Courtesy of Marc J. Spears
How would you describe your love for your hometown of Los Angeles?
It’s everything. It made me the person I am now. The swag. The way I walk. The way I play. The attitude. My motivation. Everything comes from L.A. I was there 19 years before I saw anything different. In the summertime, when I am at home, it just lets you know where it all started from.
You could have gone home in free agency. You could have gone to the Lakers or the Clippers. Was it hard for you to say no to going home?
Yeah, of course. At the end of the day, the Lakers are the Lakers. I grew up a Lakers fan. Kobe [Bryant] was my favorite player growing up. I didn’t miss a game as a kid. Just to have the opportunity was amazing. I watched one of my favorite players create a legacy of his own and leave his mark there.
He left his own mark there. It will always be there. I want to leave my own mark in Toronto.
Do you want to be the greatest Raptors player of all time?
Without a doubt. No question. How many people get to say they hold one record for an organization, or were on the winningest team in Raptors history, or did this with one organization? All of those things last longer than your playing career. It took time for me to get out of the second round [of the playoffs] in Raptors history. And we did that [this year], and that’s something that is going to be there.
If we don’t do it and someone else wins a championship, they are still going to revert back to the 2015-16 team as the best team until then. Ten, 15, 20 years from now, whatever it might be, those things last longer. It’s something you put your all into.
Why did you decide not to meet with the Lakers, Clippers or Heat? You didn’t want to just do your due diligence?
That’s just me. If I knew where I wanted to be from the beginning … I didn’t want to waste anybody’s time and just hear somebody else talk or say something when I know in the back of my mind that I want to do something else. As long as that something else was mutual, there was no point of me doing anything else.
I don’t want to waste anybody’s time. I didn’t want to give false hope if I knew what I felt inside was right. And that was me going back.
Did you get any pressure from family or friends back in L.A. to come back home in free agency?
It was more so jokingly. It was never nothing serious. You got to do what is best for you. Everybody close to me always lets me make that decision. It always comes out great.
What did it mean to you that Toronto stepped up in free agency?
It meant a lot. It was a mutual feeling. It made everything else easier. Nobody had a doubt, from the organization to the fans. Everything we created was going to be there and still was going to be the same. That’s amazing when everybody is on the same page.
Have you ever talked to Kobe Bryant about what it means to play at one place?
I’ve never had to because, to me, that’s an amazing thing. I want to be that guy that you look up and he played for one jersey. Nothing against the people who played for multiple teams, but I want to be able to go through the good, go through the bad with one team, and realize that at the end of my career I can potentially play for one organization. Everything I’ve built through that time could be motivation for somebody else just like Kobe was for me and Tim Duncan.
What do you think about the past history of Raptors stars, i.e., Vince Carter and Chris Bosh, who have left?
At some point, somebody has to break it, get that stigma off of them. I definitely helped that. It showed that you don’t have to do what someone else did, or just because someone else did [something] doesn’t mean you have to do it. Whatever you believe in and feel comfortable with, you have to go with it.
When did you fall in love with Toronto?
Before I was even drafted. The reception I got from the fans that wanted me … it was amazing, especially feeling that from a different country. To get that love and that type of notoriety, and they’re giving you nicknames, that made it even more comfortable.
How tough was the change moving to Canada at 19 years old when you had been in Los Angeles entire life beforehand?
My reason for staying home for college was in the back of my mind I knew if I got drafted I wasn’t going to be home. College was my last ‘hoorah’ at home. I just knew I’d be somewhere else.
What did you learn from Compton, California?
It gave me my toughness. It gave me my mental toughness. Emotional toughness. My aggression. It matured me very fast into a man. That’s something that to this day sticks with me.
You have two young children. What is it like to raise young daughters in Canada as opposed to in your hometown of Compton?
It’s much different than where I grew up. It’s much different to have everything at the palm of your hand when it comes to Toronto. The best schools. The best everything that is needed for your kids. It’s fun for them to be able to grow up and be in that type of atmosphere of being something …
That is what you work for and fight for so your kids don’t have to go through what you’ve seen or gone through. That’s the beauty and opportunity of life being a professional basketball player. I try to take full advantage of trying to do everything for them.
Where did you watch the 2016 United States presidential election? What were your thoughts?
