CLEVELAND – Inside of club suite 28 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse proudly sat Diane DeRozan, who patiently waited to hear her son announced as an NBA All-Star starter for the first time in four years. Several NBA All-Stars who are like little brothers to DeMar DeRozan were announced before him while his family members clapped with knowledge of the relationships. Diane pulled out her cellphone camera and captured the moment that was painfully missing her late husband with tears in her eyes.
“It feels so amazing. I just hate that my husband’s not here this year,” Diane DeRozan told The Undefeated before the 2022 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. “This suite is not the same without him here. He’d never miss a game. He was always on time …
“He always had his dad. So, that’s why it’s so important for me to be here. But this is so amazing, and for him, we are so happy. He’s actually smiling. It’s good to see your child happy.”
A year and one day ago, DeMar DeRozan’s father, Frank, died from a long illness in Los Angeles. The death of the Chicago Bulls star’s father made every moment with his mother, three daughters, family, and close friends even more valuable. With his mom’s and aunt’s battle with lupus in mind, he was able to get special consideration from the NBA to secure one of the best suites in Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse at midcourt. Meanwhile, his two eldest daughters were sitting near the floor to be closer to their dad.
Such family consideration by DeRozan was reminiscent of actions by his father.
“You only get so many opportunities to do this and share this,” DeMar DeRozan told The Undefeated. “You don’t want to look back at it and say that certain people missed out on it. Granted, some people that I wish were here weren’t able to make it. But for the most part, you just try your best and understand that you’re getting to that point.
“My dad was the one person who understood the value of family and friends and enjoying life. My whole life, one of my biggest gifts and curses, is how big my heart is. I always try to give that feeling off to people, for sure.”
Said Diane DeRozan of her son: “He’s always taken good care of us. He loves family.”
For DeRozan, his sense of family extends beyond his blood relatives. NBA All-Stars such as Bulls teammate Zach LaVine, the Philadelphia 76ers’ James Harden, the Boston Celtics’ Jayson Tatum, and two former teammates, San Antonio Spurs’ and the Toronto Raptors’ Fred VanVleet, are among his closest friends in the league. DeRozan is known to text or FaceTime his closest NBA friends weekly to check on their well-being off the court.
He’s also known to be quite honest. The conversation isn’t always about basketball. And when Tatum, Murray, and VanVleet talk about DeRozan, it’s with the reverence for a big brother.
“In this business, this is the closest you can get to a brother,” said VanVleet, a first-time All-Star who recalled DeRozan going to his G League games. “I told him I love him like my mother had him. That is closest you can get to someone. Him and [ex-Raptors teammate] Kyle [Lowry] are mentors and brothers for me on and off the court. [DeRozan] is one of the best in the game, so that makes it a little bit more special to have a guy of that stature put his arm around me and show me so much love.
“It’s just loyalty and support. He is going to ride with you, right or wrong. When you’re wrong, he is going to let you know you’re wrong. When you’re right, he is just going to give you that support and love. He checks in. He’s constant.”
DeRozan was dealt from Toronto to San Antonio for Kawhi Leonard in July 2018. After arriving in San Antonio, Murray said, the first thing DeRozan did after getting off the plane was go shoot at the Spurs’ practice facility. Murray happened to be there, and the two have been close ever since.
“Right there I was like, ‘This dude is serious,’ ” said Murray, who gave DeRozan a playful push after scoring on him during the All-Star Game on Sunday. “From there, we just grew. That is someone I call my brother. That’s family. We talk every other day.
“He checks in with me. I check in with him, whether it’s about family or kids or basketball. I just learn from him to be a pro as well. It’s all about longevity. As we can see, he’s 30-something playing the best basketball of his career. That right there speaks for itself.”
Tatum and DeRozan have never been teammates in the NBA, but they have a close bond. They regularly FaceTime, including DeRozan talking to the Celtics star’s 4-year-old son, Deuce, who was at the NBA All-Star Game.
Tatum credits DeRozan for helping him mentally get through the Celtics’ struggles last season.
“We talked a couple times about just how to manage a season because my first three years I was used to winning almost every other night, and then last year we were .500,” Tatum said. “Just going through ups and downs of the season while being the guy but still being one of the younger players on the team, it was just a little bit more difficult. He helped me out a lot.”
With DeRozan and LaVine starring, the Bulls are currently tied with the Miami Heat with the Eastern Conference’s best record at 38-21. In his first season in Chicago, DeRozan is having perhaps the best season of his career and is in the MVP race, averaging 28.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
LaVine said that DeRozan is already having a “great” positive effect on him.
