ROCKFORD (WREX) — After agreeing to a new 4-year, $85 million contract Saturday, Fred VanVleet officially put the pen to paper, making him the highest paid athlete from Rockford, and giving him the biggest contract ever for an undrafted player.
June 23, 2016, was the date. VanVleet went undrafted and spoke the words that would set the tone for his NBA career.
"I bet on myself," he told the crowd that night at District Bar and Grill in downtown Rockford.
It's November 24, 2020, and Fred VanVleet is cashing in on that bet. He signed a 4-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Toronto Raptors, the team that showed belief in him by signing him as an undrafted rookie.
"I just felt like it was the best situation for me overall," VanVleet said. "I've had great success there. They showed me a lot of love and they gave me a chance in this league starting my career out. It's a special place for me and a great fit. It also was the best situation for me at the time. So everything lined up perfectly."
VanVleet gathered with a small group of friends and family at his FVV Shop in downtown Rockford to make the contract official. Sharing the moment with them made it even more special.
"It means the world," he said. "It makes all of this stuff worth something to have the people you love along for the journey. That's what makes it so special. Obviously, to be able to accomplish this on my own feels great. But to be able to share these moments and these memories together, that's the important part."
June 13, 2019, was an important part of his NBA career. That was the night the Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in game 6 of the NBA Finals, with VanVleet hitting big shots down the stretch to help Toronto clinch its first NBA title. He's hungry for another.
"Chasing another championship," he says is the main goal for his future. "Obviously, keep making strides and gains in my personal career and keep getting better in all areas. But really just chasing that next championship."
December 22, 2020, marks the start of a new NBA season. It's sure to be a different type of season as the league navigates through a pandemic without the protection the playoff bubble offered.
"[There are] a lot of unknowns," VanVleet said. "Obviously, we're not going back to the way things were completely. To be able to try to get some normalcy back is important."
Things will be far from normal for the Raptors, at least to start the season. Due to travel restrictions in Canada, the Raptors will start the season in Tampa, Fla., and VanVleet doesn't mind that too much.
"Yeah for sure, get out of this type of weather here," VanVleet jokes as he motions to the mix of rain and snow outside. "We get to skip the winter in Toronto. Obviously, we miss all our fans in Toronto but just being able to be somewhere warm and be able to have fans there. That will be different and kind of cool as long as everyone can stay safe and healthy. Just looking forward to what's ahead for sure."
What's ahead is anyone's guess, but as Fred achieves each new milestone in his NBA career, he keeps the people he loves close by, and the city he calls home in his heart.