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Damian Lillard Speaks Out on Protests, Getting Harassed by Police

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Portland’s star player shares personal stories of his encounters with law enforcement and his commitment to change.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Portland Trail Blazers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

In a ground-shaking interview with Michael Pina for GQ Magazine, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard bared his soul about police harassment, protest, and his personal experience with police officers. The interview is one of the best ever published on a Trail Blazers player, an extensive and thought-provoking look into Lillard’s mind and life. In it, he talks about his experiences growing up and in college, why he marched with fellow residents of Portland last week, the meaning behind the new music he’s dropping, and his thoughts on resuming play with the NBA in a time of unrest.

When Pina asked him about his feelings on nationwide protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Lillard responded:

I mean, just frustrated. Feeling like a little helpless because growing up, I experienced so many of those things where we had, you know, neighborhood picnics where a fight would break out and guns were drawn. I had guns drawn on me as a little kid. I grew up around people like Oscar Grant who was killed by a cop. And he’s face down on the ground. Seeing people get harassed by cops my whole life. Then I went off to college in Utah where things were way different. I got a chance to focus on myself and have peace of mind. Now I live in a suburb.

So now, the more you see people losing their lives and people killed by cops with no guns, no nothing, they’re unarmed people. [Killed] for petty crimes. Silly stuff. Writing a bad check. Doing stuff like that and they’re losing their lives. I’m only 29. And you’ve seen this so many times that you’re just at the point like, man, when is it gonna really change?

Lillard’s experience goes deep, as he relayed in this story of being pulled over by police from his college days at Utah’s Weber State University:

So they made me get out of my car, with my cousin. They made us walk up the road. We’re in the middle of the desert. They made us walk like 30 yards up the road away from my car. I started thinking they were gonna plant something in my car, but they didn’t. They just tore my car apart. They took the inside of the doors off. They went in my trunk and took out all my suitcases and luggage and had all my clothes flying out all over the road. They broke my window. They just tore my car apart and then three hours later after being on the side of the road in the desert. It was three squad cars out there, six cops, and they just harassed us, basically. And I didn’t even get a ticket!

After much more back and forth, Pina asked Lillard for his thoughts about resuming the NBA season amid so much turmoil and personal angst:

I think about it everyday. I can’t speak for everybody but for me personally, I’m able to do my job more effectively when I’m in a good place personally. You know what I’m saying? And this is something that affects me personally. I’m one man. I make a lot of money as one man and I do things for a lot of people and my family. But I got a lot of people that live in Oakland and a lot of friends that are still in the neighborhood. I’m just connected to so many people that it’s like, how can I be consumed with a basketball game? Look at the lengths that we’re going to play a basketball game when there’s something so much greater going on. Something so much more meaningful going on, that really needs us. So I mean it’s a battle every day for me, man.

Lillard also talks with Pina about COVID-19, the playoffs format, trade rumors, turning 30, and much more.