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)