Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard joined the July 2 edition of “Danforth, Dirt and Sprague” on 1080 AM The Fan to discuss his offseason workouts, preparing for the upcoming Team USA minicamp, his game/series-winning shot against the Rockets in the first-round of the 2014 playoffs, interacting with fans on social media, his thoughts on what free agents could help the team next season, the notion that star players should take less money in order to form “super teams” and his upcoming basketball camp running from July 12-15 (you can sign up your 6 to 16 year-old for that camp here).
What have you worked on this offseason the most?
Damian Lillard: I think the biggest thing I focused on early this summer was my conditioning, trying to get into better shape going into this (Team) USA camp, working on a lot of shooting. I know that, going into that USA camp, I’m going to have to be able to be an outside threat and shoot the ball in the Euro game. The same stuff: finishing, floaters, pullup jumpers, passing, pick and roll stuff but a lot of shooting.
It was evident that the Spurs were the better team in the second-round matchup. Was that the series that made you decide you needed to work on your conditioning?
Damian Lillard: It was tough. I think, when we played them, our competitive nature was telling us “We’re not playing well enough” or “We’ve got to play harder” and stuff like that, but the better team won. I think the Spurs, from Game 7 against Dallas, they played great. All the way throughout our series they played great and for the rest of the playoffs. They deserved to win the championship, they played like a championship team. I just think they overwhelmed us with how well they executed, how hard they played consistently and how they move the ball. It was tough.
Your shot against Houston to close out the series energized the city. Have you recreated that shot since and how many times have you watched it?
Damian Lillard: When the season ended I had a chance to watch it a bunch of times. During the season you don’t realize a lot of things that happen. You just kind of say “Alright, that was a good game” or this happened on that day and then you just move on from it. So after the season you get a chance to look back and see what our team was able to accomplished, see what guys were able to accomplish individually. When I look at that shot I’m looking at people’s reacts to it, I’m looking at the fans reaction. The fact that that shot pushed us over the hump to get to the next round, which was something we hadn’t done in 14 years, it was a great feeling. Every time that I saw it when the season ended I was like “Wow, that really happened.”
Did you see the Vine video of your shot taken from courtside? I don’t think people realized how quick you got that shot off.
Damian Lillard: Yeah, that was actually the first video that I saw when I watched it. Pretty neat situation.
How many grown men came up to you after that and told you you made them cry? I don’t think I’ve ever seen the city so excited. What was the reaction like for you?
Damian Lillard: It was crazy. Me and a couple teammates, basically all of my teammates actually, we hung out together after that just to kind of share that moment, not take that moment for granted. Just around the city, everybody was, not only about the shot, everybody was just complimenting us on how well we had played over the course of the season up to that point, how much they appreciated us. It was like, the city was so lively. I remember driving from the arena and people running around the streets with Trail Blazers shirts and jerseys on and just making a lot of noise, honking their horns. It was a great night for Rip City.
I think you’re one of the best players in the league at marketing because it feels authentic. How did you come up with your strategy to market yourself?
Damian Lillard: Well, to be honest, it wasn’t really a strategy. I think it’s easy to market someone that people can relate to. I think there’s a lot of underdogs in the world and a lot of people who come from poverty and there’s a lot of people who enjoy having fun. People really appreciate someone who can be themselves and bring all those things to the light. I think a lot of people can relate to where I come from and the type of person I am and they can also appreciate it. For me it wasn’t really a strategy, it was just me putting my interests out there to let people see I was more than just a basketball player and that I’m not just some professional athlete that people look up to. I’m somebody that can be in touch with fans. I can be in touch with people and that’s a big thing to me because I like to be able to talk to people and them talk to me as if I’m a regular person, not awkward and like, I’m not a human. That’s just my approach to everything, especially social media. I like to be in touch with my fans, stuff like that. I think that’s why it comes off so authentic because I’m just being myself.
Do fans every take advantage of that?
Damian Lillard: It happens all the time. I tweet back and forth with my fans then it’s always people that, if I misspell a word but I’m spelling it the way I say it. I correct people all the time about grammar so I’m aware it’s not spelled correctly or something like that. People will go at me that way or they’ll talk about me, something that I did in the game, they’ll just try some way to criticize me knowing that I’ll respond. And I don’t mind it. I’ll say something back to them, they’ll say something back to me and then it’ll just be what it is. Just like if somebody said something to me when I’m walking down the street and I felt like they was coming at me with something, I would probably respond. When they tweet something to me or say something to me on Instagram, I’ll respond. I think there’s two ways you can do it. When people say something positive to you, you say thank you and I appreciate it. And when somebody says something negative, you don’t have to say something negative back, but I like to, I guess, entertain if somebody got something to say to me just to see how far they’re willing to go for somebody to actually say something back. You know what I mean?
