Thursday, July 19, 2018

Five Words

When the biography of DeMar DeRozan is written, the grind and threat of growing up in Compton, California will dominate the first chapter. Drive-bys, gangs, uncertainty and witnessing death at a young age will be the early threads that the writer will pull together to start to weave the narrative. There will be comments on the breaks that kept him on the path to the NBA. Motivation maintained, the possibility of it wavering, the hard knocks education that may have threatened to break him instead of doing the sought after toughening that was the perceived requirement. The nuances and details of that boyhood will be epic in their retelling and the climaxes of USC and the ascension to the lottery end of the 2009 NBA draft class will tell a lot about the man.

Chapter two, in inspired hands would be a flash forward to five words. Five words that came from a rookie who averaged an ordinary 21 minutes and 8.6 points a game and may, on the heels of season one, still have been considered more of a project than a cog for the future. With the departure of all-star power forward Chris Bosh looming, the rookie, of all people on the roster tweeted: "Don't worry, I got us..."

Was it arrogant or presumptuous for the rookie to step up on a team with serviceable veterans bearing much of the load? In the end, the answer is a proud, "No." In that first chapter of his life, in that first season of his NBA career there were glimpses of who he was and the qualities he possessed. The determination, resilience, persistence and the work ethic have been cornerstones of DeMar DeRozan's delivery on that seemingly impetuous promise in June 2010, but there is something of that childhood in Compton, of the grit and humility that has formed him and a calculus of commitment that quite possibly assured him that his commitment was within him and that voicing it and holding himself accountable to those words would bring out what was required of him and of the team he integrated himself into.

Afforded the opportunity to shrink away from the boast, to simply delete it because the task he committed himself was too large or earned him a quick round of ridicule, he did not back down. As the 20-year-old grew into a man and the raw talent put in the now-renowned gym-rat hours to hone and complement the skill set he left Compton and USC with, he took on that responsibility and bore it. The numbers bore witness to what he strived to do, but there was the quiet development of other skills or the burnishing of principles that he learned from his parents. He was never late. He was always there. There was no drama. There was a commitment to self-improvement. There is an authenticity and sincerity about DeRozan that was always a sharp contrast to Chris Bosh's social media savvy and telegenic eloquence that occasionally turned glib. DeMar spoke simply, in a manner that belied a preference to put the work in rather than calculate a turn of phrase to turn things in his favour. (There was a sense of that during Bosh's interactions with the media during his last season and the team's close but yet so far meander through the 2009-10 season from the All Star break to the
end of the year a lingering "what if" in the minds of Raptors and fans alike.)

The young man who identified only one way out of Compton, just put the work in and added to that sweat equity an integrity and a quiet leadership that has left an indelible mark on the franchise that will at the very least hang his number from the rafters. Apart from the commitment he made in staying and wanting to stay as long as he did, he was a key figure in the playoff runs that the team has made over the last five seasons. His embrace of running mate Kyle Lowry as the gasp of frustration was yet to be exhaled by the ACC faithful was a moment that fused the team together and in defeat ought to remain as a hallmark of teammates' commitment to one another through all. The heartbreaks have been tough, but we -- whether that is the men in the dressing room or the thousands in the seats and in Jurassic Park -- will persevere, be thankful for the men we have had the chance to go through this with and look ahead to greater successes that will be sweeter for this moment's searing memory.

He has put in the time to take the team as far as it has and he will be a significant part of the successes that will follow for the example he set the time he put in and the glass ceilings of playoff infamy that he had helped the once hapless Raps so adeptly smash through. If greater successes follow in the near future there will be a poignant wish that he and Dwane Casey be in the room to celebrate with those people who are more significant actors in the achievement of the the next level of success. Instead of being at the centre of those future celebrations, ones which they set the foundation for, they will be on the outside looking in, only able to enjoy it vicariously and their contribution to it only calculable by vague and unreliable means. No, DeRozan and Casey won't execute or set the play or adjustment required to score a decisive basket. Achieving the next level will not be a consequence of merely completing a certain number of successful defensive and offensive possessions over the course of 100-plus games strung out from one October to the following June. Championships are progressed toward, in part, as a consequence of organizational will and the mindset of the leaders in that organization. Successes without men of such quality and character as DeRozan and Casey will be bitter sweet for their absence at a time when their contributions to the organization need to be acknowledged.

DeMar DeRozan -- the quiet, confident gym rat who did the self-examination and made the effort
required to continue improving his game and invested so much of himself in the Raptors' progress over the last decade, the man who persevered so much, has shared his vulnerabilities and worn a red leaf on his sleeve throughout his time in Toronto, in Canada -- has left his mark on the Toronto Raptors organization. There has been a lunch-bucket tenacity, a humility and a depth of character that prompted him and the city of Toronto to commit to one another.