Steven Louis and Bill Walton share at least one plane of existence.
For the past few years, whenever friends or acquaintances question the sizable time commitment I make in following the NBA regular season, I bring up Damian Lillard. Yeah, only one team wins the Finals, and that one team has felt like an increasingly-foregone conclusion. But basketball isn’t goddamn Sun Tzu or Monopoly or whatever. It’s not a zero-sum game, and the sole champion doesn’t leave the rest of the field in ashes and shrapnel. A handful of other teams will offer electrifying, worthwhile moments and rewarding narrative arcs; a few players will go on some superhero shit despite ultimately being left ringless.
It only pays to be reductive like that if you’re dumb and stupid, and you, reader, do not want to be dumb and stupid. Let’s be adults and enjoy the nuance. Larry O’Brien didn’t have League Pass, alright? Don’t catch Kobe Brain.
So … Dame Lillard. He’s coming with Steph Curry’s game and Russell Westbrook’s night-to-night intensity. He Heats The Fuck Up with effervescent cool, an absolutely thrilling and engulfing watch spoiled only by the Blazers’ limitations come playoff-time. The fans in Portland go apeshit when he does wild dope magic stuff, and oh, my guy, he does that a lot. So, I tell people, watching the January games and buying into the different journeys has payoff with someone like Lillard, even though he’s not going to win the NBA championship and end up the Big Winner.
Here’s the thing, though! He’s kinda close to doing that right now! The Blazers, making their first Western Conference Finals appearance in 19 years, are just one round from the title fight, and the Warriors are sans-Kevin Durant for an undetermined amount of time. Lillard might have conciliatory Play of the Playoffs honors with his beheading of OKC, but he also has a shot at, you know, winning the playoffs themselves. If you haven’t been a Golden State fan since Stephen Jackson, Baron Davis, etc. were emptying Bay Area scotch reserves…well, you should definitely be rooting for Portland. To do otherwise would, once again, be dumb and stupid. Don’t be dumb and stupid!
Go make some emotional investment in CJ McCollum. Show appreciation for Evan Turner, one of the most genuinely endearing players in the game, and if you don’t cheer for Enes Kanter, you are a fascist. Pick Portland because the city’s mayor is Dale Cooper sitting on an exercise ball. But above all else, appreciate the magnetism of Lillard, an under-recruited and underestimated product of the Oakland soil marching in to end the Warriors’ final season at Oracle Arena (they ditch Oakland for the Chase Center in San Francisco this fall). He’s actually, you know, a cool person. Carrie Brownstein is only friends with super cool people.
And here’s what makes all this substantially better: Dame has bars! Dame can outrap everyone on the Warriors, probably everyone in the league! If you’re reading this website, you for surely like rap music, and I’m here to report and remind you that Lillard’s rap music indeed goes. He spits convincingly, and he has multiple Weezy collabs. Dare I say, he’s the best rapping Trail Blazer since those Sheed, Z-Bo and Bonzi Wells cyphers.
So, should you want to consume any aural stimuli that isn’t Nipsey or Megan Thee Stallion this week, might I suggest these Dame D.O.L.L.A. joints. This could be the self-made soundtrack of a monumental upset! It probably won’t be. But it’s more satisfying to know that this dude, who has significant legacy work carved out for him, is also kinda smooth with 16s. Fuck Jon Snow, ain’t no time left for boring heroes. Here are some Dame songs that I like:
This is the intro from his 2016 tape, The Letter O. Lillard lets his Bay Area roots bleed throughout his music, and he reveals himself to be a thoughtful writer: “I see they fail to recognize I’m different/Really a misfit, a man with infants/Unlimited loads of pigment/My true colors, that’s all I know.” He ends his second verse talking about getting snubbed from the All-Star Game in 2015-2016, only to make that season’s All-NBA Second Team, which qualified him for an even sweeter contract extension.
Straight-forward, grown-ass rapping over simple, low-stakes jazz loops. Take it for what it is, and enjoy the stories of Lillard listening to The Cool Kids, killing time in Utah, coming back from a broken foot and perfecting the long-range bomb off the dribble. Dame D.O.L.L.A., as a creative enterprise, is surprisingly confessional for one of the league’s most valuable players.
“LOYAL TO THE SOIL”
Dame says here that he won’t let the money define him. Dame also has a tattoo that says HULU HAS LIVE SPORTS, no dragons, no mouths. This right here is a man of complexity, of contradiction and grey areas. This guy is the hero we need. Have you ever heard of David Simon’s The Wire?
“RUN IT UP”
The better of the two Wayne collaborations, there’s a palpable energy to Dame’s claim that “all of this is hustle, none of this is love.” Can you believe this guy came from Weber State? That the draft pick before him was Thomas Robinson? It’s a flex for Lillard, but it’s also a solid outing for Tunechi. The two of them have some level of chemistry. Fun fact: the executive producer of Rebirth was none other than Stephen Curry. You hate to see it!
Rap or go to the league. The choice is yours. “The greatest teams assembled, that ain’t really what I’m into.” Oh, just douse me in that piping hot tea. Tity Boi does the verse without cursing. Dame also says, “drop my nuts like an OG, got hair on em, tarantula.” You can quote that. If he makes Draymond Green eat jockstrap, we now have a vivid understanding of what it will look like.