Big money won’t change Raptors’ Fred VanVleet’s dedication to basketball
Fred VanVleet wants the basketball world to know he’s not done betting on himself.
No amount of money — and let’s face it, he got a boatload in his four-year $85-million deal with the Raptors — is going to change VanVleet.
The original Bet on Yourself guy has many imitators these days, some he admits he finds hilarious given their already privileged circumstances, but matching the levels he has reached through sheer hard work and confidence in himself is going to take a very special person.
VanVleet doesn’t foresee any problem keeping himself motivated with his bank account and bank accounts of his future generations taken care of because his approach has nothing to do with the money even if that was the intended eventual goal of it.
“That’s just who I am, so it’s not an off and on switch,” he said of his approach. “That never turns off. That’s just who I am as a person, especially as a player and a competitor. I only know one way to play. And so that will be easy. It’s just more so, like I said, I’ve done everything that I ever wanted to do, pretty much, so it’s not like I’m getting all this money and I have to go live an extravagant life and try to do all these things I’ve never been able to do anymore. I’m good.
“This is a generational thing. This is for my family and the future of our families and that’s just kind of the way I’m looking at it. So nothing is really going to change on my end, other than just being more comfortable having that security and being able to maneuver certain ways and just kind of being able to open up and be myself a little bit more.”
What the money won’t change are the moments and the memories that VanVleet has used to fuel him throughout his journey.
In his high school days it was watching other teams fly to tournaments while his own eight-man unit was packed into a van. Or through the draft process — and sadly he wouldn’t name this particular team — when he showed up at a scheduled workout only to find out those running the workouts had no idea who he was. Then the further insult came when he was left to get shots up on a side basket without a coach to even rebound for him. The final straw on that one may have been having to arrange his own ride to the airport.
Suffice to say, that team to this day pays a price for those slights every time VanVleet suits up against them.
Unlike Michael Jordan, who fictionalized slights or barbs to motivate himself, VanVleet never had to resort to fiction.
“All of those things, those types of things will never leave me and I will never forget any of those moments.” VanVleet said. So it’s funny to see things come full circle but like I said that’s what makes this journey that much more special, because of how I had to do it and how fast it turned around for me.”
The free agency process itself was even easier than VanVleet anticipated. The hard decisions, the tough negotiation never really came because it was Toronto early and then Toronto late for him as he signed the richest contract in NBA history for an undrafted player.
“I always felt like I’d be back,” he said. “I think for the most part, my intentions were always clear. I think from their side (the Raptors), it was always clear. It was almost like so straightforward that it made me question it a little bit, like, it can’t be this easy, you know what I mean?
“Once free agency opened up a little bit, we had some interest from other teams, but nothing ever really panned out and there were never really that many serious situations. There were early and then all of those things evaporated, so we were right back to where we wanted to be.”
For VanVleet this contract is security and another step in his journey, but it’s far from his final destination.
“Now I feel like I’m on a level playing field and I’ve made it, and I got both feet inside the door, and I’m in the room and now it’s time to really take off and go to another level,” he said. “So I’m excited about what’s in store for the future and that’s all I’ve been thinking about the past couple of days. Obviously when we made the agreement and we got the deal done that was like my time (to) celebrate and reflect and relax, but I’m already looking at it to what’s next.”
On that front, VanVleet wasn’t quite as forthcoming.
“All of the individual accolades that you could ever think of — though I don’t really share those publicly because that’s not what I’m into — but I’ve got a lot on the table that I want to get done, but now I’m just locked in on that next championship,” VanVleet said. “That feeling of winning a championship, it trumps anything I’ve ever done in my life, in my career. Beside my kids, that’s right up there as far as personal journeys and accomplishments that you can make. So trying to chase that next championship. That’s what I’m locked in on.”
Betting on himself got him to this point. He’s not going to stop now.
At least starting the year playing home games out of Tampa isn’t ideal, but given the circumstances, Fred VanVleet isn’t about to complain about it.
“Obviously we miss the city, but I think we’ve gotta be excited about what’s ahead of us. I can’t not be excited about it, it won’t make the experience that great. We were in Florida for a while with the bubble in Orlando, and right back there in Tampa, so hopefully it’s a good experience.”
The border restrictions forced the Raptors to re-locate to Tampa, Fla., to begin the year. There is a chance they could be back in Toronto at the midway part of the season if the restrictions are lessened.
In the meantime, VanVleet says the Raptors will make the best of it.
“I think it’s less of a sting because we haven’t played in front of fans in so long,” he said of having to leave the loyal Raptors’ fanbase. “ But also, once we knew that Toronto was up in the air, as far as us being able to return, I was just happy it was somewhere warm. Tampa is right there and hopefully we’ll spend our time there and do what we’ve gotta do and then make our way back to Toronto at some point, obviously, respecting all of the COVID guidelines. Health and safety comes first. So, obviously, we miss our fans and we can’t wait to get back to them.”
The Raptors will report to Tampa Nov 30 for training camp but with three days of testing before they can begin working their first day on court isn’t expected until Dec. 3 at the earliest.