TORONTO — The cheers got here in waves.
One after one other, they cascaded over Friday’s sellout crowd at Scotiabank Area, crashing onto the court docket and washing over DeMar DeRozan. For 108 straight seconds, Toronto showered DeRozan with each ounce of affection and respect he had earned from town over his 9 seasons with the franchise, acknowledging what everybody right here has all the time been able to admit:
This was a second neither facet wished to occur.
Not the followers in Toronto, who watched a child from Compton, California, develop as much as change into Canada’s favourite son. And positively not DeRozan, who not solely wasn’t occupied with leaving Toronto, he nonetheless is open about how a lot he loves the place.
But right here they each had been, introduced collectively once more for one surreal night time through which DeRozan, regardless of enjoying in San Antonio Spurs colours, was handled like he was nonetheless sporting a Raptors jersey.
“It is an honor,” DeRozan would say later. “To return again and get a reception like that, it is positively humbling, past gratifying, and I admire it.”
When requested the way it measured as much as the best way DeRozan described his emotions about coming again right here — evaluating it to breaking apart with a longtime girlfriend — he smiled.
“Yeah,” DeRozan stated. “You are like, ‘Rattling, she’s nonetheless fantastic as hell.'”
The Toronto crowd offers DeMar DeRozan a standing ovation after the Raptors present a video tribute thanking him for his time with the franchise.
Sports activities are a humorous factor. None of these 20,058 followers who stood and cheered for DeRozan would argue that he’s a greater participant than Kawhi Leonard, the person he was traded for final summer time. Neither would the Raptors — or, frankly, the Spurs themselves.
However sports activities, and the fandom that drives them, are not often primarily based in logic and motive. And it’s that basic lack of both that made DeRozan’s departure this previous summer time so troublesome for therefore many right here to digest.
Toronto is a world-class metropolis, a sprawling metropolis on the northwest shores of Lake Ontario that’s certainly one of North America’s largest city facilities. However as the one worldwide staff within the NBA, the Raptors and their followers nonetheless — at occasions — have the mentality of a staff enjoying in one of many league’s smallest markets, versus certainly one of its greatest. There’s a fixed, collective feeling of this franchise, and this metropolis, having a chip on its shoulder, and a must show its price to the remainder of the basketball world.
The love right here for DeRozan stems from those self same emotions. When he arrived right here in 2009, the Raptors had been at a low ebb. A couple of years earlier, Vince Carter — the one really transcendent star the staff had in its transient existence — had compelled his method out of city in excruciatingly ugly style. A yr after DeRozan’s arrival, Chris Bosh would go away as a free agent to hitch forces with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in Miami.
There have been actual doubts at that time if any star participant could be keen to place down roots in Toronto over the lengthy haul — in addition to if the Raptors, who to that time had gained only a single playoff sequence, may ever change into a authentic NBA pressure.
DeRozan, by advantage of each his personal particular person enchancment and the staff’s regular climb to relevance, turned the face of a Raptors squad that quieted these doubters.
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All of the sudden, a franchise that had made the playoffs solely 5 occasions in its first 18 seasons in existence made it 5 in a row, and superior within the postseason in every of the ultimate three. Over his 9 years in Toronto, DeRozan turned the face of Canadian basketball because the nation started producing precocious younger abilities at an ever-accelerating charge — younger gamers who grew up rooting for DeRozan and his Raptors.
On the identical time, DeRozan went from a participant whom Toronto was questioned for inking to a four-year, $40 million contract extension in 2012 to 1 who, by the point he may very well be a free agent once more in 2016, was a transparent max-level participant.
And it was then, in the summertime of 2016, when the bond between DeRozan and Toronto was endlessly cemented. DeRozan, a 6-foot-6 taking pictures guard from Los Angeles who went to USC, had grown up idolizing Kobe Bryant. That summer time, Bryant retired, leaving the Los Angeles Lakers with each the max cap area and the beginning taking pictures guard spot obtainable for DeRozan to function Bryant’s substitute.
Solely DeRozan did not exchange him. The truth is, he did not even give it some thought. As a substitute, he agreed to return to the Raptors with out even taking a gathering from the Lakers, or anybody else.
For a franchise that had spent so lengthy ready for such a second — for a star to decide on to remain in Toronto, to willingly need to be there — it cemented DeRozan’s place within the hearts of each member of this fan base endlessly.
“It was superb,” stated Kyle Lowry, who spent six seasons as DeRozan’s teammate. “The followers are superior, and town was superior.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 23 factors in a dropping effort in his first recreation as a customer in Toronto. Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press/AP
Nonetheless, that love did not imply that logic was fully absent from this night time. When Friday’s recreation boiled all the way down to the ultimate minutes, turning into a back-and-forth affair anybody may win, followers’ conventional allegiances took maintain.
So when Leonard buried an enormous turnaround jumper over DeRozan within the closing minutes, the followers burst into cheers. And when DeRozan acquired trapped at midcourt by Leonard and Lowry with 20 seconds to go, dropping the ball and permitting Leonard to go the opposite method for an uncontested dunk to provide Toronto the lead, they cheered louder. Then when DeRozan handed up an opportunity to take the sport winner and gave the ball to Davis Bertans, who missed, they cheered even louder.
Lastly, when Toronto escaped with a 120-117 victory, they cheered louder nonetheless.
In the end, for all of the love followers have for the gamers whereas sporting the jerseys of their favourite groups, sports activities are in regards to the laundry — not the individuals sporting it. And, on this night time, DeMar DeRozan performed right here for the primary time in a jersey with one thing apart from Raptors throughout his chest.
So, ultimately, him going dwelling as a loser was — for the primary time right here — a suitable end result.
DeMar DeRozan obtained two standing ovations from a grateful Toronto crowd Friday, when the previous Raptor returned to Scotiabank Area for the primary time since he was traded to the Spurs in a deal for Kawhi Leonard.
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When these 48 minutes ended, although, the love instantly returned. The followers gave DeRozan one more standing ovation as he exited the ground. He walked off amid a procession of Raptors who had come to greet him — which he reciprocated with a shock look in Toronto’s postgame locker room. He gave Pascal Siakam grief about falling for his pump pretend and playfully pretended to be dragged out of the room by Serge Ibaka.
They had been simply additional examples of how deep the bonds run right here for DeRozan, the thin child from Compton who turned a star in a metropolis the place he helped make basketball related. He by no means wished to depart Toronto, and Toronto by no means wished him to depart.
Sports activities, although, not often have fairy-tale endings. As a substitute, they’re normally messy ones — simply as DeRozan’s exit from Toronto was final summer time.
However time heals all wounds. And, someday, DeRozan will get his rightful place within the rafters — probably as the primary participant in franchise historical past to have his quantity positioned there.
On this night time, although, cheers must suffice. And they also got here, wave after wave of them, a virtually two-minute thank-you for every thing he’d finished for the Raptors, for Toronto, for basketball on this nation.
And, for only a second, DeMar DeRozan was dwelling once more.