Rockford Welcomes NBA Champ Fred VanVleet Home With Celebration
For a moment, it was difficult to tell if they were chanting “F-V-V” or “M-V-P,” but to this crowd it might as well have meant the same thing. Of course, the hundreds of Rockford residents gathered around the City Market Pavilion were chanting “F-V-V” for hometown hero and basketball star Fred VanVleet.
VanVleet is a former all-state guard from Auburn high school turned sixth-man standout for the Toronto Raptors who helped the team capture their first NBA championship in franchise history. He set an NBA Finals record for most three-pointers made off the bench, while also having to primarily defend the Golden State Warriors two-time MVP, Steph Curry.
As confetti rained onto the court after their championship victory, he was one of the first players approached by camera crews. At the end of the interview, VanVleet grabbed the microphone, pointed at the camera and yelled out “Rockford! Rockford, this is for you, baby!”
So on Saturday afternoon, the city came out to return the favor. The “Fred Comes Home” celebration featured food trucks, music, merch and a special “Dribble the City” event where people of all ages dribbled basketballs from City Hall down to the festival.
VanVleet himself made an appearance at the event. “I’m just a kid from Rockford who went out and tried to do what I can to take care of my family, and in the meantime, I’m trying to leave my city better than it was when I found it,” he said.
“You can feel the energy, you can feel the love and it’s our job as people who live here, that’s from here, who have kids here to continue to keep building and make this place better than it was when we found it. That’s my message to you today.”
Robert Jones, a friend of VanVleet and his family, also spoke. “I’ll leave you with this: Drake, AKA Fred’s stepbrother, said in a song ‘started from the bottom now we here / started from the bottom now my whole team here,’” he said, referencing the hip-hop megastar and Raptors superfan who may or may not look very similar to VanVleet. “And when our champ shouted out ‘Rockford! Rockford, this is for you, baby!' that’s his team. This community is his team.”
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara also delivered VanVleet a key to the city, and there was a video message from Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker congratulating him.
Rockford residents themselves came out for a bevy of reasons. Holly Lang came with her young son Owen and his friend.
“We’re a huge supporter of Fred VanVleet and everything that he’s done for our community,” she said. Her son had on a shirt from VanVleet’s Rockford basketball camp. “We went to the watch parties and enjoyed all of that, and just enjoy seeing all of the great things happening in downtown Rockford.”
Sunny, a Rockford resident in his early 20s, and his friends came out as well. They were freshmen at Auburn when VanVleet was a senior.
“So we’ve been looking up to Fred for a long time,” he said. His friend, who goes by C-Back said he even knew VanVleet a little back then. “He actually used to pick me up and take me to school some days, so we had a real connection back then.”
He was also just happy to see an event like this take place at all. “Seeing Rockford smile, seeing them actually do something productive; it’s like Rockford is always in the news for negative things so having something positive, having the city support one thing -- he’s just brings the city together,” he said.
VanVleet is hosting his annual basketball camps in Rockford on July 13 and 14.