Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
INDIANAPOLIS --- DeMar DeRozan long has been a student of the game and fan of NBA history.
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So when the 39th-most prolific scorer in NBA history (44th if you include combined NBA/ABA statistics) heard he needed just 34 points to pass Larry Bird on the all-time scoring list, DeRozan shook his head.
“I mean, that’s Larry Bird,” DeRozan said. “From a fan perspective, it’s amazing. It’s an honor.”
DeRozan holds NBA legends in high regard and, one day, could take his place alongside them. He is crafting a case for possible enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame whenever his career ends.
But legends isn’t the only “L” word associated with DeRozan. Loyalty is.
In this age of player empowerment and players requesting trades, DeRozan hasn’t got caught up in the business of basketball. He’s playing this season on an expiring contract.
Against that backdrop, DeRozan sat down with NBC Sports Chicago following Monday’s shootaround at Gainbridge Fieldhouse to talk loyalty, longevity and scoring legends of the game.
NBC Sports Chicago: You’ve always said you don’t get involved in contract stuff or the business of basketball. But in this age of player empowerment and players requesting trades or trying to form super teams, that’s not always the route. So where does that stance come from for you?
DeMar DeRozan: Honestly, it just comes from the gratitude of being able to play this game. I don’t ever take it for granted, no matter how much recognition I may get. The older I get and the more mature I become and to still be playing at a high level 15 years in, I just appreciate it all. I’ve had so many friends that were my teammates that didn’t last this long. I’ve had other teammates who were greedy or entitled and felt like everything revolved around them. And next thing you know, you never see them again. With my humble beginnings and where I came from, I’m just happy to be playing. As long as I’m playing, I always feel everything else takes care of itself.
You’ve never been tempted to try to force your way to a preferred situation?
Nah. My whole life, I’ve always been this way: Control what you can control. This may sound cliché, but I’m big on being professional even in the toughest of times. It’s always easy to run away or find an excuse or blame somebody else or whatever. But sticking through something always teaches you a lesson. Some people demand trades or demand certain things and they still don’t get what they want. For me, I just wake up and try to be the best I can be that day and let it translate over.
But what’s your take on this age of player empowerment? I mean, you’re friends or friendly with most everybody in this league. Surely, someone you know or like has been one of those players who took his future in his own hands and tried to get somewhere he wanted to be.
To each his own. And guys who demand trades or get traded, one thing I always ask them: Are you happy? As long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters. A lot of guys have families and they’re looking at it as a bigger picture than basketball, somewhere they can be stable, somewhere they may want to live after they finish playing. I’m not against it at all. I support anything that anybody wants to do that’s better for them. But as for me, I never got caught up into it. I feel like I wouldn’t be able to lay down comfortably if I went somewhere and said, ‘(Expletive) trade me. I’m tired of this.’ That’s just not me. I’m going to compete, be the best version I can be and let it go from there.
Is loyalty important to you?
Once I’m in, I’m in. That’s the type of friend I am. If I call you my friend, I’m in it with you. You can call me in the middle of the night and I’ll walk with you to the grocery store if that’s what you need. That’s just how I view it---fun times, tough times. I’m not just in it for perfection. I’m in it for whatever else comes with it. That’s my mindset and I don’t waver from that.
All that said, how difficult is it playing this season without an extension yet?
I honestly don’t think about it at all. I never have. It doesn’t worry me or stress me out. Again, I control what I can control. And in due time, let it speak for itself.
Have you thought about how long you want to play?
Me having kids it has crossed my mind for the simple fact of you miss so much time. You miss your kids. You want to be there to support your kids and see their activities. As you get older, that perspective comes into play. How much more are you willing to miss? How much more do you have to give to the game? It crosses my mind, especially when I’m with my kids. But I don’t know the answer yet.
You take care of your body. Your game seems the type to age gracefully. Does a 20-season or 20-plus-season career like Kobe Bryant or Kevin Garnett or Vince Carter hold appeal?
That’s a beautiful mark to get to. Fifteen (seasons) in, another five, six is far down the road. I just take it as it comes, honestly. I tell the young guys now: Enjoy and appreciate it while you’re young because as you get older, your perspective changes. You start to gain more responsibility in life. It gets tougher. Those hotel nights get longer. But me being a fan of the game, man, I never wanted to see Kobe retire. I remember when (Michael) Jordan retired, I just knew he was going to come back even after the Wizards. Being in that position, you want to give the game all you can give.
I’ve talked to you before about your standing on the all-time scoring list. Do you ever check that and see who you have coming up?
Nah, not really. But I did see before this season the amount of people I could pass. It blew my mind.
We're in Indiana and you’re 33 points from Larry Bird, who scored his 21,791 points in just 897 games because he was cold.
Listen, that’s a player who I watched a whole bunch of film of over the years. And he was a bad man.
So what will passing him mean to you?
I mean, that’s Larry Bird. When I see stuff like that, I have stuff with a lot of my friends about it during the summertime. Like, ‘I got more points than Larry Bird.’ I use it to trash talk for fun. But from a fan perspective, it’s amazing. It’s an honor. Even coming into the league, I never would’ve imagined that. I watched his game. I studied the 70s, 80s and 90s of basketball. And to pass these guys is incredible.
You ever watch Adrian Dantley? He’s about 1,400 points ahead of you and currently 31st.
Yes. I love his game. That’s where my appreciation for the game comes from, all these guys who came before me. I never take my love for the game for granted.