TORONTO (AP) — From fellow athletes to star entertainers, DeMar DeRozan has seen plenty of celebrities soaking up an extended round of appreciative applause from fans.
“When they get that long standing ovation, I always thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” DeRozan said Thursday. “I’ve never received one.”
Friday night, it could be his turn.
DeRozan is back north of the border for the first time since the Toronto Raptors traded him last summer. His new team, the San Antonio Spurs, face the Raptors on Friday. A four-time All-Star in Toronto who helped the Raptors to five straight playoff appearances, DeRozan is likely to receive a warm welcome when he is introduced.
“If it’s one of those long standing ovations, it’s definitely going to be overwhelming,” DeRozan said in a news conference at the Spurs’ team hotel. “It’s crazy when you get a whole arena on their feet just showing appreciation. I’m looking forward to it, to feeling the love.”
Friday’s game will be the first following the All-Star break for both teams. Toronto (43-16) has won six straight, and is is one game behind Milwaukee for top spot in the Eastern Conference. San Antonio (33-26) beat Memphis in its final game before the break to stop a four-game slide. The Spurs are seventh in the West, nine games behind leaders Golden State.
There wasn’t much love on offer when the Raptors visited the Spurs in January. Toronto forward Kawhi Leonard endured chants of “Traitor! Traitor!” and “Quitter! Quitter!” from the capacity crowd that adored him during his seven seasons in San Antonio.
“It just felt like a road game, but more boos when I have the ball,” Leonard said after the Raptors practiced Thursday. “Environments like that can only get us better, being able to have the fans up in their seats excited, wanting the team to lose, it just prepares us for the playoffs.”
Leaving Toronto last summer was difficult for DeRozan. Still a teenager when he was drafted by Toronto in 2009, he turned into an All-Star by 2014, building his game year after year. He left town as the franchise leader in points (13,296), field goals (4,716), free throws (3,539), and games (675).
DeRozan compared the emotional wounds left by the end of his Raptors career to a breakup, albeit one with a happy ending.
“She moved on and I moved on,” he joked. “Now we’re both happy.”
Toronto coach Nick Nurse worked with DeRozan for five years in his role as a Raptors assistant, and called him “the best dude ever.”
“He was easy to coach,” Nurse said. “He was easy to talk to. And he was a great performer.”
DeRozan certainly performed when the Spurs routed the Raptors in January, recording 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his first career triple-double. It was the first home triple-double by a Spurs player since Tim Duncan in 2003.
The visit to Toronto also gives DeRozan the opportunity to compete against former teammate and friend Kyle Lowry, who missed the game in Texas because of a sore back.
“I’m looking forward to playing against him,” DeRozan said. “Kyle gave me a sense of a different side of understanding basketball. I learned so much from him being my point guard, being my best friend, just everything hat came with that.”
DeRozan said he misses plenty of things about Toronto, but not its winter weather. He conducted his news conference while wearing a furry aviator hat and said he planned to stay in for the night, joking that he hoped Lowry would bring him some food.
Friday’s game will also feature a matchup of the Gasol brothers, Pau, 38, with San Antonio and Marc, 34, with Toronto.