Alan Cassinelli
Jul 17 · 22 min read

The 4x All-NBA selection and recording artist joins Brian Berger for a wide-ranging interview on Sports Business Radio.

Brian: I’m with Damian Lillard, here at the Damian Lillard Basketball Camp. Dame, go back to when you were a kid. What’s the first basketball camp you went to?

Damian: The first basketball camp that I went to was called Triple Threat Academy. I think I was in like the 5th grade? I was probably in the 5th grade. It was like my first time going to a camp where I wasn’t with my friends. My dad took me, he wanted me to be out there on my own and have to like, meet new people and talk to people, and play against good competition. So, he took me outside of Oakland to this camp where he paid for me to go. All the kids were good players and that was like, my first experience.

Brian: So, you probably have pretty great appreciation for some of the kids that come to your camp. I know you’re so involved. You’re here all the time. A lot of guys put their name on the camp, but they’re there at the beginning and the end. But, you’re here for the whole thing.

Damian: Like you said, they put their name on it. You know I just don’t put my name on anything. If my name is there I’m going to make sure it’s the best product possible. And, not just that, I want the kids to have a great experience. If it’s not about them having a great experience, and them learning things about the game, and learning things that I can help them do in life then, you know, why have a camp? I’ve been a part of camps where the players showed up at the end and took a picture and that was it; and I don’t want my camp to be that. I could go to the mall and take a picture with people, if that’s the case. You know what I’m saying?

Brian: Right! One of the things that I really marvel at about you, you know I’ve lived here for about 26 years, I used to work with Mr. Taylor over there back in the day…

Damian: J-Tizzle.

Brian: At the Trail Blazers. Your connection with the community is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from an athlete here, or really in other cities that I’ve lived in. Your RESPECT Program, you’ve got the t-shirt on. I read a story the other day. There was a kid in Eugene, Oregon, needed size 18 shoe, he’s 14 years old. He’s having to cut off the toe. You send him 25 pairs! You just won the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, which is such a prestigious honor. Where did your compassion for giving back to the community come from?

Damian: As far as giving back to the community, I think that just comes from having compassion, period. I see people, and I see where I can help or I see where I can have an impact and I just want to do it. Especially, given the position I’ve been fortunate enough to be in. I just want to do it. I enjoy seeing people get picked up and making people happy; just doing stuff for other people. But, I think I learned compassion itself from my mom. You know, I always tell people how much she went through with her jobs. Just different things that I’ve watched her go through. But, every Christmas we would wake up and we would open gifts that my dad and my mom got for me, my brother, my sister. And then, after that, we had to…the Christmas party at my Grandmother’s house would be at 6 o’clock and we would be up opening our stuff at 9 or 10 o’clock.

We’re up opening everything, and we would be done by say, 11 o’clock. After opening it, we play with our stuff or whatever. And then, my mom would be like making us get ready for the Christmas party right away. Like, we was putting our clothes on, putting our toys and our video games and all that stuff away. And then, we had to put gifts in bags. Like, “Okay, this bag is for Grandma Ruth’s house,” my Dad’s mom, and “this bag is going to Aunty Wanda. This bag is going to Aunty Van’s house, and this bag is going to Aunty Clyde’s house.” We literally would have full big black trash bags of gifts going to this person’s house and that person’s house. And, we would make 6 or 7 stops dropping off gifts to make sure every kid here had something. Even if it was some socks, or a beanie, or pajama pants, or a toy.

“She made sure every year, my entire life, that everybody had something. And you know, in a lot of those years that was the only gift that people got.”

I remember being at the mall and my mom would be stopping at random stores just getting little stuff. Just making sure like, “Oh, I can get this for so-and-so.” She made sure every year, my entire life, that everybody had something. And you know, in a lot of those years that was the only gift that people got. But, all those stops; you know, I would never forget them. Because, it would be like by the time we were done, it would be 5:30. Almost time to just go to my Grandmother’s house, and we’ve been dropping off gifts at different cities, different houses. And I was like, she never had to do that. People didn’t treat my mom well all the time. People would talk about her behind her back and get mad when she didn’t do stuff but, she did it all the time. And I think that’s where I learned to do it.

