It’s a big weekend for natives of Compton, California. The city in Los Angeles County, home to just 100,000, became culturally relevant with N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and has remained synonymous with hip hop and, to a degree, gang violence ever since. For the actual city, things have been looking up for some time; homicide rates are way down, and it no longer ranks among the top-10 most dangerous cities in the United States. For the residents, the hometown is a badge of honor and synonymous with toughness. Coming up, there are a lot of temptations to avoid, but as the city has turned around, so has the list of success stories grown.
DeMar DeRozan, the Toronto Raptors shooting guard who will represent the Eastern Confernece in the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, is hardly the first Compton native to make it to the NBA. As far as we can tell, DeRozan is one of 15 NBA players to have been born in Compton or at least played high school basketball in the city. He’s just the fourth All-Star, however, joining Cedric Ceballos, Dennis Johnson and Tyson Chandler, and he’s the first with Compton technically listed as his birthplace (the others just hooped there). A star at Compton High, DeRozan first drew national attention by winning the 2008 McDonald’s High School All-American Slam Dunk Contest. From there, it was 20 minutes up the road to USC for a season before joining the Toronto Raptors in 2009. When DeRozan arrived in the NBA, he saw in the opposite conference a baller he had looked up to as a young player, himself. Arron Afflalo was in his third season when DeRozan debuted, his first with the Denver Nuggets, following three years at UCLA. While their classes didn’t overlap, Afflalo had been a major high school star at rival Centennial High just seven minutes down the street, leading the team to the Division-III state title in 2004. While Afflalo was leading Centennial to glory, a sophomore at the same school had just dropped his first mixtape. He clearly took notice of the example Afflalo had been setting, rapping the following a decade later:
Royce Da 5’9″ – Second Place
“You about to see how far that Paul Rosenberg will go / The height of my game is like DeMar DeRozan vertical” Lifestyle – Come Up by Game
“I’m in Toronto, DeMar got a condo / Sittin’ courtside with Drake, Hector and Rondo” Naledge – Living by Rocky Fresh
“Visibly rise like DeRozan with the lyrical / Only fear God in the physical I’mma raise hell till heaven is my spiritual / I’m a rap star, look mom its a miracle”
“I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo / I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo He was the one to follow / He was the only leader foreseeing brighter tomorrows He would live in the gym / We was living in sorrow Total envy of him / He made a dream become a reality, Actually making it possible to swim His way up outta Compton with further more to accomplish / Graduate with honors, a sponsor of basketball scholars It’s 2004 and I’m watching him score 30 / Remember vividly how them victory points had hurt me Cause every basket was a reaction or a reminder / That we was just moving backwards, The bungalow where you find us The art of us ditching classes heading nowhere fast / Stick my head inside the study hall, he focused on math Determination ambition, plus dedication and wisdom / Qualities he was given was the shit we didn’t have Dug inside of his book bag and Coach Palmer asked for his finals / He had his back like a spinal meanwhile / We singing the same old song spinning the vinyl 11 graders gone wrong / He focused on the NBA we focused on some Patron Now watch that black boy fly”
Those are, of course, lyrics from Kendrick Lamar’s Black Boy Fly off of his hit album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Lamar has been rapping since 2003 at the age of 16, but 2013 was an enormous year in his career; regardless of what Macklemore’s mantle may say, Lamar’s October 2012 release was the best album of perhaps the last half-decade. And nearly every song makes reference to his life growing up in Compton, the city he’s from and the thread that ties Lamar, Afflalo and DeRozan together. But a new thread has emerged tying the three Compton natives together.
On Saturday night, all three will take part in NBA All-Star Saturday night, each in a different role. While Lamar will perform between events, DeRozan will take part in the Skills Challenge and Afflalo will vie for the title of 3-Point Champion. Richard Sherman may be getting the most publicity as a representative of the city right now thanks to a shiny new Super Bowl ring, but rest assured there are several Compton products doing incredible things worthy of celebration. On Tuesday, Raptors Republic had the chance to (very) briefly ask DeRozan about the connection between the three men ahead of All-Star Weekend. — RR: Kind of a big weekend for Compton. You’re participating, Arron is participating, Kendrick is performing. Have you guys talked about that at all? DD: Naw, not yet. It’ll be cool, just to see how far Kendrick Lamar came in his rap career and Arron being from Comtpon as well. So it’s definitely cool just to see that. I grew up watching Arron play when he was in high school and I was younger. I grew up listening to Kendrick when he was rapping. So it’ll definitely be cool. RR: You gonna tell Kendrick he’s gotta drop your name next? DD: I mean, I hope so. We’ll see. *laughs RR: Royce did it already. DD: Oh yeah, yeah. Hope so. Eric Koreen: Gonna add an All-Star Game MVP to the Super Bowl ring already won for Compton? DD: That’d be cool, too. We just trying to make it. — It was a very light chat, but DeRozan was clearly excited when the connection was brought up. As mentioned, he was listening to Lamar from day one and Afflalo was a local role model. DeRozan was kidding and laughing about Lamar referencing him in a future song, but it’s not that unrealistic. Like DeRozan and Lamar looked up to Afflalo, there are surely young locals looking up to all three now.
So, I was a bit of a jersey nut before starting to take journalism more seriously. And yes, I have a DeRozan Compton High jersey. And no, I’m not 4’7″, I just have really tall friends.
Update: Violet Palmer has been announced as a referee for Sunday’s game, so make it four Compton representatives this weekend.