As a fan of the NBA, DeMar DeRozan admits to letting his mind wonder occasionally about what it would be like to play with this player or that player.
On Friday, he said he did so in the past with his new Chicago Bulls teammate Zach LaVine.
But one thing DeRozan doesn’t have to imagine — because he experienced it first — is what an Olympic gold-medal winning experience can do for LaVine.
“Just being around the greatest players in the world, the greatest minds, the greatest coaches, it does something unconsciously to you that gives you the ultimate confidence, the ultimate work ethic, makes you realize that you belong in the elite category of guys,” DeRozan said. “And that carries over to the season. You see you’re next to a Kevin Durant every single day, a Damian Lillard every single day. You’re amongst these guys every single day. You see their work ethic, the way they approach the game, the winning mentality that they have and what it feels like to win. And something like that carries over whether you realize it or not. It goes a long way.”
DeRozan averaged 6.6 points playing for Team USA as it captured the gold medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. LaVine just wrapped his first Olympics experience by averaging 9.7 points in Tokyo as USA Basketball took home another gold.
The experience, of course, transcends scoring, which is exactly DeRozan’s point. And now that they’re teammates during the regular season, DeRozan couldn’t be more excited.
“I'm a fan of a lot of these players, and me looking at dynamics of teams and players, you always look and always wonder: 'If I play with this guy, how would this work?'” DeRozan said. “You see this guy want to win bad. You see the work ethic that a player like Zach put in. You see it. Like, for me, that will never go unnoticed.
“So even throughout the season, the things that he was doing, pushing a team, leading a team to try to get them to where they was going. It just sucks that COVID hit. You didn't really get a chance to see what he could have did toward the end of the season with the Bulls.
“So for me, always watching that, I always try to put myself next to players like that. That's where a lot of respect come from, watching guys like Zach. You see them put in the work, how bad they want to win, how bad they want it. And it's just not about highlights and All-Stars. It's much bigger than that. So me seeing that before I even had a conversation with him made it appealing to want to play with him. And talking to him made it even more enticing.”
Lonzo Ball also has known LaVine a while. The new Bulls point guard said he used to sit with his family in the recruiting section at UCLA, watching LaVine do his tricks.
LaVine played one season for the Bruins in 2013-14. Ball also declared for the NBA Draft following his lone season at the school in 2016-17.
“He was like a human highlight reel. So that’s when the bond kind of started, just watching him,” Ball said. “Keeping in communication to this day. Now we’re teammates, so I can’t wait to get out there and play with him.’’