Brian: You’re an incredible leader on this team. You’ve created a culture for the Trail Blazers. They come into the locker room and they just know what they’re stepping into. When you need leadership, or you need a mentor, who do you go to?

Damian: I have a few people. I talk to my dad, just cause my dad has always been in a position that I’m in now; like, in a leadership role for my family. Like, I’m one of the youngest of all my cousins but, because of my career and my financial situation, and who I am as a public figure, now I’m like the leader of my family. So it’s like, who am I going to talk to? Nobody else has been in this position, but my dad was.

Like, everybody just kind of listened to what my dad said, and what he said was law. And it was kind of like that, so I’ve always talked to him when I need somebody to give me direction. Cause I know if anybody is going to keep it all the way real and tell me something — even when it’s not something that I want to hear, even if I don’t like it — and not really care how I feel about it, it’s going to be my dad. So, that’s with sports, that’s with how I feel about a relationship with a friend, with a girlfriend; like anything! I know my dad is going to tell me the real, and it’s going to impact the way I approach that situation, or how I lead going forward.

Brian: I want to go back to when you were coming out of Weber State. Did you understand branding and marketing? Because, it seemed to me, when you first came out (of college) you had the License To Lillard videos. I started learning about you. I didn’t know who you were, other than when you worked out for the Blazers. But, through those videos I started understanding who you were then, and I started following your social media. And I felt like I was starting to get to know you before you ever played. How much of the storytelling about you, and branding yourself, did you understand when you were coming out of college?

Damian: I didn’t really understand it at all. And that’s the beauty of all of that stuff, License To Lillard. When I was in college I did something called, Damian’s Diary, and I broke my foot in college and I did a whole video; like webisodes of my recovery. And it was just like sharing my story. Allowing people to get to know me; and that’s all I did once I got drafted.

It’s like everything I read was, “Oh, he’s unknown. He went to Weber State. He didn’t do this.” Like, nobody knew anything, and that was my way of just letting people get to know me. And like the social media and everything, I was just being myself. That was all I ever did. I think that’s why it works because, I’m not trying to market anything or trying to sell myself. I’m just doing me and it’s allowed me to kind of stick to that and do things that I genuinely care about. And people believe it! You know, people support it because it’s not just out of nowhere. I showed you from the beginning like, this is who I am. I didn’t have to pretend. I didn’t have to put on a show. So it was, it was perfect for me. It ended up looking like marketing and branding and all that stuff. Then everybody started saying, “Oh, my brand. I’m doing this and I’m doing that.” But it’s never been that.

Brian: So, it’s easy to…you’re authentic. And if you’re just authentic, that’s how people…

Damian: You can just be you…

Brian: Right.

Damian: Even when I might be doing something that people don’t like, you can still appreciate it because this is what it is. This is who I am. You’re not going to find out about it like, “Oh, well we thought he never said a curse word before.” And then when I’m playing the game and I cuss at a referee and they are like, “Oh, we thought he didn’t cuss?” You know what I’m saying? [laughs] You’re gonna get the real me.

Brian: We see the real you on social media which is part of what I love about you. How did you kind of find your voice there? Because I know some athletes “clap back,” as they call it, and you clap back. I saw you with Shannon Sharpe…

Damian: That really wasn’t a clap back. That was just a response. I just responded to what he said. I didn’t agree with it.

Brian: But I guess some people have to make the decision of like, when do I respond. When do I just like let it be? And there’s a lot of trolls out there that are just trying to get you to respond. How do you, do you have like a rule for, “here’s when I respond, here’s when I don’t respond”?

