Bulls Insider

DeRozan leads unbeaten Bulls into Canadian return

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

Monday marks DeMar DeRozan's third trip back to Toronto to face the Raptors as a visiting player, the franchise he once served not only as its face but for the face of an entire country's love for basketball.

"Every time I'm ever back, it's definitely been emotional," DeRozan said late Saturday night after helping the Chicago Bulls stay unbeaten at 3-0. "That's where I grew up. Not just basketball, but as a man. I was 19 years old, moving to a country I've never been to and they embraced me and took me in like I was one of their own.

"To see the whole city grow, the organization grow, me being a big part of that, you definitely have an emotional connection to that organization, that city. It's always bittersweet going back, seeing people I grew up knowing that work there, everything about it. It's like my second home."

Indeed, DeRozan embraced representing a franchise that, historically, not all NBA players adapted to as well as the Compton, Calif., native did.

Drafted ninth overall in 2009, DeRozan not only achieved four All-Star appearances and helped the Raptors reach the 2016 Eastern Conference finals, but aimed for a higher purpose while doing so.

"My whole mindset was to change that (negative) narrative when I was in Toronto," DeRozan said. "I heard it my first year. You heard a lot of older guys I played with in my career while I was there had those same complaints: ‘I'm not trying to stay here long term.' I wanted to be the opposite and kind of change the narrative on why people should come here, how great of a city, how great of a country it really is, and (to) see that transformation take (place) and the appreciation (of) the city, to have All-Star weekend there (in 2016), being on center stage, you started to see a change. I feel like I had something to do with that and I took that with pride and honor being able to do that.

 

"I just wanted to be different. I didn't want to follow what everybody else was doing. I wanted to show the appreciation and show how great a city and country that it was. That's all I knew getting drafted to the NBA, Toronto. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it the way I did."

That's why DeRozan became an active participant in charitable endeavors throughout the community. That's why the Raptors' surprising decision to trade him to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard during the 2018 offseason stung DeRozan so deeply.

The Raptors won the 2019 NBA championship, while DeRozan continued his stellar play during a three-season run with the Spurs. This offseason, he chose the Bulls in free agency and arrived via a sign-and-trade transaction.

The Bulls are seeking their first 4-0 start since the 1996-97 championship team opened 12-0. DeRozan didn't visit Toronto last season with the Spurs because the Raptors relocated to Tampa, Fla., due to the pandemic.

Now, the Raptors are back. And DeRozan, who is off to a strong start with the Bulls with a scoring average of 21.3 points per game, is too.

"My time there we had so many training camps all over Canada, played preseason games all over Canada. The love and appreciation I always got all over Canada and not just Toronto was amazing and every time I go back is something I can never describe," DeRozan said. "I'm looking forward to it. Being in the East going back multiple times should be interesting."

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