DeRozan likely to receive warm welcome in Toronto return
Spurs guard played nine seasons with Toronto, made playoffs five straight seasons
By Ian Harrison | Associated Press
* Tonight on ESPN: Spurs vs. Raptors, 7 ET
TORONTO — From fellow athletes to star entertainers, DeMar DeRozan has seen plenty of celebrities soaking up an extended round of appreciative applause from fans.
“When they get that long standing ovation, I always thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” DeRozan said Thursday. “I’ve never received one.”
Friday night, it could be his turn.
DeRozan is back north of the border for the first time since the Toronto Raptors traded him last summer. His new team, the San Antonio Spurs, face the Raptors on Friday. A four-time All-Star in Toronto who helped the Raptors to five straight playoff appearances, DeRozan is likely to receive a warm welcome when he is introduced.
“If it’s one of those long standing ovations, it’s definitely going to be overwhelming,” DeRozan said in a news conference at the Spurs’ team hotel. “It’s crazy when you get a whole arena on their feet just showing appreciation. I’m looking forward to it, to feeling the love.”
Friday’s game will be the first following the All-Star break for both teams. Toronto (43-16) has won six straight, and is is one game behind Milwaukee for top spot in the Eastern Conference. San Antonio (33-26) beat Memphis in its final game before the break to stop a four-game slide. The Spurs are seventh in the West, nine games behind leaders Golden State.
There wasn’t much love on offer when the Raptors visited the Spurs in January. Toronto forward Kawhi Leonard endured chants of “Traitor! Traitor!” and “Quitter! Quitter!” from the capacity crowd that adored him during his seven seasons in San Antonio.
“It just felt like a road game, but more boos when I have the ball,” Leonard said after the Raptors practiced Thursday. “Environments like that can only get us better, being able to have the fans up in their seats excited, wanting the team to lose, it just prepares us for the playoffs.”
Leaving Toronto last summer was difficult for DeRozan. Still a teenager when he was drafted by Toronto in 2009, he turned into an All-Star by 2014, building his game year after year. He left town as the franchise leader in points (13,296), field goals (4,716), free throws (3,539), and games (675).
DeRozan compared the emotional wounds left by the end of his Raptors career to a breakup, albeit one with a happy ending.
“She moved on and I moved on,” he joked. “Now we’re both happy.”
Toronto coach Nick Nurse worked with DeRozan for five years in his role as a Raptors assistant, and called him “the best dude ever.”