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The Blazers’ Damian Lillard reflects on building generational wealth

‘My ultimate goal is to create something or to build something where we can keep it all in the family and give them some direction’

BURBANK, Calif. – The first picture in Damian Lillard’s July 9 Instagram post was a family photo of himself, his wife and three young children. If you continue to swipe through the Portland Trail Blazers star’s post from that day, there were also photos of his agent Aaron Goodwin, Blazers general manager Joe Cronin and finally him practicing his very valuable jump shot.

Lillard made the Instagram post after signing a two-year, $122 million extension with the Blazers. If the six-time NBA All-Star completes his contract with Portland through the 2026-27 NBA season, he will have made nearly half a billion dollars. Knowing that his generational wealth could have a long-term impact on his immediate family and close friends, Lillard also thanked the Blazers in the post for “allowing me to take care of generations of my family.”

“It means a lot. I take a lot of pride in not being the person with the money. But I take a lot of pride in the fact that I get up and I go get it,” Lillard, 32, told Andscape during a recent NBA season promotional commercial shoot. “I put the time in and the work in and I do stuff the right way with the right intentions. And I put my family in a position to where my kids don’t have to have the pressure of me trying to force them to be a great basketball player or trying to force them to be some great athlete.

“I do what I do so they have the luxury of whatever it is you want to do, be comfortable with it, be happy with it. And I can invest in you to where you not just blindly saying, ‘I don’t know what I want to do.’ You decide what you want to do. And then their kids will have that same luxury just based off of how I carry where I am now. So, I can create that type of effect, not just for my kids, but for their kids and their cousins and my brother’s kids. And that’s my ultimate goal, is to create something or to build something where we can keep it all in the family and give them some direction without that pressure that some of us had.”

Ten years ago, Lillard was the first member of his family, who is from East Oakland, California, to become a millionaire. Since then, the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year has used his wealth to help his mother quit her job before his first season and also help friends and family with personal needs and invest in their dreams. A member of NBA 75th Anniversary Team, he also says he often flashes back to his younger days to remind himself of where he and his family have come from financially.

Lillard recently spoke to Andscape about generational wealth that most fellow African Americans can only dream of and the challenges that come with so much money. The following is a Q&A with the NBA star who is also a rapper who goes by “Dame D.O.L.L.A.”

After making so much money, is it still a big deal when you sign a contract or is it hard not to become jaded?

Me and [my wife] talked about it. It’s a big deal. When I talked to [agent Aaron Goodwin] and everybody I talked to about it, it was a big deal. I was like, ‘What am I supposed to do? Post something on Instagram saying something crazy?’ I don’t know what I was supposed to do. It was a big deal.

Did you flash back to a time when there were financial struggles after signing the two-year, $122 million extension?

I wouldn’t even say after signing the contract. It’s regularly. I’m always reflecting on it. I’ve had so much success in the last decade that you almost forget about the feelings you had in the moments where you just didn’t know what was going happen. I always thought I was going to make it, because you remember the positive feelings. There are so many lost moments in that whole process.

But when I actually think back about the time I’d go to a Jazz game and I’ll be like, ‘Man, am I going to play on that court?’ Those are the lost moments. I take myself back there.

What do you remember about signing your rookie contract in 2012 after being selected by the Blazers with the sixth overall pick?

I just felt like, ‘I’m about to change my family’s life, my mom’s.’ First thing I did, all right, I’m a millionaire now so I went to my mom’s job and was like, ‘Quit.’ I literally went and helped her pack up her desk, everything. ‘They ain’t been doing you right. They’ve been on your ass about every little thing. We ain’t coming back.’ So that was kind of just my initial thought.

But I was always more concerned with the basketball part of it, doing what I need to do. And everything thing else. I just stuck to that script. Just work hard, handle what I’m supposed to handle and perform. And whatever comes after that is going to come.

Damian Lillard (right), with then-NBA commissioner David Stern (left) after being selected sixth overall in the 2012 draft.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

How good did that feel to put your mom in position to quit her job?

I ain’t going to lie. That was one of the best feelings I’ve had. I started telling her going into my last year of college [at mid-major Weber State University] that I was going to get drafted. We would talk on the phone at least every other day. And she’d be telling me how she had been feeling sick. They were on her about her production. They were basically threatening to fire her. She was stressed out and struggling at work with her health. And I was just constantly telling her things like, ‘The [Boston] Celtics were at practice today. The [Utah] Jazz was at practice today.’ I was just trying to pick up her spirits. We were just connected like that.

