By Lori Ewing
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO _ DeMar DeRozan was 16 years old when he was invited to Kobe Bryant’s camp for the top 25 American high school shooting guards.
A friendship grew between the Toronto Raptors all-star and the third leading scorer in NBA history.
And moments after the Raptors’ 107-102 loss Sunday night to Phoenix, DeRozan talked at length about Bryant, calling it “an honour” to know him. Bryant announced Sunday night via a post on “The Players’ Tribune” that he’ll retire at season’s end, capping a 20-year NBA career.
“It’s crazy. The knowledge that he tended to give me every time I got the chance to be around him, especially at a young age, carrying over to the league, it was definitely an honour,” DeRozan said. “I tried to listen as much as possible, soak in as much as I could all of the time. It’s crazy how much time flies.”
Bryant was DeRozan’s favourite player while growing up in Compton, Calif.
“I’ve tried to emulate and learn so much from him ever since I was a kid, watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him, from conversations even when I was in high school from playing against him, completing against him, being in big games with him,” said DeRozan, who scored a game-high 29 points in Sunday’s loss.
“It’s definitely a sad, sad day but he’s been in the game a long time.”
Bryant’s announcement came just prior to the Lakers’ game against the visiting Indiana Pacers, and fans at the game received a letter of thanks from the 37-year-old in a black envelope embossed with gold.
Bryant has struggled mightily with injuries the past several years, and is shooting a career-worst 32 per cent this season. But DeRozan said that won’t taint how he’s remembered.
“It don’t matter. That man has five rings, 17 all-stars, MVP.” DeRozan said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done. It’s just father time catching up with him, injuries catching up with him this past year. People will appreciate it when he’s away from the game.”
DeRozan said his favourite Kobe memory was when the Lakers superstar dropped a staggering 81 points on the Raptors in 2006. DeRozan, who would join the Raptors as a rookie three years later, said he felt like he was playing a video game watching the high-scoring spectacle unfold on TV.
DeRozan, who’s in his seventh season with Toronto, can’t imagine playing 20.
“Especially playing at a high level, doing the things he was doing. . . people don’t understand how hard that is,” DeRozan said. “Even now, a lot of us find ourselves tired (on) back-to-backs. It’s tough. It’s really tough. To do it 20 years at a high level, you have to give that man every credit in the world.”