This is a big time for the team. You surpassed expectations, but now there’s a lot of moving pieces in free agency. How much are you keeping tabs on what the team is doing? Do you talk to Neil Olshey or Terry Stotts about moves that could help the team?
Damian Lillard: I’ve said what players I like, what I think can help our team, but that’s not my job. My job is to show up in shape, improved and ready to play and help our team. That’s all I can control. I can say my opinion and what I think, but Neil is great at what he does, Coach Stotts is great at what he does, Paul Allen is great at what he does. They brought be here to play basketball. That’s what I’m going to show up prepared to do.
A lot of talk in sports media has been about players taking less money to form “super teams.” What do you think of people who say guys should take less money in the NBA for the sake of the team?
Damian Lillard: You can say what you want about taking less money for the sake of the team. The Miami Heat just won two championships, it worked for them for two years. But nobody on Dallas three years ago took less money, that I can remember, and they won a championship. San Antonio had guys, second-round, undrafted, no matter what it was, and they won a championship. Guys just play their game and when you play as a team and you actually believe, I think anybody can get it done. I think that’s kind of overrated with bringing stars together and taking less money because I want to win. Anybody can win. Our team could have won. Any team that was in the playoffs had a chance to get it done, so I don’t really too much buy into that.
What piece are the Blazers missing? It felt like the bench, but was there anything in the starting lineup?
Damian Lillard: You know what, me, I practice with my guys everyday, so I see what they’re capable of. My expectations for them are high. I see a guy like Will Barton, I see him going hard at practice and I see his ability and what he can do. Same thing for CJ McCollum and same thing for Thomas Robinson. I feel like they can do what our team needs. I feel like that’s what it’s going to come down to. I don’t feel like, if we have the team that we have right now, that we can’t be a better team next season because I’ve seen how hard they work. My belief in them is that they can come back and they can give us that contribution that we need, that people think we need from somebody coming in, we can get that from guys that we have. I think they have that ability.
But of course, there’s guys out there that we could get to come in and spark our team. I mentioned a guy like Vince Carter, who is definately somebody who could come in and fill it it. He can come in and give you great scoring off the bench. A guy like Spencer Hawes can really shoot the ball and when (LaMarcus Aldridge) is not in the game that’s somebody that could still stretch the floor and he’s a knockdown shooter. A guy like Channing Frye, who can bring the same thing. So guys like that, there’s a lot of guys that could come in and really help our team.
You’ve got your basketball camp coming up on July 12 to 15 that’s sponsored by adidas at the Eastmoreland Courts. It’s for campers ages 6 to 16. You can sign up at TheCourtsInOregon.com. What do you hope kids come away from your camp?
Damian Lillard: The biggest thing that I want them to come away from it understanding that hard work is important, not only on the basketball court. It’s hard for a kid to get up out the bed and come to camp two, three mornings in a row. It’s hard for them to keep wanting to do it, it’s hard for them to come with all these kids and compete with all these kids. I’m going to be out there doing the stuff with them, but if I hadn’t learned what hard work really meant, then I know for a fact I wouldn’t be in the NBA because I wasn’t the most talented, I wasn’t highly touted but the one thing I always depended on was working hard. I’m going to do my best to get out there and be an example, to be out there in the morning, first one on the court, moving around and show them that you’ve got to be able to bring that work ethic and outwork somebody day in and day out, regardless of if you have a job, if you’re a football player, a basketball player, if you’re a teacher, whatever it is. I just hope that they can take hard work away from my camp. That’s the biggest thing that I pride myself on is outworking people and I want every kid that is affiliated with me and my camp to understand how important that is.
Do you have a girlfriend right now?
Damian Lillard: Yes I do. (ed note: moments later, Lillard posted a picture of himself and his girlfriend to his Instagram account)
Playing in front of capacity crowds at arenas all across country is old hat for Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. But his next performance will be in front of a different kind of crowd, at a different type of venue and in a completely different trade.
Lillard announced today on his Twitter account that he would be holding his first full-scale concert under his nom de rap Dame D.O.L.L.A on July 15th, which happens to be his 26th birthday, at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland. The show is the latest sign of Lillard’s evolution as an artist, which started in earnest with his Four Bar Friday project, which grew into a regular Music Monday feature, then a music video that aired on national television and now a show in front of a live audience.
The 6-3 point guard/rapper has performed in front of small crowds before, most recently during an Adidas-sponsored trip to Manila, but has never held a real show with advanced ticketing at a legitimate venue. Lillard will be joined onstage by his cousin Brookfield Deuce, who has been featured on a number of Dame D.O.L.L.A tracks, with DJ OG One handling duties on the ones and twos, as the kids say. Lillard is also giving some stage time to local pastor Duoshun Pledgegure, who raps under the name Rose Ciddy and is a frequent participant in Lillard’s Four Bar Friday series. And who knows, perhaps one or two of his teammates decide to test their rap skills under the bright lights.
Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 the day of the show and can be purchased at the Crystal Ballroom’s website. There are only 1,500 tickets available, so if you want to go, you’d be wise to purchase asap.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently holding his annual youth basketball camp in Beaverton, and unlike some of these events put on by other players, Lillard is there actually there working with the kids every day. If you send your child to the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp, he or she is going to meet Damian Lillard.
But even though the focus is on the kids, Lillard took a few minutes to take questions from the media about the camp, his recent trip to Asia, working with Special Olympics, the upcoming free agent signing period on his involvement with recruiting and why he declined to to play for Team USA.
Regarding the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp experience…
“When I get up there and speak, I tell them ‘Make sure you thank your parents, make sure you listen to the coaches, follow their instructions, be coachable, work hard.’ Just simple things like that, a lot of basic things that could teach them a lot more than how simple it is, things like that. Just being here and having a presence is the biggest thing. The session that you guys just watched, it’s something that I’ve enjoyed because it allows me to kind of break apart the game for the kids. For them it might be a little bit boring, but it’s 10 minutes of the day where they get to listen and see what’s going on, that it’s deeper than just a pass and a shot. Some of them are probably too young to follow it as well as the older ones, but I think it’s something that you can really teach them at a young age.”
On his relationship with Special Olympics…
“When I was 17, when I first got on campus at Weber State, it was a mandatory thing, we did a one day camp with Special Olympics. The first day I kind of just went in there, I didn’t really know much about it. But then I saw that some of them, they wanted to play against us and they could actually play. They had as much passion with the game as I did, they really enjoyed our company. I’ll never forget, it was a random day like months after the Special Olympics event and there was a kid — I’ll never forget his name — Jason Depper. I was at the mall and he walked up to me at the mall like ‘Remember I made that shot on you?’ and I was just like ‘That’s funny.’ It had that type of impact on him. I’ve been involved ever since.”
On his recent trip through Asia with adidas…
“It was fun, did some pop-ups at stores. I went to some 3-on-3 tournaments, watched a lot of kids play. They’re playing so they can all make it to Beijing and it’s like a super tournament over there right now. I did some promotion for my shoes and things like that, I went back to a store that I opened up after my rookie year in Taipei, I went back to Manila. We did a huge event there, I got to get in the three-point shootout, they let me perform a couple times over there. It was kind of on the spot performances, but I had a lot of fun.”
Why he decided not to be a part of the 2016 Olympic team…
“It was simple: the last three months of the season I played with plantar fasciitis and it really bothered me. There was days the games seemed like the only time I could play, and that was adrenaline and two hours of treatment before the game. I didn’t want to go into next season dealing with it. I actually really wanted to play and I was really close to saying ‘Just forget it, I’m going to go’ but I didn’t want to go to Rio and come back a month before training camp and my foot still be bothering me, then I can’t give what I want to give to my team. That was just more important to me.”
On free agency…
“I think there’s some guys out there that can really help take our team to the next level. I really like the guys we have, too. I’m a strong believer that if guys go home and get better over the summer, we come back, we’ll be that much better. We’ll continue to get better. But my job is to make sure that I’m prepared and when I’m asked about a player that can help us, I’m going to give my honest opinion. That’s my duty to our team.”
His thoughts on Portland’s free agency plan…
“I’m excited, because it’s not hard to see… Our whole roster could look at free agency and say ‘This guy could help us, this guy could help us.’ It’s just a matter of how bad they want to be here, what we have to offer compared to what they would like. We’ll see where it goes. I have no doubt that our team is going to be ready regardless of who we bring in, who we don’t bring in. We’ll come back ready.”
Whether he’s going to help recruit free agents in person…
“Maybe. Maaaaaaybe… I might. To help our team, of course.”
Regarding what he’d tell free agents who might have “red flags” about joining Portland’s locker room…
“When I speak to these guys, I’m going to tell them what it is with our team on how we do things, what will be tolerated and what won’t. If we happen to get someone that has red flags, we don’t know for sure if that’s ‘he said, she said’ or if it’s real or if it’s the situation or people around him or what. But if it comes to our culture and our individual, it will be addressed. Nobody going to back down to nobody, let somebody come in here and think something is going to change, because it’s not. That’s not just me. I’m going to be the first one to say something because that’s just what it is. I know CJ (McCollum) is going to back that up and each guy down the line is going to back that up. We show up every day to practice to work, we show up on time, we hold each other accountable, we allow our teammates to hold us accountable and that’s the bottom line. We don’t do cute stuff, we show up and do what we’ve got to do and that’s it. If you don’t want to do it, it’s not going to work.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.