“Loyal to the soil.” It’s a phrase used frequently by rappers like Compton native Kendrick Lamar. It was uttered by Damian Lillard in regards to why he would rather stay in Portland than build a super team to combat his hometown Golden State Warriors.
It’s also an accurate description of DeMar DeRozan, a friend of both Lillard and Lamar who literally has the word “loyalty” tattooed on his body. For him it’s not just a slogan — it’s a creed and life mantra.
DeRozan stayed home and went to high school in Compton rather than going to a prep school on scholarship. He chose USC over traditional NCAA power schools. He re-signed with the Toronto Raptors — the team that drafted him — twice.
His loyalty is his legacy. It’s an admirable quality and one that Canadians identified with and grew to love.
There’s only one problem — there is no such thing as loyalty in sports, and that goes both ways. But that doesn’t need to be seen as a bad thing. In fact, sports are beautiful not because they’re a loyalty program, but a meritocracy.
As much as DeRozan did for the organization, the Raptors are under no obligation to be loyal to him or any other player. Their sole obligation is to the scoreboard.
Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster’s only obligation of loyalty is to their stakeholders, the board of governors and the fans. When they vow to put the best team on the court, that is what they have to do by any means necessary.
And this move was made with that goal in mind. Kawhi Leonard sat in the top five in ESPN’s real plus-minus stat in each of the three years prior to 2017–18, when he missed most of the season due to injury. DeRozan’s career high is 67th on the list, and he usually falls in the mid-100s. Case closed.
Still, many feel DeRozan was owed more respect because of how he re-signed with the Raptors in 2016 without taking another meeting. But this isn’t the NFL, where you can sign a deal and get cut at any point because it’s not guaranteed. What DeRozan is owed is the entire $83 million remaining on his contract, and he’ll get every cent of it.
What’s more, the Raptors didn’t exactly send him to Siberia. And neither is he being set up to fail like Isaiah Thomas was when the Boston Celtics shipped him to Cleveland after misdiagnosing his hip injury. In San Antonio, he’ll make the playoffs and be coached by a Hall of Famer.
Anybody who is harping at the lack of loyalty better not have fired an employee or left a company for greener pastures. All of these men are individual contractors that come together as a team because that is best for their own self-interests. The only loyalty they should concern themselves with is to their families and communities.
Which is why Leonard didn’t have to show loyalty to the San Antonio Spurs when their relationship went south.
There was no loyalty when fans burned LeBron James jerseys when he left Cleveland.
There was no loyalty when fans jeered at Kevin Durant when he returned to Oklahoma City after he not only played his heart out for them but spent money building basketball courts and providing natural disaster relief funds on multiple occasions.
There was no loyalty when Yogi Farrell backed out of a deal with the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks rescinded Ferrell’s qualifying offer last week, making him an unrestricted free agent with the understanding they were going to re-sign him at a higher number. The contract Farrell then agreed upon was a two-year, $5.3-million deal. But Farrell then decided he wanted to test the market now that he was free.
The Mavericks found out about Ferrell’s decision by reading Shams Charania reporting it for Yahoo. Ferrell then signed a two-year, $6.2-million deal with the Sacramento Kings.
Before that Nemanja Bjelica backed out of an agreement with the Philadelphia Sixers on a one-year, midlevel-exception deal for $4.45 million. Bjelica originally told the Sixers he wanted to go back to Europe for family considerations, but then went on to sign a three-year, $20.5-million deal with the Kings.
So, like I said, the lack of loyalty goes both ways.
And you can be sad DeRozan is gone without feeling bad for DeRozan. Since the trade was consummated, the Instagram photo that has gotten more impressions than anything I’ve ever posted is a photo of myself and DeRozan.
Many thanks and big shouts to @DeMar_DeRozan for being a real one. Continued to improve and adapt his game. Lived up to loyalty tattoo by choosing to stay. Always treated media and fans respectfully including myself. Always represented for Canada. How he conducted himself should be part of his legacy. #ProveEm #Comp10 #IGotUs@DonCharleone
585 Likes, 4 Comments – Donnovan Bennett (@donnovanbennett) on Instagram: “Many thanks and big shouts to @DeMar_DeRozan for being a real one. Continued to improve and adapt…”
It speaks to the impression he’s made. He has brand loyalty in the Toronto marketplace unlike any athlete since Wendel Clark.
Do you remember the backlash when Clark was traded for Mats Sundin? The betrayal Toronto Maple Leafs fans expressed as they felt management owed it to Clark to keep him since he was the captain and a hard-working Canadian?
Sundin went on to be a better player and eventually everyone grew to love him. They didn’t have to choose between him and Wendel. Love and loyalty aren’t mutually exclusive. But there is no loyalty in sports. Never has been, never will be.
Talk to NBA fans in Vancouver and Seattle about loyalty.
Sports are a business.
DeRozan has a right to be disappointed he is no longer a Raptor and likely will channel that energy by training to his good buddy Kendrick Lamar’s song “Loyalty” all summer. But that’s the only scenario where the word has a place in the game.