Even after 14 years, opening night never gets old for DeMar DeRozan.
The Chicago Bulls forward started his 15th NBA season Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the United Center. DeRozan scored a team-high 20 points, but the Bulls lost 124-104.
DeRozan, 34, has collected numerous All-Star accolades and trips to the playoffs. But the first day of a fresh season still holds the same glow.
“It’s amazing to play this game so long, especially having looked at a lot of people that I watched play, some of them played 13, 14 years,” DeRozan said. “To still be going, to still love the game, to still have motivation, passion, everything about it — I don’t look at it like I feel old. It’s a blessing more than anything to still be playing.”
DeRozan wasn’t quite as confident on his first opening night in 2009, when he made his debut in Toronto for the Raptors against a Cleveland Cavaliers team that included Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James.
“I was terrified as s—,” DeRozan said with a laugh. ”I was walking out there and it felt really like a dream.”
Despite his nerves, DeRozan’s debut went according to plan in a Raptors win. He scored eight points, had five rebounds and even blocked a shot from O’Neal midway through the first quarter.
DeRozan was simply star-struck to share the court with the former Lakers legend, whom he had grown up watching as a young fan in Los Angeles.
“I was like — I’m playing with Shaq,” DeRozan said. “I’ve been watching Shaq my whole life so stepping on the court with him — I’m like, ‘That’s Shaq.’ ”
More than a decade later, the tables are turned, and DeRozan is the star that rookies grew up watching. But he feels opening night only becomes more meaningful with time as he grows to cherish the game in the latter half of his career.
“It’s always exciting because that’s the first night of the journey,” DeRozan said. “The good, the bad, the ups and downs, the heartbreak, the wins, the losses, the learning experiences. My last eight opening nights, I’ve had that understanding of the journey that’s ahead of you.”