DeMar DeRozan responds to backlash after receiving medal in front of ‘Solidarity with Israel’ banner: ‘I’ve never gotten involved with the politics side of things’

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan said he doesn’t want to wade into political debate after drawing backlash for speaking in front of a “Solidarity with Israel” banner during the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Spirit of Courage Gala.

DeRozan was awarded a Medal of Valor during Wednesday’s ceremony in Skokie. Bulls President and CEO Michael Reinsdorf was also onstage for the medal presentation.

In a brief speech, DeRozan spoke about “giving inspiration and hope” to fans through basketball. He stood on a podium in front of two Israeli flags and a “Solidarity with Israel” banner, evoking strong responses from NBA fans on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

During a news conference after practice Thursday at the Advocate Center, DeRozan said his presence at the event did not reflect any personal beliefs about the ongoing war.

“My whole career, I’ve never gotten involved with the politics side of things,” DeRozan said. “That’s just never a thing that I’ve ever really touched on or spoke on. I went there for the reason I went there for. We’re all going through something as people, as a country, as a world that we’re all battling, that we’re all trying to figure out and trying to get through at the end of the day.”

Before a road game against the New York Knicks in January, DeRozan was approached by Yoav Modai, an NBA reporter for Israel’s Sport 5 network. Modai asked DeRozan to sign a jersey in honor of his friend Oron Beilin, a 24-year-old Bulls fan who was killed in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas at Kibbutz Be’eri. After DeRozan posed for a photo and signed the jersey, Modai sent it to Beilin’s family in Israel.

Months later, DeRozan was contacted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international organization focused on “fighting anti-Semitism, defending Israel’s legitimacy and protecting the safety of Jews worldwide.” The Midwest chapter is based in Skokie and recently collaborated with groups such as the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

DeRozan said he signs “countless jerseys” throughout the season, and Wednesday’s honor was a reminder of the impact each interaction can make on an individual fan.

“I didn’t think too much of anything from it,” DeRozan said. “Fast forward to now, being honored for a deed that I did months ago for a family just speaks volumes.

“For me, it just was a matter of me doing something nice for somebody that I didn’t know, a person that was grieving, that was going through something. They honored me with an award for just me being me.”

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NBA players have largely avoided wading into the debate surrounding the Israel-Palestine war since violence escalated in October. The league and players association released a statement mourning “the horrific loss of life in Israel and condemn(ing) these acts of terrorism” in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, but neither has released any statements on the ongoing violence since.

Dallas Mavericks star Kyrie Irving has been a vocal supporter of Palestine for years, and Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown wore a “Free Gaza” bracelet to a game in January. But the majority of the league has remained quiet about the conflict, which soon will enter its seventh month.

DeRozan elected not to add further context on his personal opinions of the war or his presence at Wednesday’s event. He reiterated that he didn’t wish to “get caught up in the politics side of things where you start bringing the negativity.”

But he did voice frustration with negative backlash from fans on social media to his reception of the medal.

“The negativity that comes with it, it comes with it,” DeRozan said. “At the end of the day, they ain’t going to stop me from doing whatever nice deed I could do for any person, any walk of life. You want to have any type of negative impression of that, that’s on you.

“For me, I’m going to continue to be myself. When I walk out of here, when I’m on the court, if I come across a kid that’s maybe going through something, a grieving father, anybody, I’m going to just be me. I don’t really get caught up in the other stuff because at the end of the day, we’ve all got a lot of stuff that we’ve got to unpack and we’ve all got to get through.”