When DeMar DeRozan was little, his father Frank made a point of recording every moment of every NBA All-Star Weekend. Even when the family didn’t have cable television, Frank would find a way. He’d invite himself over to a friend’s house and pop in a VHS tape, preserving it for a boy who could never get enough of the game’s brightest spectacle.
DeRozan is not one of your superstars who finds the NBA All-Star Game an imposition, an inconvenience or an obstacle to a weekend in the sun.
DeRozan loves all-star weekend. He always has.
One of his first memories — one of the first times he really began to dream NBA dreams — was when he was watching the game on television as a youngster in Compton, Calif., seeing the colours, seeing the famous faces. Seeing the excitement. Something clicked.
“I remember watching that and all the greats are out there and it was one of them moments where your dream really kicks in as a kid: ‘Man, this would be so cool to do this and put on an all-star jersey,’” he told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on a recent podcast episode. “All-star weekend was everything for me when I was a kid, being able to watch it. And being part of it, I remember my first year [being chosen as an all-star in 2014] in New Orleans, I had that same exact feeling I had when I was a kid. It’s crazy.”
He’s not a kid any longer. He’s a 28-year-old in his ninth NBA season, a franchise player with the responsibility of delivering the Toronto Raptors to the NBA Finals for the first time.
But he’s still a basketball geek. He still loves all-star weekend. This year perhaps more than ever. This year the kid from Compton gets to go home.
DeRozan was named an all-star game starter on Thursday night for the second consecutive year, earning the spot through a weighted vote by fans, players and media. The other four starters from the East are LeBron James from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. From the West it was Steph Curry and Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors, James Harden from the Houston Rockets, and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans.
But will any feel the pure joy of being at the centre of the game’s spotlight with the game in his hometown?
I can’t see it.
The game being in Los Angeles solves a significant logistical challenge and allows him to share the moment with Frank in person. Had the all-star game been held elsewhere this year, who knows?
Frank is suffering from a kidney ailment serious enough that DeRozan has left the team twice already this season to spend an extra day with him when and where he can. Having the all-star weekend in L.A. means another visit home and a chance to share it with the man who shared so many all-star memories with him.
“I want my family to always experience the things they don’t get to see every single day,” he said earlier Thursday to a small group of reporters before his spot as a starter had been announced.
“It’s really like a dream when you think about it,” he continued. “Especially with me being the kind of basketball fan I was growing up and watching every single all-star game. I remember it was in L.A. [in 2004] and just being amazed that it was in L.A. I wasn’t around none of the festivities [he was 13 at the time], but just to feel that energy now years later and for me to have the opportunity to not just be in it but start in it, it makes me feel like a kid all over again. It’s a humbling thing. Everything about it is something I would never believe.”
There’s a lot to like about DeRozan:
His ever-evolving game and the way he’s annually turned another layer of doubters on to his slightly unorthodox style and the way he keeps adding a wrinkle here or there to make his tool box that much more complete.
His cool, calm demeanour, the way he can seamlessly incorporate, within one personality, a laid-back, friendly, ‘what-me-worry’ vibe with a ruthless competitive streak and a farmer’s work ethic.
The way he has so confidently and unreservedly embraced Toronto and the Raptors, giving the city and franchise its first bred-in-the-wool basketball icon; an all-star generations of fans have come to rely on.
But his pure enthusiasm for the game of basketball can perhaps be overlooked. DeRozan loves being an NBA player. He loved being an Olympian. When the all-star game was in Toronto in 2016, he was as excited as anyone else, and when an arctic cold front confirmed every possible stereotype about the NBA’s one Canadian city, DeRozan wore it too: “Everything else was great but everyone complained about the weather. Even me, because I was telling everyone, ‘It’s never like this,’” DeRozan said on the podcast, showing his true Toronto self.
“The week prior to it, it was nice, it was actually nice. I’m like, ‘If next week’s like this it will go down as one of the best all-star weekends,’ and I don’t know where that comes from.”
He won’t have to worry about the weather in L.A. in February. It will be warm and sunny. The lights with be bright and the stars will be out. DeRozan will be headlining in a video straight out of Compton, straight out of his childhood, and this time instead of trying to work the VCR, his father Frank will be there too, watching it unfold like something straight out of Hollywood.