Damian: I mean…usually I can tell when somebody is saying something that they just want me to respond to. If it’s something that, that person and I know it’s not true. Then it’s like, they just want some attention; whatever. Sometimes I respond to them, just for fun like, “Okay, I’m going to give you the attention you want.” Because, I know even if it’s something like that, everybody that follows me or supports me is going to tweet them to death, and then they are going to delete the tweet. Or they will make their profile private, or stuff like that. Sometimes I do that out of fun. If it’s something that somebody is saying and I’m like, “I got an opinion about that,” and I actually have a thought about that, then I’ll actually respond, and I’ll say it. Like the Shannon Sharpe situation. I actually had an opinion about that.

Brian: Yeah. And it’s good because it’s actually coming from you. It’s not coming through another party. Like, “Hey, we’re hearing this from Dame.”

Damian: Yeah. I’ll tell you. You said it out loud to the public, and I’m going to respond out loud to the public.

Brian: Right.

Damian: Whereas, it could have been, you could just say it to me and then we can have this conversation. But, I mean, that’s kind of just what it is.

Brian: Four Bar Friday. I love it! How did that start? I know you work…Nate Jones is part of your team, and I’m a fan of Nate’s.

Damian: Great dude.

Brian: Goodwin Sports is really great. The support that they have for the athlete. How did #4BarFriday start?

Damian: Well, it started because I was doing…there was an app called Vine. It wasn’t around for that long. They only had 6 second clips. Like, the video was only 6 seconds. I was trying to figure out…I wanted to start putting music out. I wanted to start introducing people to me rapping. So, I was trying to figure it out. Vine was too, the video was too short to get people to hear at least a rhyme or that you could put words together; it has to be at least 4 bars to make stuff connect. Two bars is like incomplete. I was like, “Vine is too short.” And then Instagram was like 15-second videos at that time. So, I was like, “Man, Instagram is like almost perfect.” It was almost perfect because, you probably need like 16 seconds to say 4 bars. And if you say it fast enough, you can get it off in 15 seconds. So, I basically started practicing to get some of the bars off in that amount of time. But then, Instagram made it one-minute videos, and I was like, “Okay, this is perfect!” Say 4 bars, hashtag, and just create a platform.

I wanted to create a platform for me to introduce me rapping to people that follow me. And, I also wanted to create a platform and community for aspiring artists. Because, I didn’t want to approach it like, “I’m in the NBA, respect me as a rapper.” I was like, I’m gonna basically tag along with other aspiring artists and create a community of Four Bar Friday, and we all going to do it together. We all going to participate every Friday, and it kind of turned into what it turned into. We kept adding to it and making it a bigger deal. Eventually, people started like, I would see people in public and they’ll be like, “You should do Four Bar Friday. You should do it.” And I would be like, “I started Four Bar Friday. That’s my idea!”

Brian: [laughs]

Damian: It’s like people didn’t know I started it. It’s funny.

Brian: Right. Were you surprised at the response? Cause, I saw that the average person does it, but then a lot of pro athletes were doing it too.

Damian: Yeah. I mean, it was like, I reached out to LeBron and I was like this dude got a big following. Like people respect what he do. I was like, “Man, I need you to do a Four Bar Friday. I’m doing this whole thing. I’ve seen you rapping, I’ve heard you rapping and stuff. I done heard you rapping and I need you to do a Four Bars.” And I kind of just reached out to a few people.

And then, once other players saw a few NBA players do it, Bun B (of UGK) did one. Like a couple rappers. Joey Bada$$ did one. After that, everybody just kind of…I honestly don’t know if they knew that I was the one behind it. They just saw all these people doing it and it was kind of like, right now what would be like something trending. It was like trendy so, everybody started doing it. Then from there it just took off. Each week it was getting more and more participants. Like, it was getting more and more people to the point where, I started out just looking like, “Okay! I’m going to look at every video and pick the top 4 for this week.” And I would look at 60 videos and be like, “Okay, these the best ones.” It got to the point to where we had to find like interns and get people to look through these hundreds and hundreds of videos and then send me the best of those. And then I’d be like, “Okay, these are the best ones out of what y’all picked.” I mean, that just shows you how much it’s grown.

