‘There is still so much to learn, chase after and be better at’ — Andscape

BURBANK, Calif. – At 33 years old, DeMar DeRozan is a long way from receiving his Social Security. By NBA standards, however, the Chicago Bulls star felt like an old man after telling fellow NBA star Jayson Tatum when he was drafted into the league.

That being said, DeRozan is also truly grateful to be gracefully growing older in the league rather than being gone from it.

“I told him I got drafted in 2009. He said, ‘Man, I was 11 years old then,’ ” DeRozan told Andscape recently at an NBA season promotional commercial shoot. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, don’t put it like that.’ Someone else asked me if it was my 15th or 16th season. I was like, ‘That is what it feels like to you?’ It is little conversations like that which remind me that I’ve been around for a long time.

“I’m definitely proud of it. I don’t take offense to it.”

For one of the NBA’s most consistent scorers and respected ironmen, being viewed as an elder in this league is a great thing because that means he has had longevity.

Entering his 14th NBA season, DeRozan is 131 points away from 20,000 career NBA points and will become the 50th player to reach that milestone. The Compton, Calif., native and five-time NBA All-Star has suited up for 957 of his 1,029 possible regular-season games (93%) and only missed 11 or more regular-season games once (11, 2014-15) in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Put another way, DeRozan has played one less regular-season game, in a career that also included time with the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs, than Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley despite starting his career two years after Conley.

DeRozan was the oldest player on the injury-plagued Bulls last season, yet played in a team-high 76 contests. Meanwhile, Bulls starting point guard Lonzo Ball, 24, has no timetable for his return following knee surgery and cannot run or jump at the moment. The good news is swingman Zach LaVine, 27, is back after offseason knee surgery. DeRozan and LaVine averaged 27.9 and 24.4 points per game, respectively, last season.

DeRozan says that he talked to LaVine regularly in the offseason.

“I want to be with a healthy Zach. A full season of that is something I dream about every night,” DeRozan said during the Bulls’ media day last week.

With the Bulls’ injury woes in mind, DeRozan has offered some words of wisdom to his teammates about how he stays healthy.

“You got to know yourself physically,” DeRozan told Andscape. “It’s not all about going into the weight room to get stronger. Your body is your whole complete temple that you have to make it with every single day. If the plane doesn’t get maintenance a certain amount of time a week, do you expect it to fly?

“I always try to take care of myself. If I feel something, I work on that. Treat that. Guys have to be more conscious. The oldest player on the team can’t be playing more games than everybody. Guys will be more conscious of it this time around.”

Houston Rockets guard Josh Christopher is 20 years old and is entering his second season, and during a recent workout in Los Angeles, DeRozan told him the “goal is to have longevity” as an NBA player. DeRozan was barely 20 years old when he played his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors in 2009 after being selected with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft that year.

The former USC star was certainly homesick after leaving Los Angeles for the first time in his life to move to Canada. DeRozan played on a Raptors team as a rookie that didn’t include any veteran mentors who could take him under their wing. He also did n’t know the best way to take care of his body.

“When I came in, there was no way I could have pictured 14 years in. It goes by so fast. I told [Christopher] that you have to appreciate the moment,” DeRozan said. “I remember being terrified not knowing what to eat or how to eat as a rookie. Now, from top to bottom, I know all the ins and outs of the NBA because I have been around so long.

“I got personal relationships with head coaches, assistant coaches, front-office people. That comes with time, and you really don’t realize it until 14 years in comparison to two or three years in when you really don’t know much.”

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan sees Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul and Los Angeles Laker forward LeBron James as key examples of longevity: “You look at guys like CP at 37 and LeBron at 38, and I’m only 33. … That is another four or five years I can possibly play at a high level.”

Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the most memorable things about the early part of DeRozan’s career was that he had a chance to play against NBA legends Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kevin Garnett. DeRozan also noticed that due to injuries and age, these legends were not the same players that he grew up watching. He vowed to figure out a way to be the athletic and bouncy player that he eventually became.

Two role models for DeRozan are Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James and Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul. James is entering his 20th NBA season and will turn 38 on Dec. 30. Paul is 37 years old and will be entering his 18th NBA season.

