Damian Lillard: In Quarantine


Trail Blazers star opens up about life after suspended season

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard urges on the crowd after scoring during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020. The Blazers won 125-112. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Damian Lillard has spent his days in quarantine much like many of us, watching shows and trying to enjoy more time at home, while avoiding thinking about how long this will last.

He sat in one place for a whole day and watched Season 3 of Ozark. He’s holding out on watching Tiger King, saving it so he doesn’t run out of things to watch.

His life, like most of the rest of the world’s, is on hold because of the Coronavirus pandemic and nobody knows when it will end.

“I feel like I wake up every day and wonder, ‘what should I be doing, what’s going to happen?'”

Lillard’s questions aren’t unlike the ones many of us are asking ourselves every day. How long is this going to last? What should I be doing? For Lillard, the answer to the last question was simple: Figure out a way to help.

Within days of the NBA season being suspended–after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19–players and personnel from around the league stepped up to donate money for relief efforts. Donations went to team and facility employees who would be out of work as long as the games were suspended.

Portland Trail Blazers chair Jody Allen, along with several Blazers players, have committed to donating more than $1.4M towards COVID-19 relief efforts, including paying the Blazers’ home court workers for at least nine postponed games. Lillard personally contributed $100k and said he spoke with his teammates about getting involved as well.

“Before I did it I ran it by other guys, just to let them know,” Lillard said. “I don’t want anybody to feel like they are responsible or anything like that but I felt that it was important to share that and to plant that seed and let people know, this is not a situation where it’s like we’re doing a favor, like this is the right thing to do.”

Lillard and the other players’ contributions will go towards the Trail Blazers COVID-19 Relief Fund which will specifically help support local nonprofits that are impacted by the crisis, according to Jason Quick of the Athletic.

Lillard, like many of us, said he is missing the daily interaction with other people, including basketball fans. He turned to social media to try and stay connected, taking his 7.5 million Instagram followers with him as he works out in his home gym. Or, bringing along his followers to watch shows with his son, “Dame Jr.”

“Just trying to be a part of that unity and togetherness that’s necessary right now,” Lillard explained. “It’s one of those times when we’re all experiencing the same thing, nobody is going through something that somebody else isn’t.”

“Not in the way of like harder or easier, financially or nothing like that, but what we’re experiencing, we’re experiencing all as one. We’re all affected by it. So I’ve just been trying to connect with people as often as possible and as much as possible in these times just to share some positive energy.”

But in addition to aiding fans with money or company, Lillard said he’s also trying to stay “ready.” If the NBA resumes, he’ll be ready to lead his team on the playoff push they’ve been trying to kickstart since January.

“I’m just trying to stay on edge and ready to come back whenever they call us back.”

Lillard said he’s been running each morning, lifting in his home gym and doing “as much core as you could possibly do,” while also spending time in the steam room because as this hiatus extends, it’s hard to maintain momentum.

“It’s kind of starting to feel like postseason you know, like the season is over.”

Connecting with teammates is another way Lillard is trying to help his team keep any collective edge they can. Regardless of the format the NBA adopts to complete or salvage any remaining season, the Blazers are likely still sitting outside the playoff picture.

“When the season does come back, I feel like it’s only right that teams get a chance to make a playoff push, like ourselves, get a chance to get in.”

The Blazers lost two of their last three games before the season was suspended, were a day away from a massive match-up with the Memphis Grizzlies that had 8th-seed implications, and the game after that center Jusuf Nurkic was scheduled to return after missing nearly a year with a lower left leg fracture. Zach Collins was also expected to make his return from having shoulder surgery on his dislocated left shoulder in a matter of weeks.

If the season does pick back up, knowing the Blazers will get those two pieces back, has Lillard optimistic his team can make their seventh straight postseason appearance.

“That makes me a lot more optimistic knowing not only will they both be back, but it’s not like they’re coming back right at their targeted date,” Lillard said. “We’re past both guys dates and then there’s extra time. When we do come back, everybody’s going to have a little bit of rust to shake off so they’re going to fit right in with everybody else, it’s going to be a completely different situation.”

A completely different situation for the Blazers from a personnel standpoint, but also likely a completely different situation for the entire league as it seems unlikely the season will continue in it’s scheduled format, completing the last 18 or so games and then have a two month playoffs.

Lillard said he’s spoken with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and while he hasn’t been seeking out any information on what the league is thinking, he’s been happy to volunteer what he would like to see happen.

“It’s obviously going to be a different situation than it’s ever been, so you know maybe they should do something that’s never been done,” Lillard suggested.

He mentioned ideas like an NCAA March Madness-style tournament, every team qualifies, it’s single elimination until the Conference Finals and then it’s best of three.

“If there was any time for them to get super creative and people would be tuned in and excited about it with everything that’s going on I think this is the time.”

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