Sometimes little 10-year-old DeMar DeRozan got really lucky when he went to his maternal grandparents’ house and a certain NBA player would be there. Normally quiet, words would suddenly tumble out of his mouth, questions seeking any little bit of information about what this professional athlete’s life was like.
Darrick Martin didn’t mind. In DeRozan, he saw his own curiosity.
“I could tell he had a passion for it,” said Martin, who is also a Compton native.
And as DeRozan grew up, Martin could tell that this kid could one day be something special. That wasn’t hard to see.
DeRozan never forgot what that felt like. It’s why he goes back so much now. It’s why a gym at Lueders Park bears his name. It’s why the people of Compton can’t stop talking about his generosity.
“That’s everything,” DeRozan told The Times recently. “I don’t do it for ... attention, none of that. I do it to give hope. I knew how it was when I [saw] an NBA player. … You just look at it like it was an amazing thing.”
This weekend DeRozan will start in the NBA All-Star game for the second consecutive year, only this time it will be a little more special. He’ll be doing it just 15 miles from Compton — a place he comes home to every summer, where a park bears his name and his jersey’s been donated, stolen and replaced. Some chafe when DeRozan is called a Los Angeles native, because Compton is the city that forged him.
“It’s a dream, it’s an honor, it’s humbling, it’s every word under that category that I could find because as a kid you wish for something like this,” DeRozan said. “Now to be going out there as a starter is something that you never could imagine … possible.”
Toronto was the first place outside of the Los Angeles area where DeRozan lived. He starred at USC after high school, knowing the draft might send him somewhere far away.
“It was due,” DeRozan said. “It was time for me to leave and get outside my element.”
He learned how to take care of himself. He learned about independence. When he re-signed with the Raptors two years ago, he endeared himself to the city by declaring, “I am Toronto.”
He also learned how important it was to him to never forget where his journey started, 4,000 miles away from his Canadian home, in Compton.
“It’s what makes him him,” Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry said. “That’s why he’s so great. He’ll always have his neighborhood on his back and always carry it on his heart.”
Compton is a place where one of DeRozan’s uncles, a member of the Bloods gang, was killed. It’s where another uncle, a member of the Crips, was killed. It’s where his family tried to teach him from a young age how to stay away from gangs.
It’s where his father, Frank, taught him how to be a man, “what a dad is supposed to do for a son,” DeRozan said. Frank has been hospitalized with an illness lately and DeMar has taken time away from the team this season to see him.
It’s where he watched every Laker game on KCAL 9, where he reveled in the cars flying Lakers flags when they won the championship in 2000. It’s where the seeds of his All-Star career were planted, on playgrounds, in parks and at Compton High, where he became a McDonald’s All-American and was featured in YouTube video after video soaring for dunks.
Right now, DeRozan is playing some of the best basketball of his career. When asked about his peak as a basketball player, DeRozan shoved aside even the idea that he has a ceiling.
“People say, ‘Man wait til you hit your peak,’” DeRozan said. “Who are you to tell me what my peak is?”
That attitude came from Compton.
“My upbringing was everything to how I think,” he said. “What made me get to this point. What drives me. What keeps me going.”
It’s what pulls him back again and again.