“Me and [Golden State Warriors forward] Draymond [Green] had a conversation about all the legends we had a chance to play against on the back end of their career,” DeRozan said. “You can tell they just weren’t the same as what we saw growing up. For example, Dirk [Nowitzki] was still a legend, but he was coming to an end. Shaq [O’Neal]. KG [Kevin Garnett]. We named off a few people, but we could tell they were coming to an end.

“Now you look at CP, he just carried a young team a couple years ago to the playoffs. The older you get, the better. LeBron is 20 years in, and it looks like he can play another five years easily. You can tell that the guys that are taking care of themselves are playing long years. They are such a motivational thing for me loving the game of basketball. I can do it as long as I take care of myself and have a love and a passion for it. It is definitely possible.”

DeRozan has been all ears when he works out with Paul in Los Angeles, as they do regularly, during the offseason. The two All-Stars also communicate regularly about keys to maintaining their bodies during the season. DeRozan added that James gives him “motivation” because he still is playing at an elite level as he nears 40.

While DeRozan doesn’t have a preferred retirement age in mind, he says that James and Paul have given him confidence that he can play close to the age of 40 as well.

“They keep pushing to be the same light for a lot of guys,” DeRozan said. “Don’t get caught up in this age thing where you cap off and don’t get any better. I look to them a lot for motivation. You see how they take care of themselves physically. They continue getting better.

“You look at guys like CP at 37 and LeBron at 38, and I’m only 33,” DeRozan added. “That is another four or five years I can possibly play at a high level. We will see where I feel from there. I never had a date. I never said, ‘I want to play 20 years.’ I just want to go out there and have fun and have the same passion. If I ever see the passion slipping or my abilities slipping to a form the way I won’t be able to do it, I wouldn’t have a problem [retiring]”

DeRozan added that other keys to his longevity have been understanding recovery, diet, getting regular massages, spending time in cold tubs. He also strongly heeds instructions about how to recover from injuries and keep from reinjuring himself. Staying mentally strong has been a key as well.

DeRozan made his fifth NBA All-Star Game in 2022 after a four-year absence and a few months removed from the death of his father in 2021.

“During my career, I’ve always been durable. I credit it to always staying on top of myself physically,” DeRozan said. “As I continue to get older, I find more and more ways just to try to keep feeling good. I always try to set a goal every season. When [Michael] Jordan was 40, he played 82 games. That is how I set my goals. I want to play 82 games. I want to play a whole season as I continue to get older, and with that be conscious of how to take care of myself physically throughout the season. It gets easier every year, honestly.”

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan (right) played a team-best 76 games for the Bulls in 2021.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

While Ball being out indefinitely is a huge loss for the Bulls, DeRozan is confident that they will still be an NBA force despite a lack of fanfare.

The Bulls’ roster has three players with NBA All-Star experience in recent years in DeRozan, LaVine and Nikola Vučević. Alex Caruso is now healthy and is expected to start at point guard while Ayo Dosunmu is expected by the franchise to have a bright future at the position. The Bulls also added two potentially key veterans in guard Goran Dragić and center Andre Drummond. Even with all the injury woes, the Bulls won 46 games and made the playoffs last season in DeRozan’s first year with the franchise.

“I love it in a sense of that is what makes the game such a beautiful thing,” said DeRozan, in reference to the lack of fanfare. “You see these odds. You see people count you out. None of that matters when the ball goes up. It’s about going out there to compete. Obviously, there is a little luck involved. Anything can happen. That is a challenge of the game that I love. Being able to compete. With that, I would hate to be the team picked to win every year.

“To me, that is more pressure than anything, being on a team that is supposed to win it. It takes the fun out of the competition level and excitement of the people that want to watch the game.”

The slang term “OG” is often assigned to a mentor as a sign of respect while also making it known that they are older. DeRozan is respectfully being called “OG” more and more by his Bulls teammates and younger NBA brothers.

“It is still hard getting used to hearing it when you have been around for a long a time,” DeRozan said. “For me, I always constantly know that there is still so much to learn, chase after and be better at. As you look at it from a time perspective, you appreciate the time you have left and try to maximize every opportunity that comes from here on out. That is how I approach it. I’m putting my all into it. It’s something that comes with the next stage.

“Obviously, the goal is to win a championship. For me, it’s putting my all and everything in it. Let the chips fall where they may. You just find appreciation in your journey. It’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve played 13 years thus far. Just to see what happens next, I look forward to it.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he has n’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.