Brian: Well, imagine how cool it is for those people you picked their video; if they were one of the Four Bar Friday winners. That’s something they’re going to remember their whole life.

Damian: Yeah. I mean it’s pretty cool. And then you get them to keep participating weekly because, you start giving out rewards. Like at All-Star Weekend a few years back, we did like a whole Four Bar Friday competition.

Brian: I remember that.

Damian: And we like, bought people’s tickets to come there. They had hotel rooms, tickets to All-Star Saturday. And now they’re like wanting to be in the top 4. So they’re competing hard because they know there’s like, incentives. They’re looking forward to JBL Headphones and signed shoes, and tickets here. Stuff like that, and game tickets when I come to the city that you live in. It just grows and grows, and grows and grows. And this is what it’s turned into.

Brian: I want to continue talking about your music. So, Dame Dolla, you tweeted out the other day, “This Album I’m finishing…my first two albums ain’t touchin it” (Posted on July 4th, 2019). What’s different about the third, and then can you walk me through your process? When you decide, are you doing the writing? Are you doing the beats? How do you decide who you’re collaborating with?

Damian: So, my first two albums I thought was good. The first one I did, I didn’t really…I never made an album. So I just didn’t, I didn’t really know how to put it together. I didn’t really have a…I knew what direction I wanted to go in. Like, I wanted to do like storytelling. I wanted to basically, do everything that I have always done, like introducing myself. But I wanted to rap it, basically. That was kind of my approach, but I didn’t know how to put it together. I didn’t know how to find good production. I didn’t know how to find distribution. I didn’t know about marketing. I didn’t know nothing. I just knew, I’m about to do an album and I’m going to try and put it out.

So basically, I thought that it was strong like, lyrically; but how it was put together, I knew it could be better. But I was still proud of it. Like, it did well for what it was. Then the second album, I had a little bit better idea and I thought that album was a little bit better, but both of those albums was a lot of input. This person thinks that, this person thinks this. You should do this, you should do that. And it was like all of those things kind of made it not exactly what I wanted it to be.

So, the second one was 2017, and then I didn’t do no music last summer. This summer, I started training. I was on the road. I was in Phoenix training for like a week. And I had this company that set up studios inside the house. They came and they set up in the Airbnb that I was in. And the guy that I record with engineer out of LA, Nate Alford; he came down and stayed for the week. I would go train in the morning, do my on-court stuff, lift, do my conditioning, and I would come back to the Airbnb and eat, and we were in there just making music. And, I just started just coming with records. I was just writing. We found good producers because he’s engineered on great projects with the best artists, Kanye, Rihanna, Jeremih, Travis Scott. He’s engineered with the best of them. So, me and him kind of developed this partnership to where like now, through him, I’m having access to the best production, the best producers, the best songwriters, stuff like that.

I write my own lyrics but a lot of people have camps where they have songwriters come in and they’ll write like the hook, or like whatever the topic of the song is. So we kind of sat down and we was just going through all the stuff and I was just recording, recording, recording. And everything that I was recording it was stuff that I liked because it was just me and him. It wasn’t everybody else’s opinion and thoughts on this and thoughts on that. We just did it. And I was like, “Okay, I respect your opinion because of the projects that you’ve been around, the level of music that you’ve been around.” And some stuff he was like, ‘It’s just okay, but you should finish this one.” It would be something that I liked from the beginning and I would just record a little bit, and then I would just kind of back off of it, and then start working on something else. And it was like three different times he was like, “You should finish this one. This one could be hard. You should finish this one.”

And all of those songs ended up on the album. So it’s all stuff that I…that it’s me. It’s what I wanted it to be. It wasn’t a whole lot of opinions. And then when I finished it, I played it for other people. And they was like, “Oh you coming new. Like this is your best stuff.” It was like that’s the way it should have been.

Brian: You had a listening party the other night. How did that go?

Damian: It went well! It was the third time that I actually had a listening party. The first two times, my music wasn’t like, it didn’t have a lot of bounce. It was more just like I said, the storytelling and kind of like good vibes. And this album it’s like, it’s more energy. Like it’s more tempo to the production. It’s louder. It’s more fun.

