Portland Trail Blazers legend and six-time NBA All-Star Damian Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player and best rapper. He also happens to be an endorsement magnet who made as much money as Oprah and Paul McCartney in 2020. We caught up with Lillard to talk basketball, tattoos, movies, and more.
Men’s Journal: When did you decide to start bombing from way behind the three-point line in games?
Damian Lillard: In (2018), New Orleans swept us in the playoffs. It was an embarrassing series. I got with my trainer to address things I could improve to make the game a little bit easier for myself. I’ve always been able to shoot deep, but we took it to another level. Our training was there’s the NBA three-point line, then we had the four-point line. We would do a whole workout from the four-point line. We just kept building it up, and over the years it’s become easier and easier. Here we are now.
What’s the secret to coming through in the clutch?
A lot of people train during the offseason to get ready for the season. Then we play so many games, the time that you put into keeping yourself sharp kind of goes away. For me during the season, I’m still getting those sharp reps in. Even when my mind is tired, my body’s a little bit tired, I’m telling myself I have to do this. Over time once you know you’ve fully prepared yourself, I just think you feel different in those situations.
You and Steph Curry have been called the most exciting players in the NBA. Do you feel more rivalry or camaraderie with Curry?
More camaraderie. This day and age everything is a comparison. I can’t have a good game without them saying, “Oh, but Steph is better.” If I shoot a deep three and people are like, “Oh, that’s Logo Lillard!” then it’s like, “Nah, Steph started doing it first.” People make it a rivalry. But when me and Steph speak we cool, you know? I appreciate him, I think he appreciates me. And that’s that.
You got your first tattoo in a mall in Utah. Where’s the next one?
I don’t know if I got much room left. I don’t want to tattoo my legs and I don’t want to tattoo my neck. And my back, that’s a painful spot, so I might be done.
Have you ever personally sold a car at Damian Lillard Toyota?
I sold my first car yesterday, actually.
Forrest Gump definitely had an impact on me.
Favorite old school rapper?
Tupac is my favorite rapper of all-time.
It’s your funeral, which Tupac track do you play: “Life Goes On” or “Picture Me Rollin’”?
“Life Goes On.”
I went to a Hot Boys concert in Oakland when I was like 11.
Your GOAT Spirit rap video shows your home gym, but do you mix any outdoor sports into your fitness routine?
Last year during quarantine, me and my fiancée bought bikes and started going on rides. When she said, “Let’s get some bikes” I was thinking, like, Mongoose bikes. But we went to this bike store. I didn’t know bikes were this expensive.
How much did you spend?
My bike was $2,500. It’s an electric bike. It’s crazy because I didn’t even know these kind of bikes existed, but I like it a lot.
Who’s the greatest Blazer: Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, or you?
Walton won MVP, won a championship. Clyde is one of the greatest players of all time, and went to two Finals. [The Clyde Drexler-led Trail Blazers lost in the NBA Finals to the Detroit Pistons in 1990 and Chicago Bulls in 1992.] So, it’s great company to be in. I always say I don’t think anybody that’s played here has taken more pride than me in putting on the Trail Blazers uniform, and wanting to get it done for this city and our fans. And the numbers are there. I think by the time I’m done, I will be the greatest Trail Blazer of all time.
Do you have fun when you’re playing? It’s hard to tell.
I have a lot of fun, and I really enjoy the game. I enjoy the ups and downs of it, the challenges, the excitement. But I take it serious, you know? I laugh about the game a lot in the locker room—then the joy comes out. But on the court, my expression doesn’t say so.
Your loyalty to small markets—Oakland, Ogden, Portland—has made you beloved nationally. Do you carry that small-town chip on your shoulder?
I do, but it’s not like I’m doing it on purpose. What it comes down to is I don’t view myself as a big deal. I’m aware of everything that’s happening—the endorsements, playing in the All-Star Game, and being on the cover of video games. But it’s hard to look at that and be full of myself when my relationships and people around me all feel normal.
Like Forrest Gump?
I feel like Forrest Gump! This dude was an all-American football player, came up with “shit happens,” and invested in Apple in 1994—but he just wanted to mow the lawn for free, you know what I’m saying? And it wasn’t like he was trying to play no role, it was just like this is who he is. He didn’t view himself like everybody else did. And I think that’s what it is for me.