She would tell me about her issues. She was living in an apartment in San Leandro at the time with my sister. I was just trying to lift her up with my success. ‘I’m entering the draft this year when the school year is over.’ So, just knowing everything that I knew for that whole school year, when I finally got drafted and everything was pretty much set, I came home, and we literally went to her job in San Ramon. We walked in and everybody was aware that I just got drafted. So, they were like, ‘Oh, Gina, your son …’ Blah, blah. I was like, ‘We quit! We quit!’

How did you figure out how to manage your money at the start of your NBA career?

Coming into the NBA, I was just naturally a worrier and I had to make sure I was not doing too much. I got that from my dad. He’s always been a manager who is just on top of everything. Not trying to do too much and not being flashy. So, I naturally took that type of stance with it like, ‘all right. I know that I’m making a lot more money than I ever would’ve thought. And I’m going to do the stuff I like.’ I like shoes. I like clothes. But I’m not about to just go crazy.

So, I wanted to make sure that I just was carrying it the right way in the beginning instead of thinking this money was just going to keep coming. I was more focused on working hard, sticking to what got me here instead of like, ‘Oh, I made it. I got it.’ And that money, it goes fast. I got that management part from my dad.

What was your toughest time financially before you got to the NBA?

I’d say during my third year in college after I broke my foot during my junior year. My mom went to work. My dad had different hustles all the time. So, I always had Jordans and basketball jerseys. We got what we wanted. And then towards the end of high school, everything started to slow down.

When I got to college, my mom was living in an apartment with my sister, having to pay her rent, pay her insurance and the mortgage at the house she owned and all these different things. And my dad, his stuff wasn’t working out like it had pretty much had my whole life. I knew I could call them and count on them, but I didn’t want to put that pressure on them because I knew they had a lot of pressure on them as-is. So, I would say around that time, that’s when I was just like, ‘Man, I’m getting these scholarship checks, but now I’m living off-campus, so I got to pay rent, too.

I started thinking to myself, ‘Do I got to get a little job? So, around that time that was a wake-up call because before I was always just comfortable calling my parents. ‘I need X, Y, and Z.’ And I didn’t feel like it was a burden for them. At that time, I felt like I didn’t want to add that to their plate.

I’ve heard that you’ve done tremendous things to help relatives and other loved ones. You call it “Home Team.” Can you talk about the help you’ve given?

‘Home Team,’ it’s a gift and a curse because I come from a tight family. Literally in the summer, I’d be in my grandparents’ house with 25 cousins. We went to the park together, rode bikes and caught the bus and everything. Went to the Boys & Girls Club as a unit. So, when you had that type of connection with so many people and then you just become successful and not everybody is struggling. But people have a hard time here and there.

And I just don’t feel comfortable knowing that I have what I have and then people are just struggling. And then when they reach out to you, I feel like it’s kind of my job to help them. And I think in the beginning more so than now, even though it’s always going to be that way from time to time, in the beginning, my family had never had that type of access to that level of success or that type of money.

But my dad was kind of like that with everybody. People would call my dad, ‘My son needs some shoes. We got to pay our rent. We got to do this. We got to do that.’ He was just taking care of everybody on the lower level. So, for me I kind of, like I said, took that same approach of I can’t not look out. And it got to the point where it evolved now to where I got three kids, I got a wife. I’m married. I’m getting closer to the back end of my career. So, I got to make sure that I’m saving money and I’m investing and I’m being smart about this so I’m not becoming a person that everybody’s just leaning on as a crutch.

It kind of switched from me just like, ‘all right, I can help you here, I can help you there’ to now I got to say no more often. And I also started to just put people in a position where I’m like, ‘All right, what do you want to do.’ I’d rather invest in something you actually care about that you can do on your own without needing me than you just keep coming back to me.

So, I turned into that direction. And what I’ve learned is everybody doesn’t have a thing that they want to work at. They don’t all want to put the effort and time into something. … But then it’s those couple of people that are. And those are the people that you invest in, and you give them that opportunity and show that type of love and trust.

And then everybody else, you just got to treat the situation sometimes like, ‘If I didn’t make it in the NBA, life would’ve went on.’ Before I was in the NBA, my family was surviving. Everybody that I knew was surviving. I don’t know how, when I think about it, what were people doing. But they were surviving at the end of the day. That’s not to say that I’m not going to be there for people.

I’m sure there are going to come times when somebody is like, ‘I’m going to get evicted.’ I’m not going to let that happen. Or the kids need some school clothes and you got to pay rent. There are different things. I’m going to always be there for those situations when it’s needed. But when it comes to [requests] just the time and time and time again, I got to prioritize what I have.

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.