"BOOST is a groundbreaking innovation in cushioning. It provides more energy return than any other foam cushioning material in the running industry, combining soft comfort with responsive energy for the ultimate running experience. In the heat, in the cold and after countless kilometers, it performs more consistently and doesn't lose its cushioning properties like standard EVA." -- adidas
When Damian Lillard signed a contract with adidas worth "well over $100 million" earlier this summer, you knew that he would become much more visible on the national scene. You don't pay a guy that kind of money to hide him under the couch.
Ever since Lillard became a Trail Blazer, he's been in the public eye. His on-the-court heroics turned heads. His game winners (including one at Madison Square Garden) provided a steady stream of highlights. An open love for Oakland and a basketball wisdom well beyond his years endeared him to the warm and fuzzy crowd.
Lillard's national profile surged during All-Star Weekend last February in New Orleans. He became the first player ever to compete in all five major All-Star events. He and teammate LaMarcus Aldridge also became the first Blazer duo to play in an All-Star Game in 20 years.
Coverage came thick and heavy off the court as well. Starting the #4BarFriday movement on Instagram changed Lillard from basketball-player-turned-wannabe-hip-hop-artist into a icon. Lillard looms as a social media presence. Witness the concert/competition at All-Star Weekend, andrapper L. E. X -- a 4 Bar Friday veteran -- becoming a top contender in a contest to win a deal with Sony Music (the winner of which will be announced September 8).
After the big All-Star event we saw the "Quick Ain't Fair" campaign and his packing of social media tangos with Adidas. Derrick Rose -- the company's largest signee -- has missed nearly two consecutive seasons due to injury. John Wall has been cut from the national team and Dwight Howard cultivates PR issues. Lillard has become the current face of the adidas brand.
The roll of commercials has backed that up. Lillard appeared alongside icons like Karl Malone and Chris Webber last year for Adidas and Foot Locker. He's now is seen in 30 second pieces showcasing adidas' new "Boost" technology.
This level of attention is mostly new for the Trail Blazers. Obviously they've had big name players in the public eye before (Clyde Drexler, Scottie Pippen, Brandon Roy, etc.). But usually the "100 Million Dollar Man" gets paid by ownership before getting the big shoe deal.
It's sometimes difficult to know how to react to Lillard splashing the national stage like this. It's not at all because he's unqualified or uncomfortable in that environment. After all, he's been doing this since Day One. Portland fans just haven't seen a guy like that before.
Portland is rarely on the national stage. Even though it's home to the headquarters of many sports brands, rarely is Portland mentioned in the same regard as L.A., Chicago or New York as a place where highly recognizable players want to go, if at all. The city isn't flashy, sexy or glamorous. Instead, it's "Weird" by its own definition.
Can Lillard change that?
The supposed reason Portland can't attract A-list free agents is because, aside from its lack of glitz and glam, the city isn't perceived as a place where you can be marketable. It's a little big city. Players understand that being on a billboard on the grain elevators across from the Moda Center isn't quite the same as Times Square or L.A. Live.
Yet Lillard has broken the mold: Maybe players from the Northwest really can become faces of brands. It's not the norm, but it's possible.
Lillard getting this type of exposure makes you dream about other All-Star level players willingly coming to Portland. Is that just a pipe dream, or does that dream get closer to reality every time Damian dishes a tub of popcorn during a national commercial break?