OAKLAND — Jurassic Parks have sprouted up all across Canada, but the one that means the most to Fred VanVleet is the one in his hometown of Rockford, Ill.
Upwards of 3,500 citizens stuffed into Market Pavilion to watch the Toronto Raptors battle the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, and another capacity crowd is anticipated for Game 6. And while VanVleet is training some 2,100 miles away in the Bay Area, his heart will be with the people that raised him.
“It means the world to be revered like that in your hometown. That means the most out of anything. I know a lot of those people, most of those people that were there,” VanVleet told Yahoo Sports Canada at Wednesday’s practice.
According to local stations, it was not just the only Jurassic Park in the United States, but it was also standing room only in Rockford. Most fans in attendance sported either Raptors gear or items from VanVleet’s personal “Bet On Yourself” clothing line, which had a pop-up shop at the event.
“It’s truly amazing to see the city come together all for one purpose. Especially for Fred, he’s doing great things. We’re all so proud of him,” Natasha Adames, a former classmate of VanVleet, told Dan Cohen of NBC 13 WREX.
More than anything else, VanVleet is just happy to bring the community together. Rockford is the eighth-most dangerous city in America, and violent crime rates in the city are four times that of the state average for Illinois. Typically, large gatherings would mean trouble, but everyone came together for VanVleet.
“They said like 3,500 people were there,” VanVleet estimated. “That’s a big deal, especially in the city where I come from — it’s hard to get a hundred of our people in a place like in a positive environment and have no incidents.”
VanVleet, of course, is no stranger to challenges in his hometown. Having become a success story, he is now focused on creating more opportunities so that others can follow along the same path. VanVleet organizes summer camps, school backpack giveaways, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, and one of his best friends set up a not-for-profit called Touching Soles that provides shoes for students that hit certain academic benchmarks.
“Growing up in that type of environment it’s easy for a kid to get in trouble, to go down the wrong path, and to be victim to the streets, and I was lucky enough to be able to navigate through that and not have to dibble and dabble. And now, I feel like it’s my responsibility to keep creating opportunities, to creating a better situation, opening doors, and going back and giving back,” VanVleet said.
For the immediate future, VanVleet’s focus is on winning Game 6 on Thursday and bringing a title back to his hometown. In that pursuit, VanVleet has brought the community of Rockford a little bit closer, and that's his ultimate goal.
“It’s what’s special about our game, what’s special about sports, and my entire journey in this for Rockford is to create a better city than what I grew up in, and I think we’re on the right track in doing that. The other night was a great example, and hopefully we have a great turnout tomorrow as well,” VanVleet said.
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