TORONTO — Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan sat some 20 feet apart in the ballroom of a downtown hotel Friday afternoon, each holding court with dozens of reporters.
Lowry paused at one point and hollered over at his teammate "DeRo! What’s up dawg? Y’all right? DeMar DeRozan over there, the official host of the 2016 all-star game!"
It was just as its been for the past couple of seasons. Where one of the Toronto Raptors stars is, the other is never very far away.
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Lowry and DeRozan will suit up for the Eastern Conference team Sunday when the Air Canada Centre hosts the first-ever NBA all-star game to be played outside of the United States. It’s also the first time the two Raptors have been named to the team together, and they took the opportunity to reflect on the bond they’ve built that extends beyond the basketball court.
"I have no clue how we became cool or how we got cool or anything. It just came about genuinely," DeRozan said. "That's my man. There's no egos at all, no hidden agendas at all. I want to see him do well and he wants to see me do well, as well. When you've got that going it's perfect."
The two, who shared Eastern Conference player of the month honours for January, are in their fourth season together, leaders of a Raptors team that is the midst of its best season yet. Toronto (35-17) sits just three games back of Cleveland for second in the Eastern Conference.
They make for an odd couple. They come from different sides of the country. DeRozan's easy going, Lowry has a surly side. DeRozan is half a foot taller.
"I think basketball is one of the reasons we are friends, but the paths we have taken have been different. Our backgrounds are friends and family and how hard you have to work to be special. I think that is one of the things that keeps our relationship great," said Lowry, whose son Karter is friends with DeRozan's daughter Diar. "I think it's very unique. It's a different bond. Us being teammates first and then friendship growing out of that, it has been special."
The two were keen to play host to the NBA's biggest stars this weekend.
"The whole city's loving it, the country's deserving it, I think it gives the world a chance now to really recognize Toronto," DeRozan said.
An American reporter asked DeRozan what it meant to not just Toronto, but Canada.
"I think we're spoiled in a sense that we're the only team here. If you look at Texas, they've'e got three teams in Texas, they've got to share Texas. We have all of Canada," DeRozan said. "Everywhere we go in Canada, it's 'We the North.' We've got to appreciate that when we've got something like that going on.
"We've got a whole country to ourselves, it don't get no better than that."
The six-year Raptors veteran said it was in perhaps his second or third season in Toronto that he realized the Canadian connection.
"We were going to other cities in Canada and the reception we were getting, it was the first time the fans were seeing us, but they embraced us like they knew us the whole time," DeRozan said. "When I got that feeling, you start to understand that you're playing for something bigger than just the city."
Friday's all-star media availability was the traditional tip-off to the weekend's festivities, and more than 330 international journalists from 40 countries are in town. Kobe Bryant's table drew the biggest media scrum, with as many as 100 journalists squeezed in around the retiring superstar. Bryant called an audible when he first entered the ballroom, sitting at a random table rather than his designated spot, causing panic among the journalists that had staked out their spots.
One reporter was asking all the players if they'd heard of Tim Hortons. Many hadn't. Another reporter asked players to name three famous Canadians not named Drake. Many couldn't.
DeRozan had answers for both.
"Lennox Lewis, Wayne Gretzky, and Tim Hortons," DeRozan said of three famous Canadians -- with an unintentional slip-up in Horton's name.
"A lot of people don't know who Tim Horton is," DeRozan said of the late hockey player. "Some people think it's just a store. They didn't know he was a hockey player."
"Did you know he was a hockey player?" he asked the reporter.
All-star weekend tipped off with Friday's celebrity games and Rising Stars Challenge. The skills events are Saturday, while the 65th all-star game is Sunday.