DeRozan reflects fondly on his days in Toronto

DeMar DeRozan's history with the Toronto Raptors is bittersweet.

Unlike many star players before him, DeRozan embraced playing in Canada, made the Raptors a consistent winner, and then was traded away for Kawhi Leonard. And Toronto won a championship during Leonard's single season with the Raptors, so it's hard to argue with the decision.

"My whole mindset was to change that (negative) narrative when I was in Toronto," DeRozan said. "I heard it my first year. You heard a lot of older guys I played with in my career while I was there had those same complaints, 'I'm not trying to stay here long term.'

"I wanted to be the opposite and kind of change the narrative on why people should come here, how great of a city, how great of a country it really is, and see that transformation take (place) and the appreciation (of) the city. To have all-star weekend there, being on center stage you started to see a change. I feel like I had something to do with that and I took that with pride and honor being able to do that."

One reason Antonio Davis ended up with the Bulls back in 2004 was because he said he didn't want to raise his kids in Canada.

"I just wanted to be different," DeRozan said. "I didn't want to follow what everybody else was doing. I wanted to show the appreciation and show how great a city and country that it was. That's all I knew getting drafted to the NBA, Toronto. I wanted to make sure everyone saw it the way I did."

DeRozan played in Toronto twice when he played for the Spurs. Last year, the Raptors played their home games in Tampa due to the pandemic, so no NBA player visited the city.

"Every time I'm ever back it's definitely been emotional," DeRozan said. "That's where I grew up. Not just basketball, but as a man. I was 19 years old, moving to a country I've never been to and they embraced me and took me in like I was one of their own. To see the whole city grow, the organization grow, me being a big part of that - you definitely have an emotional connection to that organization, that city.

"It's always bittersweet going back, seeing people I grew up knowing that work there, everything about it. It's like my second home."

DeRozan is a native of Compton, Calif. He was chosen by Toronto with the No. 9 pick of the 2009 draft.

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