DeMar DeRozan offers food for thought in his new YouTube series

In ep. 2 of Dinners With DeMar, DeRozan sits down with three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade.

provided photo/Podium Productions

There’s a moment in the first episode of Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan’s new YouTube series, “Dinners With DeMar,” where he likens therapy to a basketball film session.

“Even though I know what happened in the game, let me see if there’s something I can see that can help me that next possession,” he shares with his first guest, Warriors forward Draymond Green. “That’s the approach I took [to therapy].”

The metaphor is in response to a plea from Green: “Help me get to therapy.”

And it’s a glimpse into one of DeRozan’s greatest strengths: a unique ability to disarm people by turning a topic that may be difficult to understand into a relatable experience.

That skill is on full display in Episode  1, a 46-minute examination of mental health in an effort to break the stigma associated with getting help. DeRozan’s conversation with Green — filmed long before the four-time NBA champion’s 12-game suspension for striking Suns center Jusuf Nurkic in the face in December — already had more than 50,000 views and nearly 300 comments as of Thursday after it was posted two days earlier. The second episode, to be released March 5, will feature a discussion between DeRozan and former Heat star Dwyane Wade. Bucks guard Damian Lillard is the guest for Episode  3, which will be out March 19.

The series is years in the making. Its creator and executive producer, Brett Rapkin, an Emmy winner and the founder of Podium Pictures, has produced and directed a number of media projects that have helped some of the country’s most recognizable athletes share stories of impact. The list includes “Title IX: 37 Words That Changed America,” featuring former Sky star Candace Parker, and “The Weight of Gold,” featuring Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps.

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After the release of “The Weight of Gold” in 2020, Rapkin wanted to prioritize more projects focusing on mental health. He has a Mount Rushmore of athletes who are mental health advocates, starting with DeRozan. The two first met during the 2021 Summer League in Las Vegas.

“We wanted to help create a canvas for DeMar to paint on,” Rapkin said.

Sharing the show for free on DeRozan’s YouTube channel was imperative — the thinking was that such important content shouldn’t be behind a paywall. The intent was for dialogue to flow naturally. Having the discussions at a dinner table was a way to make an extremely sensitive subject appear more approachable.

“So many powerful conversations take place across the dinner table,” Rapkin said. “There’s something about sitting there with a good glass of wine, ordering a nice dinner. You’re going to take your time. We felt like that format would create a platform that would be conversational.”

But it’s not always an easy feat to get two NBA players at a table together, especially during the season. DeRozan’s conversation with Green was filmed in July 2022. The episode with Wade was filmed in DeRozan’s backyard last fall. That involved a shorter commute; the two are neighbors near Los Angeles. Lillard’s episode was filmed at Mastro’s Steakhouse in Chicago between the Bulls playing the Spurs on Dec. 7 and the Bucks on Dec. 11.

Rapkin said the willingness of major NBA names to make time for addressing the subject speaks to the gravity of the series.

“There’s now more and more NBA stars talking about mental health,” he said. “But DeMar was the one who started the movement.”

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He was referring to a tweet by DeRozan in February 2018, during his final season with the Raptors: “This depression get the best of me . . .”

DeRozan wrapped up his All-Star break Monday with an event at USC to highlight his intention with the series: to open up the dialogue on mental health to everyone. In attendance were student-athletes, including many from the men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as community members.

He has a list of undisclosed potential guests he’d like to invite for future episodes. Rapkin said that list includes some “huge names” who are as excited to talk as the first three.

“Proud to be a part of this,” Lillard shared in a pinned YouTube comment on the first episode. “DeMar started a necessary movement with this!”

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