'He Was Unapologetically Him': Damian Lillard On His Love For 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has devoted a considerable portion of his life to basketball, but professional wrestling might be his first love. And there's no wrestler Lillard reveres more than Steve James Anderson, better known as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Lillard's admiration for Austin led him to dress up as the brash-talking, beer-swigging grappler for Halloween a few years ago and has continued with adidas making a "Stone Cold" colorway of his signature sneaker, the Dame 6.
The black/blue/yellow colorway, nods to Austin's predilection for denim and leather vests, features synthetic snakeskin, a callout to Austin's "Texas Rattlesnake" nickname, broken glass, a wink to Austin's entrance music, a broken skull and of course "DAME 3:16" a takeoff of Stone Cold's biblically-specious "AUSTIN 3:16" catch phrase, adorns the midsole. The colorway hits retail on January 25, and WWE wrestler Kofi Kingston wearing the sneaker at the Royal Rumble on January 26.
To celebrate the release, Lillard recently spoke about the origins of his love for wrestling, why he's such a big fan of Stone Cold, the Attitude Era in professional wrestling, Austin's popularity among professional athletes, the similarities between Stone Cold's personality in his ring and his on the court and his thoughts on the new colorway.
When did you first become a fan of Steve Austin? Do you remember when you first became aware of who he was?
Damian Lillard: My first memory of Stone Cold, he had hair and he wasn't "Stone Cold." And like, I remember something I was always really interested in at that time when I first started watching wrestling -- I was maybe four or five years old -- I just remembered people resurfacing as different characters. Like, how they would be one person and they would come back as somebody else and I'd be like "He was WCW and now he's WWF as somebody else!" And that was the first thing I noticed about Stone Cold, and when he came back he was like a completely different character. He was like, just a bad (expletive).
He first came in as a pretty boy or something like that, right?
Damian Lillard: Stunning Steve or something like that. And I was like "This dude was somebody else" and he came back and he was Stone Cold. And he was like a complete different personality, he had all these one liners, baldheaded and he was a villain. By hisself, didn't mess with nobody, drinking beers, flipping people off. I just loved it, that was my favorite personality.
It seems like he kind of filled the space between "good" and "bad." He wasn't necessarily a babyface nor a heel, he seemed to straddle both.
Damian Lillard: Hate to love him or love to hate him. It goes both ways. I don't know exactly how to describe it but it's like he's a bad guy, but people love the bad guy. It was one of those things.
His persona really seemed to be about refuting authority, which kind of goes both ways.
Damian Lillard: Exactly, a rebel. You don't Stun Vince McMahon, and he would do it. Vince McMahon fired him, he still show up. He did what he wanted to do and it was like, you just love to see that type of life, going against the grain all the time. Just doing what he wanted to do. I loved it.
It seems like a lot of professional athletes are Stone Cold fans and I wonder if there's something specific about why that attitude speaks to athletes.
Damian Lillard: I don't give a (care). That mentality is just like, it's a swagger about that persona that he had that, as a kid, I just loved it. Loved it. Nobody could tell him nothing, nobody could punk him. He was the man! He was just the man. I felt like even when everybody loved The Rock, I still was like, he may be bigger than Stone Cold, but he's not quite Stone Cold.
I read a quote from Vince McMahon in which he said Stone Cold was the biggest star ever in wrestling. It might have been Hulk Hogan at one point in time, and maybe with all the success that The Rock has had outside of wrestling...
Damian Lillard: The Rock post-wrestling, maybe. But in wrestling, I think Stone Cold is the GOAT. You got some people -- Goldberg was known for 73-0 or however many matches. And then you've got Triple H who was just around a long time, was Hunter Hearst Helmsley and then came back as Triple H, a whole different person. And you got Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, you got all these dues that were great. But Stone Cold was like, a great wrestler and a great entertainer. When he had a microphone... I would look forward to watching him on Raw even when he wasn't wrestling. Just the energy with him, or for him to do something random, him showing up in the grocery store whipping somebody ass, I just looked forward to that, you know what I mean? Nobody else could do what he was doing. Nobody else could do it, and make you really believe this is who he really is.
Stone Cold is really one of those guys who it's always like: Is that real? Is it fake? Professional wrestling blurs those lines on purpose, and Stone Cold seemed to be one of the best at it.
Damian Lillard: He seemed like that's really who he is. Texas Rattlesnake, Austin 3:16, And That's The Bottom Line. And then he came back later in his career with "WHAT?" and the whole arena is like "WHAT? WHAT?" And that was after I stopped watching wrestling and he was still like that. It's crazy.
