For almost a quarter of a century, Fred VanVleet has been living on the edge. It's rarely been easy for the Toronto Raptors' 6-foot-1 guard, growing up in Rockford, Ill., going under recruited in high school, before spending four years at Wichita State and then going undrafted in 2016.
"There’s a million and one stories," he said Tuesday morning on a Zoom call with Raptors media.
He recalled a moment in 2016 when one NBA team didn't even offer him a ride to the airport and another team didn't even know who he was when he showed up for his pre-draft workout.
And yet, when maybe the biggest moment of his life took place last Saturday, there was almost no suspense. He met with the Raptors and the two parties got a deal done, re-signing VanVleet to a four-year, $85 million deal.
"It was almost like so straightforward that it made me question it a little bit," he said. "Like, it can't be this easy, you know what I mean?"
Toronto was always where VanVleet said he wanted to be. At times there were other suitors, but nothing significant ever materialized and ultimately the negotiation came down to a piece of advice he got from a friend: "Don't fumble the bag."
When he finally crossed the goal line and the deal was done, VanVleet said he was able to really exhale for the first time since he was a boy.
"It's a lot of pent up anxiety and feelings about trying to get to this moment," he said. "So just being able to exhale and just release and feel good about how far we've made it."
But relaxing doesn't mean VanVleet is going to take his foot off the gas. He knows that more money comes with increased scrutiny and he's ready to continue defying the odds by taking his game to another level.
“This is just another step in the journey for me. It's really just the beginning of the next chapter, for me at least closing a chapter on what has transpired up to this point," he said. "And now I feel like I'm on a level playing field and I've made it ... and now it's time to really take off and go to another level."
The Raptors will need him to, both this season having lost Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol and then again in 2021 with Kyle Lowry's contract expiring. While it won't be easy for VanVleet to take that next step into NBA stardom, if his past is any indication of his future, it wouldn't be wise to bet against him.