Brian: When’s it coming out? When can people start downloading it?

Damian: It’s coming out soon. I’m shooting for July 25th. That’s when I would like to drop it. I think that’s accurate. I think that’s probably when it’s gone happen?

Brian: Sponsors. One of the things that Sponsors love about you is, (a) you’re an amazing player, (b) you’re authentic and they know what they’re getting when they partner with you. The other thing the guy friend at Adidas says, “Dame comes out to campus. He sits in on the meetings. He presents to the employees.” Like, you’re an engaged partner. Adidas, Powerade, Hulu, Biofreeze, Spalding, Moda Health. You’ve got a long list of endorsers. And I really think, Dame, like you’ve changed the blueprint for small market basketball players. Everyone used to say, “You can’t get all these deals from a small market.” Well look at what you’re doing! No one can say that anymore. How do you pick your partners? Cause you know, I’m sure you could be working with even more than this number of sponsors. But what is it that you’re looking for when you partner with a company?

Damian: For me it’s just, if what they’re about and what they have in mind is in line with mine; and a lot of times that’s the case. Like you said, I’m sure I could be partnering with everybody to make a little bit of extra money. Like, “Okay, they are going to pay this. Let’s do that!” But, a lot of times, every partner that I have is all connected.

“If you can play, they gonna find you. If you are good enough, they’ll find you.”

Yeah, I work with Adidas and Powerade and Moda Health and stuff like that, but everybody is willing to work together so all of my stuff can connect. So, if somebody is not in line with that, or somebody doesn’t want to be a part of that, then they just don’t fit what I do. They don’t fit what I’m about. I think it has changed the way people view small markets. It’s kind of like what they tell people that go to small schools like, “If you can play, they gonna find you. If you are good enough, they’ll find you.” It’s kind of the same thing. If you’re worthy of elevating them, elevating their company, or whatever and y’all can have a strong partnership and it will be beneficial, they’ll find you. It’ll work out.

Brian: The other thing that I love that you do, you activate so well, whether it’s on social media or you go over to China. The things that you do, again, authentic. Some of the athletes you can tell, oh they dragged this guy there, he didn’t want to be there. With you, I’m like, “He’s into this!” And I think it represents the company that you’re representing well cause you can tell.

The other thing too that has changed in the last year, the NBA lifted the requirement. Like your shoes can be any color now.

Damian: You can tell any story you want.

Brian: Right.

Damian: That was the most fun thing about the shoe. I was like, “Okay! Now I don’t have to hide behind these colors. I can tell the stories through the shoes and literally wear them, and it don’t have to match the uniform.” That was big. But like you said, people when they activate and they do all this stuff, you gotta drag them there because it’s not in line with who they are. So, it doesn’t really make sense to do it.

A lot of the stuff that I do, I’m not just showing up because they are like, “Okay, we paid you so this is something that you have to do.” It matches up with stuff that I’m interested in, stuff that I care about. It’s not like a hassle. Yeah, I get tired sometimes and yeah, I don’t really feel like going, but once I get there and it’s stuff that I care about, I’m gonna want to be there. I’m gonna treat the situation like I want to be there because, it’s stuff that I care about. So, I think that’s what’s the difference. People signing up to partner with people that have the same things in mind, and people who are just like, “They are paying me what? They gonna pay for this? Okay, let’s do it!” Then, when it’s time to take action, they like they don’t really want to do it because, it’s not something that’s in line with how they feel.

Brian: How cool is it for you, Adidas is right here in Portland, the North American headquarters? So, you can go meet with their team, you can be part of the creative process. I would think that would be a big advantage for you with them, and obviously for them with you, to produce a product that is really representative of what you both want to put out there?

