How Damian Lillard Stays Balanced Through Family, Fatherhood, Music and Skating
CHARLOTTE -- Damian Lillard is still chasing his first championship, but as a seven-year NBA veteran, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard isn’t sweating the spotlight like he once might have. The Oakland native is comfortable in his own skin, though not just for his four All-Star appearances and three All-NBA selections.
At 28, Damian is as much a father and a rapper as he is a hooper. While basketball is still his professional focus, for Dame, those other interests help him get away from work at times and return to his craft with renewed focus.
CloseUp360 caught up with Damian inside the adidas hospitality suite at the Omni Hotel in Charlotte over All-Star Weekend, where he participated in the Three-Point Contest and All-Star Game. The Weber State product talked about maturing in the league, the more mature perspective he’s gained from his growing family, his sanctuary on the skating rink and more.
(The interview has been edited for clarity and length.)
Damian Lillard kicks back inside the adidas hospitality suite in Charlotte. (Courtesy of adidas)
CloseUp360: You’re in your prime and you’ve got some good years left ahead of you. What’s changed for you since your rookie year?
Damian Lillard: I think the biggest change since my rookie year has been just I’ve always been comfortable in my skin, like as a person. But now I’m like as a professional, as a celebrity, the status like in the league, I’m just settled in. Just the comfort has been so different, whereas in the past, I was, like, "What is this gonna be like? What is that gonna be like? Am I gonna be an All-Star? Am I gonna win a championship? Am I gonna be able to…?"
I was just curious how stuff will play out. So now, seven years later, I’m just like I’m settled into who I am. I’m comfortable with everything around me and the position that I’m in, so I guess things are just more simple now.
CU360: When did that change for you? Was there a moment in time?
DL: It wasn’t a moment. I think it was over time. My first three years, I played with vets, like guys who had been around. And when they left, I kind of got pushed into more of a leadership, more of a "If we lose, it’s your fault; if we win, you get the praise’ situation." So my fifth year, I was a little better with it. By the time I got to like beginning of my sixth year, last year, that’s when I started to really feel like the change and the shift.
And then I had my son. And then after I had my son, I stopped taking the emotions of the game and every little thing I see and hear on TV, I stopped taking it home. Because when I had my son, I’m going home and I walk in the door, and I’m, like, "I’m being a dad." You know what I’m saying? I was excited about something else. So I think that was like the final touches, where I was just kind of, like, it just changed.
CU360: You walk in, he wouldn’t care if you went 1-for-25.
DL: Exactly. I walk in there, he, like, "Da da."
CU360: So how did fatherhood change you?
DL: It put things in perspective, I think, because when I had my son, I started to see stuff different. I don’t know why or what exact moment, but I just started to see things different. I always say how people, like, "Oh, I just want to win. I want to win a championship." Some people are willing to go to whatever team to win a championship, will do anything or force [a trade], whatever it might be.
When I had my kid, I started to value important things, like my relationships with my coaches and my teammates, and being appreciative and just being thankful for what’s in front of me. You know what I’m saying? It slowed me down. I don’t know. I just became much more content—not settling for where I am, but just content with like I’m happy with what it is.
CU360: Like you found peace. You've got to evolve. I think the other thing that jumps out to me about you is that you take control of your situation, what you're doing with your life.
DL: It matters because we're in a position to do so much, positive and negative. So if you don't take control and learn yourself, learn what works for you, what doesn't work for you, things can get bad. That's just where we are, with social media, social media having so much access to us and all the stuff that we have to deal with as athletes. If you don't take control of your situation, other things will. It might not be people, but other stuff will. That's just how it goes.
CU360: You're a rounded guy, and it's important to be dynamic to not only make you better as a player, but also to give you an outlet so it's not just basketball all the time because you'll burn out.
DL: You will.
CU360: How is that important with doing other things? And what are the other things that you're into?
DL: It's really important. I think it's one thing to be focused on basketball and you're working out all these hours, and you're lifting and conditioning. And you're doing all this stuff, so you can be the best version of yourself with that. If that's all you're doing and all you're thinking about, you're gonna be burnt out by it. It's like if I'm dating a girl and you wake up and go to breakfast together, then we lay down and watch a TV show, then we go to lunch together, and then we go swimming together, and then we come back and go to dinner, and then we go to the... If we're just around each other, you're gonna be burnt out by that person. And the relationship, instead of it lasting, after like a month and a half, you're gonna be, like, "I just need to see any other girl, but you. I need my space."
You need that balance. When I go do my music, I just say... I call the skating rink by my house. They're, like, "We close at 10 o'clock tonight." I'm, like, "Well from 10 o'clock to 1 o'clock, can I come in and can I rent the place from 10 to 1?" I'll go in there, I'll plug my phone up, play my skating playlist, invite my cousins and my family, whoever want to come, we skate.
If I wanna go to the studio, I call the studio. I go in there, instrumentals and I'm writing and I'm just hanging out. If I wanna invite my cousins to the house and do anything or whatever. Just something where I'm taking my mind off basketball—even if we have a game night. Come in my theater and watch a show that we all watch. Any of those things I could do to take my mind off of just basketball, basketball, basketball, and tap into my real life. You know what I'm saying?
Catch up with relationships and doing stuff that I enjoy doing. When you have that balance there, your mind comes back even more refreshed for basketball, and it allows you to be excited about it. You know what I mean? You need that opportunity to be, like, "Alright, I can't wait to get back to the gym to do this" instead of, "Oh, I'm going back to the gym." That's what it's going to turn into. You're going to be worn out. Your mind's not going to be as sharp when you're doing it, so you're not going to get as much out of it. So that balance is really important.
Damian relaxes in a pair of his adidas Dame 5 signature sneaker. (Courtesy of adidas)
CU360: You think about it, as a kid you were in school and then you had homework, and you couldn't wait to get to the park and play. Basketball was a reward. That's where you fall in love with it. So where you are now, it's important to still love it. You have to have these other things where it's an outlet, but basketball is a constant.
DL: Exactly. Yeah, you've got to stay in love. I started playing basketball when I was five years old. I'm 28. That's 23 years of basketball, so that's a lot. For the rest of my career, if I'm trying to focus on basketball, the older you get, the more you grow into other stuff, so you're naturally going to maybe enjoy the game less or want to play less. You know what I'm saying? And I'm not to that point yet, but as you get older, that's how it happens. Like Kobe said, "I just can't do it no more. I love the game," but he was ready to let go.
CU360: When you've emptied the tank.
DL: Yeah, so the older you get, you're not falling out of love with it, but it's not the same as when you was 21. You just was, like, "Oh, this is it." You got kids. You got other stuff you're trying to do business-wise. You're trying to set yourself up for after basketball. So it becomes even more important to have those other things, so when you come back to it, you still can have that excitement and that love. And then you do your other stuff, and it's almost like you need that stuff to keep that love and that drive and everything for basketball the same the older you get.
Mike Botticello is a veteran multimedia producer and co-host of the No Chill Podcast with Gilbert Arenas. Follow him on Twitter.