Maybe for you, not everything has to be about racism. For DeMar DeRozan, it does. That’s not by choice. He tried to escape it and failed. The question is how that failure will shape his life and [more important to you] his career going forward?
If life is a game, teams in the United States are readily identifiable by colour. Scoring is not kept by baskets, touchdowns, runs or goals, however. Laws tell you who is winning and losing. For every one written to promote equality, dozens are passed to make sure one team continues to hold a comfortable advantage. The margin is so wide that some people on the winning side can pretend they’re not playing.
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In case you’re colourblind, DeMar DeRozan doesn’t play for the winning team. Growing up in Compton, California motivates people to choose one of two paths. They can try to control their environment, which too often means a life of violent crime frequently interrupted by prison sentences or just once by bullets. If they have lucrative talents, the second option is attempting an escape through sport or music. Attempting is the operative word.
DeRozan’s basketball talents led him to the University of Southern California for two seasons. In 2009, he forewent his junior year to enter the NBA Draft where he was drafted ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors. Seven years before privileged white celebrities like Rosie O’Donnell said they would leave the country if Donald Trump was elected President, the 6′ 7″ small forward/shooting guard took the opportunity they didn’t.
Toronto wasn’t a sanctuary from prejudice. Fear and hatred have existed there even longer than in the US. White people settled in Canada first. However, with far fewer people of colour to subjugate, bigotry didn’t become so deeply rooted. One consequence is police tend to ask questions first and rarely shoot later. Politically, there is a conscious, more effective effort to provide opportunity for all.
With a rookie salary that allowed him to pay someone else to shovel snow and buy as much warm clothing as needed, there was nothing not to like about this foreign city in which he would spend the next eight years. Toronto’s cosmopolitan nature allowed for American and Canadian music, food and other cultures to blend. People were polite. They apologized rather than telling you to watch where you were going. Even better, they didn’t shove it down your throat that basketball’s inventor, James Naismith, was Canadian. [Sorry]
DeRozan fell in love with his new home. Toronto wasn’t a good team, but he worked hard to make it better and engage fans rooted in another Canadian game, hockey. [Again, sorry]
Gradually, the Raptors improved. They became contenders. Unfortunately, they couldn’t find a way past LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Still, when free agency beckoned, DeRozan didn’t entertain offers. Instead, he pronounced, “I am Toronto,” and re-signed with the club.
Believing, he had found a haven from the cutthroat nature of American life, he allowed himself to be happy. The city loved him; he loved it. That should have been enough but he didn’t factor the team into his calculations.
Even though LeBron had left Cleveland for Los Angeles, throwing open the Eastern Conference door to the NBA Finals, the Raptors felt like they needed to make a change. On July 18th, he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
Was the club as polite as the city and nation it represents? Did it need to be more cutthroat? Raptors GM Masai Ujiri apparently thought so. Not only did he move to acquire a more selfish player who wasn’t fitting into the Spurs’ famously collective environment, he elected not to inform DeRozan about the deal until the last possible moment.
It made sense from an organisational standpoint. Toronto wouldn’t have an unsettled, disillusioned star on their hands if the trade failed to materialise. When it went through, DeRozan’s emotional state became San Antonio’s problem.
Ujiri was probably right. Betrayal on that level doesn’t grow less painful over a few days or weeks. He knew how committed his star was to the organisation and that DeRozan’s resentment would be proportionate. None of that is to say the trade was an easy choice to make, only that sadness at having to make it is easier to handle. The GM isn’t packing up and leaving everything he ever wanted behind.
Twelve days have passed since the trade was consummated. DeRozan’s anger hasn’t diminished. That said, he isn’t dwelling on it.
It was a rough week, extremely hard. I can’t sit up here and lie and say it wasn’t. But I don’t want to be living in the past or dwelling in the past or asking or wondering why.
It’s the best possible attitude he can adapt. Whether or not the new Spur is able to speak to Masai Ujiri in the future, and he has indicated he has “no reason”, the Toronto GM had the decency to send him to an ideal environment.
The culture in San Antonio is everything DeRozan thought he had in Toronto, except [speaking of bad trades] the beer is watered down and the food is spicier. Coach and team president Gregg Popovich believes in commitment. He likes players who want to spend their careers in one city. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli prove that. The organisation is also committed to its principles on diversity. Becky Hammon was not only named the league’s first female assistant coach, the level of responsibility that Pops entrusted her with has led to speculation she might be on some clubs’ shortlists as a future head coach.
DeRozan is already working with Popovich at the Team USA camp ahead of the World Championships. He has expressed optimism about developing that relationship further in San Antonio.
His resume speaks for itself. If you are a basketball fan and you know the game, Pop is one of those guys you definitely have to be a fan of, inside and out.
The question is whether he will be able to trust the Spurs to the same level he did the Raptors? You have to believe he won’t. Even if he wants to invest himself to that emotional level a second time, he will now look for reasons it could go wrong. For instance, Pops is 69. De Rozan is under contract for five years. Can he reasonably expect the coach to be around for his entire term? Will the team’s culture change for the worse when its most influential figure is gone? DeRozan will be more guarded in his approach this time.
Will losing that emotional commitment affect his play? Only time will tell.
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