“To add another guy that’s been in these situations at the top level in these big-time games, where we haven’t been there before … he has been to the Eastern Conference Finals a couple of times and been in big moments, and his calmness is always something that’s been helping our team,” LaVine said.
Diane DeRozan said that since her son has joined the Bulls, he has begun smiling again in a way that she hasn’t seen since his first child was born. She believes that much of his stress has passed since he’s not worried about the pain his father was experiencing daily for years.
DeRozan went to Los Angeles regularly to visit his ailing father while playing for the Raptors and Spurs in recent years. It was not out of the ordinary for DeRozan to take a private jet on off days to spend time with his father. He even took a trip from Boston to Los Angeles to see “The Big Dog,” as he affectionately called his father. According to the San Antonio Express-News, Frank DeRozan had a kidney ailment, among other medical problems.
“It was weighing on him a lot when he was in San Antonio,” Diane DeRozan said. “He’ll never get over being away from his father, but he talks about him all the time, and he’s just sad that he can’t see him. He loved him so much.”
After Frank DeRozan died, DeMar’s NBA brothers were there instantly as a shoulder for him to cry on.
“You want to be there for him,” VanVleet said. “You want to give guys their space. But I always reach out to see how they’re feeling. But you can never tell someone the right thing in that moment. Check in. Do my due diligence and wait for the conversation to come back around.
“I’m definitely with those guys when things happen in their personal life, I just try to be that open door to vent or be there to talk to.”
Diane DeRozan isn’t a big fan of all her son’s tattoos, although she liked that he inked her name on one of his hands. She also liked the latest one: An old picture of his father that renowned Canadian artist Steve Wiebe tatted on his left shoulder in June 2021. The 6-foot-6 shooting guard also wanted “RIP Big Dog” on his left triceps.
With Frank DeRozan’s face tatted on her son, Diane DeRozan believes her late husband is always with him on the basketball floor and everywhere.
“When he got his dad tattoo, it’s like his dad is right there behind him, and that gives him so much comfort. It was so hard for him,” Diane DeRozan said.
DeRozan expressed pride in Murray becoming an All-Star for the first time. Murray said he had trouble finding the right words for his friend after DeRozan’s father died but told him he was there for whatever he needed and would fly to him in Los Angeles if he needed the support.
Murray’s older sister, Tesh, unexpectedly died last summer. And one of the first people the Spurs guard called was DeRozan.
“When I lost my sister this past summer, I cried on the phone to DeMar. A lot of people don’t know that. That speaks to our relationship right there,” Murray said.
“He calmed me down. He reminded me where I’m at. Keep my position. God’s in control of all of it. I see him and I love him. That’s my brother.”
So why does DeRozan always go out of his way to help others? His mother says it’s because he has humility, a great heart, truly cares about other people and is loyal. She added that he believes he must mentor younger NBA teammates because when he was a homesick rookie in 2009, former Raptors star Chris Bosh took him under his wing.
One of DeRozan’s newest mentees is Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu, whom he watched play in the NBA All-Star Rising Stars Challenge on Friday. DeRozan also attended Dosunmu’s jersey retirement at the University of Illinois.
“That makes him feel good as a person, because he knows what it takes every step of the way,” Diane DeRozan said.
On Sunday, DeRozan had 10 points, five assists, and four rebounds in Team LeBron’s 163-160 victory over Team Durant. After Ohio’s own LeBron James hit the game winner, DeRozan chest-bumped the former Cleveland Cavaliers star.
This was DeRozan’s fifth NBA All-Star Game appearance. But at 32 years old and four years removed from his previous All-Star appearance, the 13-year NBA veteran truly appreciated being voted in as a starter.
“You definitely look at it differently,” DeRozan said. “You accept it differently. And you appreciate it differently just from a standpoint that when you go from being an All-Star consistently to you have a couple years where you don’t make it, then you get there not just as a reserve but as a starter. It’s an honor. You just look forward to enjoying it.”
Along with being a multiple NBA All-Star, DeRozan has been an All-NBA selection twice, won an Olympic gold medal in 2016 with USA Basketball and was a McDonald’s All-American. However, the biggest thing missing from his resume is an NBA championship.
Diane DeRozan says the only thing she needs in her life are “Jesus and DeMar.” But what she wants most for her son, who she affectionately calls “D,” is for him to finally get his elusive NBA title with the Bulls this season.
“That’s it. That’s all,” Diane DeRozan said. “I’ve been praying on that. I’ve been praying a lot. He deserves one. It’s coming.”