Seven weeks removed from the last NBA game, it’s probably become apparent to a lot of people just how much live sports props up their social time. I know for me, I’ve never been someone who likes committing to new TV series (Westworld bored me and burned me) and even the practice of watching old games has its own form of burnout. For an example, just look at the five-week debate ongoing on whether Michael Jordan or LeBron James is the greatest of all time.
Without sports, there’s another insidious form of content — one I’ll be dipping my feet into today — anniversary content! Every day is a different day, you see, and many things happened on this day in previous years. Those years were better than this year in many ways, but mostly because sports things happened on them.
As a Raptors fan, you probably recognized a fair amount of 2018 anniversary content this week. Yes, we’re now two years removed from LeBron’s utter destruction of the most promising Toronto team in the Lowry and DeRozan era — the 2017-18 team. Speaking for me personally, it hasn’t been devastating at all to relive a banker game-winner and Jonas Valanciunas missing a put back by 0.2 inches.
This bit of anniversary content, though, goes back a bit further to remember those Lowry/DeRozan teams as we look at a two-year period where DeMar’s relationship with the 360 reached its zenith. Here’s the most memorable chapter: in an exhibition game against China with USA Basketball, DeRozan wildly attempted a poster dunk including a full spin. Let’s run the tape.
First, let’s stop to admire that if this goes down, the two best dunks in USA Basketball history are owned by Toronto Raptors — the Vince Carter slam on Frederic Weis and this.
Second, let’s look at why we’re looking at the zenith of a turbulent relationship between DeRozan and the 360. You see, DeMar made his name with the Raptors on midrange jump shots and effortless, shocking tomahawk dunks — not necessarily, though, with spinny, finesse dunks. A top ten video from abusers-of-fire-emoji Bleacher Report confirms my theory.
Even in the 2011 dunk contest, when DeRozan’s athleticism was arguably at its peak, his showstopper dunk was a straightforward jump, on which he tacked on a gorgeous reverse windmill.
And yet, for some reason in the years 2015 and 2016, it got into DeMar DeRozan’s head that he wanted to put down a 360 dunk in a game. The two most outstanding memories of this begin with a game in Madison Square Garden on February 28, 2015.
During a season where the Raptors would go on to poop their pants against the Washington Wizards, Toronto found themselves in tough against a New York team that sported a starting lineup of Tim Hardaway Jr., Cleanthony Early(!!), Langston Galloway, Lou Amundson, and Il Mago himself. (Reciting Knicks starting lineups from anytime past 2001 is just so satisfying.)
It was still early in the game, but Toronto couldn’t make a basket. In a quarter where they would go on to score just 15 points, DeRozan stole the ball on a lazy pass and got out ahead of the field, with nothing but open air and stadium lighting in front of him. An open lane of transition at MSG — the dreams athletic kids and MJ disciples grow up with — was finally there for DeRozan. All he had to do was decide what to do with the opportunity given.
Once again, to the tape.
It’s such a small moment in Raptors folklore, but I remember this 360 attempt much more vividly than the one that followed it 16 months later with USA Basketball. There’s something artistic about the moment where DeRozan comes out of the 360 and realizes he’s about a foot shy of making it to the basket.
Those two points would matter too, as the Knicks ended up winning by five after a Galloway three (seriously?) with 13 seconds left made it a two possession game.
Now, fast forward to 2016, when DeRozan actually has a man in front of him and decides it’s time to dip back into the bag to thoroughly embarrass China. The United States are nearly doubling their opponents here, which makes it a fitting time to just throw shit at the wall hoping to make a highlight reel.
This time, DeRozan is ready. He takes off closer to the rim, he spins quicker, he elevates. The only thing that stops him from vindication for an embarrassing episode at MSG is a foul that knocks him off his line. It’s nearly the highlight play of the 2016 Olympics. Instead, it’s a footnote.
There is a happy ending for DeMar, though. In his return to Toronto after being traded to the Spurs, DeRozan’s nicest hoop in his 23-point total was none other than a 360 spin — leaping around Serge Ibaka and kissing it in with the left hand.
A dunk? It isn’t that, but it provides some payoff after two attempts that definitely stand out as memories of those Lowry and DeRozan teams. The relationship between DeMar DeRozan and the 360 came as close to full circle as you can get — a satisfying conclusion for one of the more daring Raptors in franchise history.