LOS ANGELES – Damian Lillard just scored with a second remaining and DeMar DeRozan can’t believe it. He tries retrieving the inbounds pass and getting a shot off, but it’s too late. Lillard capped off a ferocious comeback, and he’s got a huge smile on his face. Up nine at one point, DeRozan is still in shock at the collapse.
Over All-Star weekend, DeRozan and Lillard took a break from the craziness of obligations, media availabilities, and appearances (as well as generally having to be in too many places in too tight a window while schedulers forgot to compensate for traffic) to play a game of NBA 2K. While the pair had a considerably harder scoring in the game than they do in real life, the two professional bucket getters eventually found their rhythm – as they always do – while young fans barked questions at them (“what should your 2K rating be?”) and offered advice (“you should run the pick and roll with Nurkic!”).
The weekend is a mixed bag for both Lillard and DeRozan. On Saturday, the two look tired. It’s clear they’re thankful for the opportunity to be in California (Lillard’s an Oakland native; DeRozan’s from Compton, and if anyone dares to say Los Angeles, he will correct them), but it can be a grind for any All-Star once the novelty of making the game wears off.
This is as first-world problem as it gets, obviously, and they’d readily acknowledge that. But imagine the craziness of Super Bowl week packed into three days, add Kevin Hart and Shaq to almost every moment, and throw the insanity that is LA in the mix for good measure, and a little empathy goes a long way.
While DeRozan and Lillard play more than 2,600 miles away from each other, they have a lot in common with how they approach the game and in their respective situations. Both have readily embraced a city far different from their upbringing and have become the face of franchises fighting for respectability among the power teams in the NBA. They both have found trust and a yang to their yin in running mates (Kyle Lowry and CJ McCollum) who also happen to be dynamic scorers. And they’ve given back to their community while staying open and honest, opting to speak their minds frequently rather than play to clichés or tropes.
During a short sitdown interview in the green room at the Spalding Backcourt activation, DeRozan and Lillard offered their thoughts on trust, caping for their NBA home, and how important a consistent basketball is for shooters.
I guess you’ve been in relatively similar but different situations with having running mates that you guys are as tight with. You have such bonds with both Kyle and C.J. What does it mean to have somebody on your team you can roll with but also that you trust that much?
Damian Lillard: It kind of makes your job a lot easier. Being able to have a bond with an individual on your team. You’re not going to have that same bond with everybody. You’ll be close with all your teammates but to have that one unique bond with the player that is the best player on your team as well. It kind of makes your job easier carrying along with everybody else. Helping them understand what we’ve got to do out there on the court.
DeMar DeRozan: Same thing he said. It’s helpful when it comes down to having to coexist with another player that is really good that the team needs to do what they do. Having a relationship with them, I think it helps. You can have conversations and you’re spending time with them. It makes it easier to do what you’ve got to do on the court.
In the markets that you have with Portland and Toronto. They are such unique places but they are places that were different to you guys coming in. It’s not like you were familiar with them going in there but you guys both embrace the cities that you play in so much. Have you noticed that those cities have rubbed off on you in any way? Any quirks or any of those reputation type things that people from Portland or people from Toronto do that you notice yourself saying, I’m doing that stuff now. I’m a Portland person now, or I’m a Toronto guy.
Lillard: No. I think I’ve embraced the city and they’ve embraced me back. But I would never look at myself and say, I’m a Portland guy. I love the fact that I can represent the city. I had been there a few times, like in college we played at Portland State so I always liked the city. I thought it was cool. I take pride in being a part of the city, but I’ll always be from Oakland.
DeRozan: Yeah, I think the way I felt with the city. They accepted me for me and where I came from. That was the beauty of it. To bring both worlds together and to grow with that. Them understanding me more, where I come from and me understanding the city more. It is one of those things that, what makes it so unique is that I’m from where I’m from and I’m representing their city. Their country and everything and I kind of bring the two together.
Have either of you guys seen that Vince Carter documentary yet?
I talked to a lot of players, especially back in college, where you have to play with different balls at different courts. Did you guys have a ball that you miss, that you really, really loved over the years? Or is there one that you remember being one that you would never want to play with again because it was too slippery or it didn’t work?
Lillard: The Wilson balls were terrible. The Rock. Being honest. The Rock. What else did they have?
DeRozan: Wilson, The Rock.
Lillard: They were terrible.
DeRozan: The Wilson, I can’t deal with. I played with the Wilson in college and it was bad.
Lillard: Terrible. If you ask any NBA player, they can’t go nowhere else and play without a Spalding NBA ball. I don’t go play at colleges for college kids. I bring my own ball. You know what I mean?