

DeMar DeRozan flushes in a one-handed dunk vs. Philadelphia earlier this season.

DeMar DeRozan flushes in a one-handed dunk vs. Philadelphia earlier this season.

And Thursday not only was DeRozan in his 13th NBA season selected as an Eastern Conference starter for the 2022 NBA All-Star game, but he got the most votes at guard, almost double second place Trae Young and was No. 1 across the board from fans, media and players. Despite attempting fewer of those supposedly golden three-pointers than any of the top scoring stars.

Producing still another worthy message, that you are not an invisible man if you retain your identity.

"I'm a big advocate all my life I've been a student of the game," DeRozan said during a Zoom call with media after the team arrived in San Antonio for Friday's game. "I always measured players' games off their work ethic and their heart. That's something that analytics could never measure. And for me, I always wanted to be that inspiration to people: Stay true to yourself whatever that is. Don't feel like you have to be forced to change to be something else that you might not be comfortable with, or you're just not quite there yet. Master whatever it is the part of your game that you can master and take full advantage of it.

"I never wanted to (stray) away from that," DeRozan said. "I never wanted to be forced into doing something else. It was tough, hearing all the critics, the criticism about your game, this, that, this, that. But I just stayed true to myself, and this is just a true testament, moments like this, to players everywhere. Never lose confidence in your ability and your work ethic and what you put into this game because it definitely will give it back to you."

It's likely a more important message than the 6-6 DeRozan starting an All-Star game, the Bulls getting a starter for the first time in five years, and probably next week when the reserves are named Zach LaVine being added to the team.

Here was a man essentially dismissed despite his obvious worth because he insisted on being who he was and not conforming to (basketball) society's vision for him. It's a significance than transcends the honor. You're not what others say you are. Your belief, work ethic and commitment is your identity. They remove the shroud of invisibility.

He's the narrator of his story, but he's also the instrument of hope for many.

DeRozan joins Kevin Durant, if he is healthy enough to play, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Young and Joel Embiid from the East. The West starters are LeBron James, Nikola Jokic, Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Ja Morant. Though teams will be selected by captains Durant and James in a Feb. 10 drawing. The game is in Cleveland Feb. 20 to celebrate the NBA's 75th anniversary. LaVine finished third among guards, though players had DeRozan No. 1 and LaVine No. 2. Player votes was 25 percent, media 25 percent and fans 50 percent. Charles Barkley on the TNT broadcast to announce the results opined that LaVine deserves a starting role over Young.

It will be the fifth All-Star game for DeRozan and his third start.

What, you didn't remember him as a starter?

Which perhaps was partly why DeRozan's signing by the Bulls last summer was met with both indifference and hostility. How could they?

And now DeRozan is a league MVP candidate, averaging 26.4 points, the second most in his career at 32 years old with some of the season's biggest highlights, like the back to back, consecutive days game winners around New Year's. And the second leading fourth quarter scorer in the league.

"It's always an honor, especially when you get voted in by the fans," DeRozan said. "Just being a player that the fans want to see is definitely an honor I would never ever take for granted. I'm happy. I'm happy my teammates helped me get here. I gotta give so much credit to them. Without them, I wouldn't even have this chance to be named a starter. So I gotta give so much credit to my teammates and the coaching staff."

His teammates seemed even more excited, which bodes well for this Bulls team even with the surfeit of miseries. LaVine, demonstrating the essence of teamwork and sacrifice, did an announcement on the team plane into San Antonio congratulating DeRozan. The team's 2021 All-Star denied a starting role this year lauding the player who surpassed him in scoring and attention. Now that's what you call a culture.

Tap to watch Zach LaVine make the announcement on the team plane traveling to San Antonio on Thursday evening.

"It was crazy, Zach getting up on the plane," DeRozan said with a laugh. "I don't even know how he figured out how to do it. But his announcement was definitely funny. Flight 8, whatever he said. It was cool. He woke up a lot of people on the plane. Just getting congratulations from my teammate was dope."

Speaking of dopes, that being the national commentators who dismissed DeRozan as a dinosaur. And not because he was a Raptor. Just with that extinct game. Where are they now?

"Always motivation," DeRozan said. "We always strive off some type of motivation from the naysayers and doubters. I let what I do on the court speak for itself. But by the same token, I use hate, whatever you want to call it, as free energy. I kind of strive on it. Whatever mental edge I can gain from people saying what can't happen or ‘I'm not this, that or the third,' you always use that as some type of motivation. "I always look for elements I can use to drive myself," DeRozan continued. "Whether it's me getting traded, whether it's me not being able to do something as a rookie, whatever it might be. As long as I play this game, I'm going to find some type of mental edge that will continue to drive me. I wouldn't say getting back to this game was a goal. I think getting back to just being myself and the capabilities that I knew I had. And using my time of being traded, going through a new situation, learning so much underneath one of the greatest coaches of all time, putting all that knowledge into one and finally making a decision of my own to choose where I wanted to play in my career for the first time. I felt like it was a restart for me to understand, like, ‘OK, let's put this all together and prove, more so to myself, that the work that I put in won't go unnoticed.' That was just my goal, to go out there and lead and be a winner."

And doing it his way.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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