Search high and low and you probably won’t find a more spectacular shot than the one Damian Lillard hit over the weekend, a three-pointer as the clock hit zero that beat the Rockets and gave the Blazers their first playoff series win in 14 years. Seems like as good a time as any for us to bring you this classic Q&A with the ever-rising star…
Historically, “Portland Trail Blazers” and “smart draft picks” don’t go hand in hand (see: Oden, Greg). But one selection they definitely got right was 2012 first-rounder Damian Lillard. Unknown out of Weber State, Lillard averaged 19 points last season and became only the fourth player in league history to be voted the unanimous Rookie of the Year. We sat down with the point guard at an adidas event—where he was of course sporting his Crazyquick basketball shoes—to talk rookie hazing, favorite restaurants and pre-game music.
“Being in the NBA is a blessing in itself, but being able to go home and put up 37, that meant a lot to me.”
You had a stellar first year in the NBA. Was it actually easier than you thought it would be?
It’s not easy. It’s the furthest thing from easy. But I think everything was smooth because I prepared myself for it, and because of the situation that I walked into. I had a lot of freedom, my team depended on me, and I got to play through mistakes. So I was able to transition a little smoother than maybe some other people.
What was the best piece of advice that you received before your rookie season?
“Watch film.” A lot of people just play game after game after game, and they don’t ever really look back and see what happened in a game, when they made mistakes, when they did something right. I had the chance to watch a lot of film, and it helped me a lot.
A point guard is supposed to be a leader. But you were also a rookie. Was that a tough balance?
At the beginning of the season it was difficult, because I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and I didn’t want to look like I was trying to control the vets on the team. But I think because I was productive at the beginning of the season, they realized they could depend on me, and now they listen to me. It’s easier to lead when you have everybody’s respect.
Example #4,632 that Lillard can score the basketball. (Whether or not people are guarding him.)
What did the older players make you do as a rookie, as far as hazing and whatnot?
I just had to carry a pink Hello Kitty backpack with the other guys’ stuff in it on the plane, and that was really it. I was fine with it. I’m comfortable with myself, so I didn’t find anything wrong with a Hello Kitty backpack.
Coolest thing about the city of Portland?
The fan support. The fans are there through rough stretches and great stretches. They cheer loud every game. And on social networks, they show a bunch of love to you. Not everybody has that situation, as far as a fan base. I’m glad that we do.
You travel all around the country. Got a favorite restaurant?
I really like Benihana. I ate Benihana a lot last season, to be honest. Everywhere I go, I look for one.
Do you have a pregame song that you always listen to?
I don’t listen to the same song, but I listen to the same artists. Danny From Sobrante, he’s my cousin. J. Cole, Nas… Juvenile. It depends on how I’m feeling.
What was the highlight of your first season?
It has to be between the game-winner against New Orleans and going home to Oakland, playing against the Warriors and scoring 37. We lost the game, but I was able to play well in front of a bunch of people I grew up with—a lot of familiar faces and my entire family. Being in the NBA is a blessing in itself, but being able to go home and play well, that meant a lot to me.