Damian: It’s perfect for me because of like, the communication. If it’s something they need to talk to me about, like they can find me. If it’s something they need me to come see, it’s not like they gotta wait till I come play here. I literally had times where they’re like, “Dame, whenever you got time, we got a shoe we want you to see. We need you to test it or whatever. Or we got some new colorways or whatever.” And I’d be like, “Alright, I’ll be there in 20 minutes.” And they’ll be like, “Right now?” And I’d be like, “Yeah! I’mma come in 20 minutes,” and I’ll go up there and we meet and I look at all the stuff. Then, while I’m there I walk in and they got another meeting about apparel, and they like, “Oh Dame, you’re here! What you think about this?” And then I end up sitting in there, and I’m like, “Oh I really don’t like that. I would rather do this.” So it’s like that’s really helpful. It’s really helpful with us both being there.

Brian: A few more things, Space Jam 2, reports are that you’re part of the movie. I don’t know how much you can talk about it or not. If you can’t talk about it.

Damian: I can’t say much, but I’m in it. [laughs]

Brian: Okay, that’s cool. I mean, that’s got to be exciting too. It was 23 years ago…

Damian: All I can say is it’s a picture that somebody snuck a picture of us on set. So, I’m not telling y’all nothing that the world don’t know already.

Brian: Alright. Jimmy Goldstein’s house. [laughs] Nah. I saw that set up it seems pretty cool. Alright. Dame time. It’s become universally known. You’re not only the guy that wants the ball in your hands at the end of the game but you actually come through. There’s a lot of guys that want the ball in the end, but they don’t actually come through. The other thing that makes it even harder is everyone knows about Dame Time now.

Damian: Yeah, it’s getting harder now.

Brian: Yeah, he’s taking the shot.

Damian: It’s a little harder than it used to be, now. I don’t know. It’s now when the clock is running down sometimes, they just run two people and make me pass the ball. It’s just different defenses. It’s just they do it different. I thought it became a thing in Portland where everybody was like Dame Time and all this stuff.

Brian: Right.

Damian: But I think once it became a national thing after we beat the Rockets in the Playoffs. And then after, this year it really took off.

Brian: Yeah. You kind of change the fortune of a franchise with that shot. Last question.

Damian: [laughs] What can I say…that was for Seattle haha.

“What can I say…that was for Seattle haha.”

Brian: [laughs] Ah, I love it! I love it. Fatherhood. Baby Dame. How has Fatherhood changed your perspective on things?

Damian: Just how careful you gotta be sometimes. You know, I think you as an athlete; I get so caught up in — I need to go workout, I need to go do this, I gotta go here. You gotta do so many things that, like it consumes you. This is all you’re doing, and then you look up and it’s been three weeks and I haven’t spoke to my grandmother, and I haven’t talked to my dad in two weeks. You start going, going, going. And then like, since I had my son like, it makes me slow down. I’m like I’m not going to be a dad that my son can’t talk to, and my son don’t see every day before he goes to sleep. And when he play, he can’t play with me and stuff like that.

So, that made me slow down. And now that I’ve slowed down like, me and my dad talking all the time. I’m not missing those windows. The last few years I’m going these amounts of time without…like my mom would go out of town and we won’t talk the whole time she’s out of town, stuff like that. So it just slowed me down. It just makes me kind of manage my time better because, I’m not rushing here and rushing there as much.

Brian: I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to sit down with me. Continued success to you. You’re truly an inspiration on and off the basketball court. So, thank you!

Damian: Thank you.

Listen to the whole episode of the Sports Business Radio Podcast:


Sports Business Radio focuses on the issues and people directly impacting the world of sports business. Guests on the show offer an insider’s perspective include pro sports league executives, agents, college athletics administrators, sports apparel company reps, ad agency executives, media executives and athletes.

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Sports Business Radio

Guests of the show offer an insider’s perspective include pro sports league executives, agents, college athletics administrators, sports apparel company reps, ad agency executives, media executives and athletes.

Alan Cassinelli

Written by

Content Marketing Manager at workwithOpal.com

Sports Business Radio

Guests of the show offer an insider’s perspective include pro sports league executives, agents, college athletics administrators, sports apparel company reps, ad agency executives, media executives and athletes.

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