Go Ahead And Talk, Damian Lillard Can't Hear You
Throughout the NBA, there are a number of well-worn bits used to poke fun, usually lightheartedly, at the visiting teams and their fans. Having someone from the game night staff dress up as a devotee of the opposing team, only to end up getting, say, a pie to the face, is probably the most common trope. Implying that those wearing jerseys of the popular teams and/or players are frontrunners rather than fans is a is a little more mean spirited, but still utilized from time to time.
But arguably the most common of these in-game, at-the-expense-of-the-competition jokes takes place during introductions. In almost every NBA arena, the hosting team will play a song that features some kind of association to the visiting team that, while not necessarily negative, is at least comical.
Such was the case last week with the Trail Blazers finishing up a four-game road trip in Oklahoma City in their first game versus the Thunder since the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. But rather than sticking to the standard Portland-related joke during introductions -- that being playing "Feel It All Around", more commonly known as the theme song from the TV show "Portlandia" -- the Thunder went with a deeper cut, using "What's Up Doc? (Can We Rock?)", a Fu-Schnickens track featuring Shaquille O'Neil, who engaged in a well-publicized rap battle this offseason with Trail Blazers' starting point guard Damian Lillard.
It's the exact kind of good-natured ribbing teams should be engaging in, only there was one problem: Damian Lillard wasn't playing attention.
"I really couldn't hear it," said Lillard.
And that's by design. While blocking out Shaq's Looney Tunes themed raps might have provided a literal example of Lillard's disinterest in engaging with outside noise, he's taking the same approach figuratively this season as well. Much like the "#THEY" mantra was Lillard's response to being discounted, "I Can't Hear You" serves as blowback from a season in which Portland surpassed all expectations on the way to the Western Conference Finals.
"There's always going to be chatter," said Lillard. "People gonna pick the team that they think are the best teams, who's gonna be successful, what's gonna happen, what they think about our team, 'They need to do this.' Everybody is going to have they opinion about everything, but coming off last year's experience, I just think that helped me see stuff different. Like, it's actually possible, we can actually get there, the league is more balanced this year. So my mind is just focused on that. I'm not gonna entertain or be worried about who said what, what I need to try and do. I know in my heart that I'm about the team and I'm trying to win."
It's not that Lillard minds the talk. He's been around long enough to know how the business works and doesn't necessarily begrudge anyone for their opinions, be they well-supported or otherwise. However, this time around, he's going to try his best this to block out those opinions, something he's attempted with varying degrees of success over the years.
"Last year, they was talking about the previous playoff series that we got swept," said Lillard. "Everybody was on our case and I was just like 'We'll be fine.' I'm having to talk about it over and over, everybody picked us to not make the playoffs. 'This gonna be the year they go away.' It was a lot of that, people just talking trash, and we get to the Western Conference Finals. Nobody picked us to do that, we just focused on what we was doing and look where we went, where they didn't expect us. And that just told me that people don't always know what they hell they talking about, even though they might think so or there might be a reason behind it and it might make sense. So I'm just not entertaining it."
Over the years, it's been common for Lillard to speak openly, both on and off the record, about the opinions held by those outside of the organization. He paid attention to what people said and/or wrote about him and/or the Trail Blazers, and wasn't afraid to admit as much, unlike many of his All-Star contemporaries. But the plan now is to disengage from that world, to let that which does not matter truly slide. Be they critique of his performance from night-to-night, Shaq Diesel disses, or assumptions that the season is sunk by injury, Lillard can't hear you.
"Somebody can say 'Ah, he shooting too much!' or 'What's he doing here?,'" said Lillard. "I don't care. I'm not hearing it and I'm not looking to hear it. I'm not looking for it on Twitter, I'm not looking for it on TV. I can't hear you. I'm not bothered by it, I'm not paying attention to it, say what you want."