By Frank McLean
In my 32 years of covering the Toronto sports scene I have been privileged to have covered a hand full of special athletes and better still special people.
Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar with the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs Doug Gilmour and Matts Sundin, Mike “Pinball” Clemons and Doug Flutie of the Argos and of course Vince Carter with the Raptors.
You can add DeMar DeRozan to the list.
Over the offseason DeRozan became the highest paid professional athlete in Toronto sporting history, five years 137.3-million dollars. Oh yes let’s not forget a little trip to Rio in August where DeRozan and teammate Kyle Lowry were part of Team USA’s gold medal win at the Olympics.
With many athletes when they finally get that big paycheck they hit that comfort zone. Their money is guaranteed so why put out. Not with DeRozan.
His game keeps getting better.
He opened the season tying Michael Jordan’s NBA record to start a season with five straight games of 30-or-more points. He already has 15 games of 30-plus where last year he only did it 14 times and he is third in league scoring with a 28.4 average behind only Anthony Davis at 29.6 and Russell Westbrook’s 30.9.
It’s hard to imagine that over the last couple of years pundits and fans have tried to say he’s not worth a max contract.
But other people in the NBA think he’s worth the money.
Take for example these comments a few weeks ago from Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brent Brown when they were in town.
“It may a combination of getting older or taking responsibility when somebody pay’s you like they paid him and they are expecting results. When I listen to him do interviews and I watch him play he’s class. I think he has his head on his shoulders. I think he deserves the contract he was rewarded with. Anytime you can find someone that good on court or off court the city of Toronto should make sure they wrap their arms around him and don’t let him go anywhere.”
That last sentence is a big one from Brown.
Where Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Raptors first ever draft pick Damon Stoudmire all wanted to leave the 416, DeRozan never wanted to go anywhere else.
On Monday DeRozan was named Player Of The Week in the Eastern Conference for the second time this season.
The question at practice was why have you gotten better this year?
“If I had the answer I probably wouldn’t give it to you,” DeRozan said. “But I don’t have the answer. I just try to go out there and just play in the rhythm of what we do, be aggressive, just play my game. I think we all have a feel for one another, what we like to do with everybody’s strength and we always feed to that. I’ve got to give credit to my teammates for helping me be in a position in the game (to get his almost 30 points a night.)
The reason I think DeRozan is always getting better is his competitive streak. He never settles for what he is putting up on the boxscore. He is constantly working on his game. Ask any of the security guards at the Air Canada Centre it’s not unusual for him to be coming into the building at 11pm or midnight and heading up to the team’s old third floor practice facility just working on his game.
Those other Toronto athletes I mentioned at the start of this article all had that same driven mentality to always be better, always improving their game.
DeRozan heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets had scored 10,201 career points. That’s just 74 points behind Chris Bosh’s total while with Toronto of 10,275 for the title of Raptors all time leading scorer. He has played the most games of any player for the Raptors, is about to overtake Bosh in minutes played and by the end of the year DeRozan will pretty much own all the Raptors longevity and scoring records.
He deserves to be listed as one of Toronto’s all time greats.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.