I was thinking that, as an athlete, there's probably a level of respect for a guy who suffers a serious injury and then finish the match...
Damian Lillard: Didn't he break his neck or something?
Yeah, Owen Hart piledrived him and it actually hit and broke his neck. And then to come back and keep wrestling...
Damian Lillard: Already had a bad knee. All that did was go deeper into his legacy. Major, major, major legacy. I wonder how much money he was making. I know a lot of those dudes, it's like the old music business or like how boxing was, but I really wonder. He was such a star. I know Rick Flare was making a lot of money, so Stone Cold had to be making a lot of money, had to be. He had merch! All that Stone Cold Steve Austin merch and all that stuff, especially when they made him his own belt. Like, the belt I've got, it's a Broken Skull.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 23, 2018
I saw someone mentioned that about your Stone Cold walk in, that you even had the right belt.
Damian Lillard: Yeah, I had the Broken Skull! I had like, his belt. He was champ for so long that he had a belt with a skull on it and it was like the Stone Cold belt. So the next champ pretty much had to have a different belt. It's like, that's the belt that I got, that's how great he is. And then after that you see The Rock come with his belt, you know what I mean? That's different. He had his own belt.
He really seems to be special to men of your generation, and might be one of the most popular athletes among athletes.
Damian Lillard: For people of my age, his era was at its peak. Attitude Era was at its peak when I was a kid and it was a thing. I feel like they had a lot going on for children. You watch it on TV, they had WWF ice creams, they had WWF toys and action figures and belts and rings. It was just always something. They had merch, you got the shirts, video games. I think because of that, it was just a big deal. That era, the personalities was so strong. Obviously you got Macho Man and Hulk Hogan and guys like that who had big personalities, Ric Flare. But the Attitude Era, it was like, everybody was a major character: The Rock, Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, D-Generation X when Triple H became Triple H, the Nation of Domination. Even the lower level wrestlers, like D'Lo Brown, was like a character... The starts underneath the megastars were megastars: Mankind, The Undertaker, Kane, Ahmed Johnson. You had real stars underneath them that were real stars. It was like, yeah we got the The Rock and Stone Cold, obviously those are "the guys" but the dudes under there was real dudes. The Big Show.
So I think because that's what it was in the Attitude Era and Stone Cold just stood above all of them with his character. He was a villain, always by hisself, wasn't friends with nobody. If he shared a beer with somebody, that was a big deal. And anybody he was cool with for like 10 seconds, he might turn around and Stun 'em. It was just the thrill of who he was. He wasn't a bad dude -- his character, you didn't look at him like a bad dude -- but he was a bad ass. There's something about it that everybody just loved. He just didn't give a damn about nothing.
Do you see yourself at all in that way? I feel like there's some similarities there.
Damian Lillard: I do. I see myself in Stone Cold in that he was unapologetically him. And it was like, if this is the rules and this is what I'm supposed to be doing, this is how I feel and this is what I'm gonna do. If that's a problem, then oh well, that's how I feel about stuff. I'm not gonna be somebody or something that I'm not. I'm willing to go great lengths to protect that, I just feel like that's how Stone Cold's character kind of was. I think I see myself in that way. Fearless.
And that idea of not carrying if you're going it alone or the idea that, so people aren't behind me or people think I'm crazy or that it might not work out, oh well. I don't care, I'm still going to do it.
Damian Lillard: Validation? Don't need it.
I had heard that you might try to get to the Broken Skull Ranch at some point.
Damian Lillard: I'm a big Stone Cold fan and my trainer, Phil Beckner, he's a huge wrestling fan as well and he loves Stone Cold too. Since we train and spend so much time together in the summer, we just talking about going up to his ranch, spending some time with him, getting some training in on the ranch. Just for the experience, just for the story. It was just a thought.
Adidas Hoops has made a "Stone Cold" colorway of your signature sneaker, the Dame 6. How'd it turn out?
Damian Lillard: I like it. Reason I love it is because the colors represent the beginning stages of when he was Stone Cold. It's not like the peak of Stone Cold. Like, with the yellow, the blue and the black and all that stuff, he always wore blue denim jeans and denim shorts, back t-shirt of a black vest, black knee brace. But the gold was the early WWF, like when the logo was actually gold. Later, like late 90's, it wasn't gold no more, I feel like it was white, but before, it was literally a gold logo and that's kind of what it reminds me of. I like it, I like that there's real detail to what the shoe is about.