Photo Credit: @NBACanada on Twitter
Some professional athletes choose their jersey number based on what they wore their entire career or what their favourite player wore when they were growing up. Others just take whatever’s available.
But for Toronto Raptors guard, DeAndre’ Bembry, the number 95 means much more than what’s pressed into his uniform.
The Charlotte, N.C. native was picked 21st overall by the Atlanta Hawks during the 2016 NBA draft. He spent four seasons with the Hawks while also playing for the NBA Development League’s Salt Lake City Stars and Erie BayHawks.
In November 2020, the Toronto Raptors signed DeAndre’ to a two-year, $4 million contract. Since the move to Toronto — or rather, Tampa Bay, for now — he has posted one of the highest field goal percentages on the team this season — 52.7%.
But before all of that occurred, DeAndre’ had something else happen in his life — the reason why he sports the number 95 today.
Tragedy struck the young Raptor in June 2016 — two weeks before the draft, which was supposed to be one of the happiest days of his life.
DeAndre’s younger brother, Adrian, was shot and killed when he was trying to break up a fight in Charlotte. Adrian was born in 1995 and Bembry honours him everyday by donning the jersey number 95.
DeAndre’ opened up about his brother’s passing in an NBPA article just two months after the incident.
“Every moment was special together,” DeAndre’ wrote.
“We were with each other almost everyday, whether it was us outside playing manhunt or us in the house playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City or Madden. Or it was being outside in the creek somewhere or in the woods playing football—things we did when we were living in Charlotte. We were with each other most of our life, almost every hour.”
He also mentioned the 2016 draft. DeAndre’ said his brother had helped him train and prepare for the night that was supposed to change his life forever.
Adrian had believed in him since they were both kids, especially when they were in high school. DeAndre’ knew it would be a tough evening without his biggest supporter by his side.
“When my name was called at the draft, I tried to make some light out of it. But I was just happy that I got drafted because I was with a bunch of family and friends. We were having a dinner party at a hotel in Summit, N.J.. We were just talking about how happy he probably he is right now,” he wrote.
“I cried later on at the end of the night. I had a moment by himself.”
In honour of Adrian, DeAndre’ and his mother, Essence, founded AP World, an organization that aims to help break the cycle of youth violence in the Black community. AP World offers support services and mental health resources while providing options for youth to avoid violence in their communities.
In a 2019 interview with CloseUp360, Essence said the grief of losing her own son to gun violence made it too difficult to plan a service and write an obituary.
“I had no idea what to do,” Essence said. “My cousin planned the whole service because I couldn’t. How can I write an obituary about my son?”
Through AP World, she hopes to help other grieving families with counselling and organizing funeral and memorial services so they can focus on remembering their loved ones.
DeAndre’ also spoke with CloseUp360 and mentioned that he was happy with how one of his AP World events turned out. He had returned to his former elementary school to host a pep rally and raise awareness for the organization and its resources during the 2019 NBA All-Star weekend.
“I just thought it would be a dope way to give back and to give back to [Charlotte],” DeAndre’ said.
After what has been a disappointing season, DeAndre’ will close out his first year as a Raptor with 250 points and counting — his second highest single-season point total.
Though DeAndre’ may have a bright future with Toronto, his legacy as a leader in his community has lit a flame that will burn much longer than his time dunking alley-oops as a basketball player.