London Bound

Growing up in Compton, California, DeMar DeRozan was one of those kids that always played against the older guys. The guys who made him feel uncomfortable. The guys who pushed him to his limits. The self discipline and drive that he has learnt from this led DeRozan’s young career on a trajectory that landed with the Toronto Raptors, a team he’s stuck by since they drafted him 9th overall in 2009.

8 years in the NBA had left to DeRozan discovering many things, from the need to nap—“I normally sleep 3–4 hours before every game”—to a unexpected friendship with Kobe, the “best player he’s ever matched up against.”

This relationship all started with sneakers though. From DeRozan wearing Kobe’s in High School, through to him launching the Kobe 11 iD’s in London for the NBA’s Global Games, where, thanks to Nike, 30 lucky fans had the chance to design the sneakers that DeRozan would be wearing on the hardwood the very next evening.

The biggest takeaway from having Kobe as a friend? Learning from his competitive spirit, and the way that he breaks down the game of basketball into the smallest of increments, studying each to a level that’s requires real time and commitment to self improvement. This influence that Kobe has had on DeRozan is more than just about the day-to-day game of basketball though, it has made DeRozan want to look at the next generation of players, and “keep the younger guys motivated, keep them going, keep the greatness up in basketball.”

Not a week goes by where he doesn’t try to be around Compton High School, his old team, in some way. Even if it’s just to show his face, watch a practise and play open-run with the kids, or attend their games in the summer, he wants to show them that he was in the same positions, did the same things they’re currently doing, and as long as these kids keep working hard, they’ll get the opportunity to go to college, either for sports or academics. And that’s all that matters.

The one piece of advice he’d pass onto younger players? To “appreciate the game, because before you know it it’ll all be over.”

Words: Court Basketball
Photography: Hayley Louisa Brown