On Saturday, DeMar DeRozan will practice along with the rest of the Chicago Bulls at USC, his alma mater. It will be yet another reminder of how DeRozan, a native of Compton, Calif., is home.
But truth be told, DeRozan takes the lessons he learned while growing up in Compton everywhere.
DeRozan is proud of his roots. He returns every year, holding a free basketball camp for youth in a city that has spawned success stories like his and Kendrick Lamar’s and Serena Williams’ — but also its share of troubles.
DeRozan said he steered clear of the gangs and drugs that were prevalent throughout his childhood thanks to his parents, strong support system of mentors and coaches, and his love for basketball.
Always, there was the basketball.
DeRozan recently sat down with NBC Sports Chicago to talk about the Bulls’ trip back to Los Angeles, where they face the Clippers on Sunday and the Lakers on Monday, and what growing up in Compton means to him.
NBC Sports Chicago: What’s it like for you to play in Los Angeles?
DeMar DeRozan: It’s always special because it just takes me back to being a kid, having my own aspirations of making it to the NBA. Passing by the Forum. I remember when the Staples Center was first built. My overall memories about everything, it kind of comes full circle. Every year I’m in the NBA is such a blessing. To look at it and say this is my 13th year and still have the opportunity to play in front of friends, family, it’s just crazy. It’s always a surreal moment. Every time I go back, I feel everyone rooting for me.
NBC Sports Chicago: What did growing up in Compton teach you?
DeRozan: It taught me resilience. It taught me how to be a man. It taught me hardship. It gave me imagination. My whole foundation? Compton taught me that. I wear it like a badge of honor. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it wasn’t for the good and the bad that I learned growing up in Compton.
NBC Sports Chicago: How did you avoid the pitfalls?
DeRozan: I was fortunate enough to have older people around me that showed me at a young age the consequences of good and bad decisions. Whether I fully understood it at the time, I consistently heard it over and over to where it gave me a conscience, an understanding that when you’re around bad things, stay away from it.
That was something great to have because a lot of my friends didn’t have that consistency of a voice telling them right from wrong. You can grow up in an environment and all you see is negativity and you think that’s a norm. For me, I had a lot of people who gave me the other side of it, helped me understand positivity over and over until I got to an age where I really understood the difference.
NBC Sports Chicago: What’s the worst thing you saw?
DeRozan: At a young age, I lost one of my best friends to gang violence. I lost a lot of people before I even graduated high school. You’re talking about sitting next to somebody in class on a Monday and Monday night, that was the last time they’d ever be seen. Come back to school Tuesday and their stuff is still on their desk. Things like that consistently happened.
You started to wonder why the price of life is so cheap at a young age. Being a kid, you’re just trying to make it through the day, make it home. You’d see so much. You knew so much was capable of happening at any given moment. Just living through that, in the moment, you don’t think about it. But looking back it was a big test.
NBC Sports Chicago: How much do you credit your family for helping you on your journey?
DeRozan: My Dad was instrumental in everything in my life. Just being a great father figure, always being there and being supportive. He’d get on me how he needed to be on me so that I could do the right thing, whether it was in school or sticking to sports. Even with the little that we had, he made sure I didn’t miss basketball practice or tournaments. He kept me in the right things. And that was a positive light for me.
NBC Sports Chicago: Does it bother you when people focus on the negativity in Compton?
DeRozan: There are a lot of success stories. And people may not understand the pain that we were built off. And that’s kind of our motivation. Without that, I don’t think we would be as successful as we are. Because you gotta channel that emotion and that energy and that pain that you see every day to push you. I would say, "I don’t care what’s going on. I gotta make it out of here." Whatever it is, whether it’s tennis or sports or entertainment, that outlet is there for you when you feel like giving up. You have no other option.
NBC Sports Chicago: What kind of connection do you feel with other Compton natives?
DeRozan: I knew Kendrick (Lamar) growing up. It’s a small city. You find motivation from whoever comes before you. And everybody always supports one another, the ones that are coming up. It’s a crazy bond when you sit back and look at the ones who came through that city and are successful. I definitely have a great relationship with Kendrick, who I knew growing up — everyone from Compton. Serena (Williams) is older than me. I didn’t know her growing up, but I had a chance to be around her when we did the 2016 Olympics. She’s amazing.
NBC Sports Chicago: What’s it like having the gym at the local youth center named after you?
DeRozan: It’s incredible. Lueders Park is one of the parts of Compton that my Dad always took me to. I remember being terrible at basketball then. I also almost drowned at that park when I was like 9 years old. A lifeguard had to save me. Now to see a gym named after me is definitely incredible.
NBC Sports Chicago: How often do you go back?
DeRozan: I go back every summer. The pandemic slowed the camp I have for the kids. But I always try to do as much as I can with the school and the kids. I haven’t missed a summer at all. And I don’t plan to. That’s home.