We were in Oklahoma City. You see the outcome just as everybody else. It was one of those things where you look at it like, ‘Is this a TV sitcom?’ You don’t know what is going on. You just try to hope for the best no matter the outcome. I hope it don’t turn out to be something negative.
There is only so much you can control. With that, you just got to hope for the best. For me, you got to personally do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your family.
Did you get contacted from any friends or people back home that said they wanted to move to Canada after the election?
I got that all night. All night. Whether it was joking or whatever it was, you definitely got it. There probably was some [seriousness]. A lot of people were just in the moment. A couple of weeks go by and it dies down.
Do the results of the U.S. presidential election make you more comfortable or happy with living in Canada?
You get to see both sides. If you’re just staying in the United States, you don’t get to see the other side. You don’t get to see Canada in-depth like I do. It’s a difference. A big difference. You just try to make the best out of both and realize you can try to make a difference where I’m from when I go back home. You try to make that area more aware of what is going on to make us better.
What is living in Canada like?
It’s quiet. It’s not too fast. It’s not too slow. It’s perfect. You don’t have much to worry about other than the winters. It’s a great, diverse city. The people there are great. The sport [of basketball] there is great. It just helps you be positive more often.
Do you think you’ll keep a home there when you retire?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. I haven’t thought that far.
Your mom has had a long fight with lupus. How is she doing?
She is doing fine. She has her days here and there. Just like anything, Father Time catches up with parents. It gets harder here and there. You have your good days and your bad days, but she is definitely a strong lady. She is definitely pulling through every single day.
What is your involvement with lupus awareness now?
I’m just trying to bring more awareness and understanding. Trying to get people to understand the effects of it, the in-depths of it whether its first stage or you’ve had it for years, how it can affect you long term, short term. I’m trying to bring more awareness to that.
What has been the key to your start this season?
Just wanting to be better. Everyone asks me about keys and all this. Every year, my whole objective is better than the year before. There are really no keys. It’s putting in the work and the effort and really wanting to be better. I’m not one of those guys who just says they want to be better next year. You got to work your butt off to do that and let everything work for itself.
What were your emotions after the Raptors lost in the 2016 Eastern Conference finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and what are your prospects this season?
It sucks because you go home and you’re watching the next two teams play when you could’ve been one of them. You realize you were that close. It makes you hungrier, gives you an understanding of how hard it is to get to that point and how much work you got to put in to get to that next point, let alone win a championship.
It’s a new obstacle for us. New challenges. It sucks that we got key guys [newcomer Jared Sullinger] hurt that we’re dealing with early on. But that’s the beauty of the challenge of being in this profession, you got to figure it out. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you. No one is going to give you a hand. It’s on the 15 guys and the coaching staff that started training camp and is going to end it.
You averaged 30.6 points per game through your first 10 games, but your name hasn’t been mentioned much in early NBA MVP talk. Are you getting the respect you deserve for your start from a media standpoint, or does being in Canada make it tougher to be promoted?
I don’t worry about that. I’ve never played for the publicity. All that kind of stuff takes care of itself. The respect of the coaches and my peers is more important.
Is it true that you were taking part in two-a-day workouts during the 2016 Rio Olympics?
Game days. It didn’t matter what day. I was at it every day. Even if it was game day, it wasn’t like I was out there playing in a regular 48-minute game, playing 40 minutes a night. Just more so staying in shape. The games were most beneficial as well, too, because I got a chance to play at game speed after working out once or twice that morning …
All we had to do was basketball. There was nothing really else to do.
What did you and trainer and former NBA assistant Chris Farr work on?
Just repetition of everything that I do. My game. My comfort zone. Adding probably one or two new things. Other than that, just continue to do what we did over the years and trying to put that together.
During the Olympics, you didn’t play in the semifinal game, but you did play in the gold-medal game. There was a lot of sacrifice. How would you grade the experience?
It was one of a kind, for sure. It’s something that comes around every four years. Something that only 12 guys get to do. It’s an amazing thing just to be able to go down as one of the greatest Olympic teams. That’s a blessing …
You understand what it takes to sacrifice. You understand what it really means to take a backseat, so to speak — to fight for something bigger than you. It matures you. It put everything in perspective to hard work. The 15th guy on your team, their mentality … it gives you a whole different dynamic. It is the Olympics.
What did you do with your Olympic gold medal?
It’s at home.
Toronto or L.A.?
L.A. L.A. somewhere.