DeMar DeRozan is a San Antonio Spur. It feels strange to type that today, July 18, in the immediate aftermath of the trade and I imagine it will feel strange for a while. You either already knew or, by now, have heard, the singular explanation for this. DeRozan committed to Toronto, something no other basketball player has ever done. “He was loyal to the soil,” DeRozan's former teammate Lou Williams tweeted after the trade. “And got stabbed in the back.”
DeRozan embraced a cold, foreign city and refused to flee when given the chance. He grew from a scrawny college prospect that couldn’t dribble into an All-World basketball talent and the Raptors franchise grew alongside him. It was a good fit, a healthy and happy relationship, until it ended abruptly on Wednesday, pre-dawn. The uneasiness that has followed, that unsatisfied roiling that’s taking place somewhere behind your ribs, that frustration that is acute to the machinery of professional sports, is the feeling I tried to articulate in “I Can Still Go.” Everything ends and letting go deserves some air time.
Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki and Manu Ginobili are the last of an era, and just as DeRozan bridged multiple versions of the Raptors, these players have bridged multiple versions of the entire league. This season could be their last but, by most statistically relevant measurements, they have already been gone for awhile. It takes a willful blindness so see otherwise, but sometimes the game is more enjoyable if you squint past the truth.
For selfish reasons, I thought writing about the past would provide some catharsis; that I could think about that era and remember the feeling of watching Tracy McGrady and his cohort, when everything was new and exciting and I wasn’t yet aware of the brands and bottom lines and endings. McGrady’s game was electric and hopeful, explosive and joyful, and then suddenly it wasn't. But before that, for a night in December, 2004, he was transcendent. There was no time to grieve the transformation.