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Portland Trail Blazers

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard talks sneakers, storytelling and inspiring the next generation through his music

#Lillard

Damian Lillard's off-season has taken him around the world and back, with stops in Shanghai, Taipei and Sydney as part of his 'Free to Create' tour in partnership with Adidas.

While most players use these opportunities to promote their signature sneakers, Lillard is putting his music in the spotlight, emphasising that he is more than just an NBA player - whether people like it or not.

After releasing his third album last month, Lillard continues to garner respect in his 'second job', boasting features from Lil Wayne and Jeremih on 'Big D.O.L.L.A' and for the four-time All-Star, his foray into music isn't something new, rather an extension of his personality that fans don't necessarily get to see on the court.

The final leg of his tour saw Lillard rock the stage in Sydney, putting on a free concert for hundreds of fans, who packed into World Square to see their favourite NBA player switching lanes.

"It's pretty cool to have basketball allow me to have these partnerships, I'm thankful for the opportunity to come here and share that with people out here," Lillard told NBA.com.

No stranger to the bright lights, Lillard already owns one of the most impressive buzzer-beater collections in the NBA, adding to his résumé as one of the league's late-game showmen, with the iconic 'wave goodbye' three-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last season.

While he's grown used to taking centre stage on the hardwood, Lillard relishes the opportunity to express himself off it, gracing the stage with a microphone in hand, just as comfortably as he does with a Spalding - blurring the lines between basketball player and rapper.

"It's a different buzz man, with basketball you're out there and it's more of a physical thing, you're playing your heart out, working hard, but with music you can express it in words and interact and that performance is just different."

For Lillard, it's that expression and storytelling that gives fans a glimpse into the other side of #0, but his music isn't just his escape from basketball. The 29-year-old wants his music to serve a higher purpose - to inspire kids to embrace their individuality and it's something he doesn't take for granted.

"It means a lot, because we live in a world where people put you in a box and don't want to allow you to be your complete self, but to be able to perform on stage and be in the NBA, it's a big deal for me to be able to share that with the youth," Lillard said.

"Because they deserve to know that they can do what makes them happy, being their complete selves and feel good about it."

For Lillard, being able to blur the lines between NBA star and musician is somewhat of a cathartic release.

While critics are quick to greet his new releases with 'get back in the gym' tweets, Lillard says studio time provides him with a way to refresh from the grind of an 82-game season and everything that comes with it, while giving him another avenue to tell his story.

"It's been great for me. For one, it's always been a passion of mine and in the world we live in with social media and TV it can wear you out, you can become worn out of the game, so the fact that I've been into music, I can take my interest and take my mind away from things.

"It allows me to come back fresh every time, every summer my mind is fresh, it just gives me that balance."

Being able to share his story with his fans, especially his younger following, hopes to serve as inspiration - by telling his story, their stories and chronicling his journey from his hometown of Oakland, California to Weber State and now Portland.

Throughout his seven-year NBA career, Lillard has been part of the Adidas family, releasing his fifth signature sneaker in 2019. After signing a long-term extension to continue his partnership with the brand, Lillard is just as excited about being able to tell his story through his shoes as he is to leave a legacy in the sneaker game.

"It means a lot, not a lot of people get the opportunity, leave alone have a signature shoe, so I'm thankful for it and I can't wait till I get older and have my son look at it and be like 'that's my dad's shoe from way back.'"

The Dame 5 sneaker has incorporated his love for rollerskating, boxing, the movie 'Black Panther', his childhood yellow Mongoose bike as well as honouring his mother with the 'Suga Gee' colourway - with each design taking him back to different points in his life.

"That's the best part about it, through sneakers we don't make up stuff, it's real stories we're telling through the shoes and my story is a bit different. There's a lot of kids that are in the position I was once in and just that desire to have something that connects with them.

"I come from a similar background as them and I love the fact that we can tell real stories through shoes."

Despite his hectic schedule, Lillard says being involved in the process of creating a signature sneaker from start to finish is something he cherishes, every single step of the way.

"I'm very involved, the Adidas headquarters is in Portland and I live in Portland, so I'm able to fit in a lot of meetings through different stages of the shoe as far as approving stuff," he added.

"Anything I don't like, letting them know and being able to have that creativity. I'm telling the stories that they're basing the colourways and the shoe off."

As he enters his eighth season in the NBA, looking to take the Portland Trail Blazers to their first NBA championship since 1977, Dame's story is far from written.

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