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Damian Lillard on taking action: ‘I want to actually be a part of some change’

The Trail Blazers star discusses the start to the NBA season and how he’s growing his platform

Damian Lillard’s social media platform has 2.4 million followers on Twitter and 8.5 million followers on Instagram. The Portland Trail Blazers star can say a lot just by pushing a button, but his preference is to speak with action.

“When you look around, and see some of the things that’s going on, you almost just don’t know how to respond to it or what to do about it,” Lillard told The Undefeated in a phone interview this week. “Being somebody that uses my platform and has actually been out there literally marching, you look around and just think. I’m not sure exactly what to do going forward, but I think whatever it is, it has to be with action.

“The whole, using my platform and just trying to post about stuff and all that, we’re past that point. We’ve got to start figuring out what’s the plan of action. I want to actually be a part of some change.”

Part of the action for Lillard is becoming an investor in a predominantly Black-owned media network called PlayersTV.

Lillard is joining more than 50 current and former athletes as investors, including Blazers teammates CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony, NBA players Chris Paul, Kyrie Irving, De’Aaron Fox and DeAndre Jordan, and former baseball star Ken Griffey Jr.

PlayersTV co-founder Deron Guidrey says the network is currently available in more than 120 million households and devices globally since it launched on March 25 with original shows and programs both created by and starring its participating athletes. Lillard is in the midst of filming his new documentary series Dame about his life and Sessions, which features aspiring athletes with notable musicians in studio settings, that will both air this year.

“[Lillard’s] influence and leadership and ability to collaborate with the collective of athletes makes him a great addition,” Guidrey said.

In the following Q&A, Lillard talks about his involvement with PlayersTV, playing this season outside of a bubble, honoring Martin Luther King Jr. and more.

What was it about PlayersTV that made you want to be part of it and be an investor?

Obviously CJ is an investor and you’ve got people … former teammates, doing it as well. Other than that, just being able to have control over my content. That was a major part of it for me as well. I’ve got a lot of things to bring to the table. A lot of ideas.

What more can you bring to the table there?

You look at what CJ did with Kamala Harris. You look at what Kyrie did with Common. The NBA is able to use its platform to shine a light on things that they feel strongly about. I think it’s great that you got people using this platform to control their narrative.

For me, I feel the same in a lot of those situations, and I have a lot of things of my own that I’d like to do my way. I’d bring truth, authenticity and somebody who truly cares about the cause, and who truly cares about our culture, and our people. So, I’m not sure exactly what it would be. But I know it’ll be things that I bring to the table that’ll make us stronger on this platform.

As a rapper, have you been writing a lot of lyrics of late with everything going on in America and the world today?

Back in April-May, I put music out, just kind of shared how I was feeling about everything that was going on in our country. I have worked on a lot of music since then. I actually just finished my fourth album. I don’t know when I’m going to release it yet. It’s something that I’m proud of. I feel like it’s my best work to this point. But the state of the country and the ‘hood, you tend to look around and see some of the things that’s going on. You almost just don’t know how to respond to it or what to do about it.

How do you reflect on your time in the NBA bubble last season, and should the league go back?

I enjoyed the bubble for what it was. The NBA put us in a safe environment that allowed us to compete for a championship, and do what we love to do. That came at the expense of our family and being away from home. Right now, I think I would say no to going back to the bubble. What we need to do is challenge each team and each organization to be more disciplined, and the players to be more disciplined, and understand that if one person decides to step outside the protocol and what they’re asking, how it can impact and affect other players, and not just those players, but their families and whoever they take it home to.

So, that’s what the challenge is, and just let them know, we need to create a bubble within our team, within our organization. The people in our facility and a bubble in our household, that way we’re protecting each other to the best of our abilities. But I wouldn’t say go back to a bubble because there’s so much more season to be played, people have families, and at least we’re forming a bubble in our homes, in our own beds and get to do it that way.

The Blazers will be hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. What does it mean to you to play on MLK Day?

For me, it’s always an honor to play on Martin Luther King Day because when you look at our history, when you look at where we are now in this country, he’s the name that you think of whether you think about pushing that line and sacrificing his life, and standing up for the cause, and risking it all. He really fought that fight in a much worse time than we have now. So, the most respect, he’s an icon in this country, not just in Black history. He’ll always be remembered and loved for his work and what he’s done for his people, and it’s always an honor to play on that day. Also, to just acknowledge him, it’s always a pleasure and an honor.

What has been the key for you and the Blazers being successful and staying healthy so far in this shortened season due to the pandemic?

It comes down to the preparation and just being disciplined. Over the years, a lot of our success comes from our unity and togetherness, how hard we work and how we’re able to stay together through ups and downs, peaks and valleys of the NBA season.

In a situation like this, those things play in our favor where we’ve got a lot of rules to follow. … We’ve got to be able to count on each other and depend on each other to be disciplined, and to follow those rules, and do all of those things while still being able to keep up with our routines, and make sure we’re on top of our training, and getting rest. Our team, we’re committed to that, and we’ve done a great job of it.

What do you think about the mix of newcomers and veterans on your team, and how long will it take for you guys to jell after having such a short training camp?

It takes time, but I think because of the personalities with some of the people that we brought in, not only are they complementary players, but the kind of people that they are, they fit our team well. Low-maintenance, they show up to work and they care about winning. When you bring that to a situation like ours, guys fit in easy and they realize pretty quickly that we’re a hardworking team, a together team and we just want to win.

So, over time, we’ll teach each other better, as far as the game and what guys like to do, and where they’re most comfortable, and how they can be the best version of themselves. That will take time, but I think we’re jelling just fine. And, we’ve got a new system defensively, done some things a little bit different offensively and I think that’ll take a little bit of time for us all to be on the same page.

What is the key for your continued growth and CJ playing at the best level he’s ever played?

It’s the work that you do behind closed doors. It always comes to the light. I think because me and CJ come from similar backgrounds as far as our route getting here, being under-recruited players coming out of high school, going to small schools and having to earn everything that we have, we’ve always had to work for it, we’ve always had to believe in ourselves and accepting mediocrity was never a part of that. We’ve always wanted more and didn’t expect more. We went after it, and worked for it, and that’s why you see the continued growth.

Every season that I get through, I come into that offseason critiquing myself. Looking in the mirror and trying to figure out what can I come back and do better, and he does the same. I think once we get on the court, we allow each other to be our best. If he’s playing great, I don’t try to get in the way of that, and if I’m playing great, he won’t try to get in the way of that, we try to complement it, and I think that’s why it works so well, and I think that’s why we’re able to continue to grow and improve as players. We’re just working towards winning a championship, and that can’t happen if we ever settle in and think that we don’t got to work the same, or we don’t get after it the same.

The one-year anniversary of the passing of former NBA star Kobe Bryant will arrive on Jan. 26. Can you reflect on what Kobe meant to you?

I see pictures of Kobe now and it’s just a downer. You can’t believe that he’s actually gone and time has gone so fast. I can’t believe it’s already a year, and I still struggle with the fact that it’s a real thing. It’s kind of like around the time where Tupac passed, and people, for a long time, were like, ‘That’s not real.’ People didn’t believe it. That’s how, when I see a picture of [Bryant], I’m like, ‘Man, this can’t be real. That didn’t happen to Kobe.’

So, it’s going to be a sad day for a long time, or for forever, for that matter. It’s not something that I’m looking forward to being all over my timeline and all those things. So, it’s going to be a sad day.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.