DA's Morning Tip

From rap albums to comedy acts, NBA stars do more than their day jobs

Like many other players, Damian Lillard and Blake Griffin have dabbled in entertainment pursuits off the court

David Aldridge

Did Damian Lillard really want to play for Jerry Sloan?

Answering that existential question was part of Lillard’s track “Wasatch Front,” from his album “The Letter O,” the latest foray into rap for the Blazers’ superstar guard. But beats are not just a plaything for Lillard; he’s been headlong into both lyrics and music for a long, long time. It does not replace his day job, but Lillard is one of many NBA players who have serious off-court hobbies.

“Outside of basketball, my other strongest passion is music,” Lillard said. “In college, I would have my teammates listening to my rhymes. In high school, my friends and I would be making beats in the seats, spitting bars. Over the last few years, it’s been my Four Bar Friday on Instagram, then I started putting out freestyles on Instagram and Sound Cloud. Everybody was wanting a little bit more — do an album, do a mix tape. I had to figure out what angle I wanted to take, how I kind of wanted to put the project together. I finally figured it out, and this summer I just started writing.”

Many players spend most of their summers working out with personal trainers and fixing whatever’s broken in their games. (So do Lillard and the other players mentioned here.) Yet others take their passions to another level. And this is different from players simply maxing out on endorsement deals or other branding opportunities.

Russell Westbrook’s love of fashion and design of all kinds is well-documented. After the Thunder’s near-miss in the Western Conference finals last June against the Warriors, he was off to separate week-long trips for the Paris and Milan Men’s Fashion Weeks. Eyewear, shoes (dress and athletic), jeans — you name it, Westbrook has a design for it, and a company with which he collaborates on it. Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and many other players are also designers and entrepreneurs in the clothing game.

The LA Clippers’ Blake Griffin has been working the comedy side of the entertainment aisle since coming into the league, in addition to the wry commercials he’s been doing for Kia for several years.

He interned for the website Funny or Die during the lockout in 2011, a job that led to several short films and projects for FOD, in collaboration with the Emmy Award-nominated writer Neal Brennan. This summer he filmed a 12-part series for the go90 free streaming service, “The 5th Quarter,” a 30 for 30-style “mockumentary” about a fictional youth basketball team with Griffin as an oversized “kid” named Cliff Cliff.

In August, Griffin was a host for an event at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, where he did 10 minutes of standup as a warmup act (some of it is NSFW and/or for younglings.)

“I’ve always been a big fan of comedy,” Griffin said recently, “so it’s fun, during the offseason, when you have some time, to do some stuff. It’s in your element, but a little bit out of your element. I just like to do new things, try new stuff.”

Griffin is quick to point out that his comedy is just a side gig, even though it lets him think with a different part of his brain.

“That’s not what I want to do” full time, Griffin said. “Basketball’s my main focus, my main thing. But in the offseason, when you have time, it’s fun to explore new things. I wrote some stuff, and I have a lot of friends who helped me punch some stuff up, give me pointers, give me tips.”

Lillard, aka “Dame D.O.L.L.A.,” has been writing and rhyming for years, including his famous freestyle on Sway in the Morning during All-Star Weekend in New York in 2015. His debut album details his upbringing in Oakland and how basketball kept him on the right side of things. When he got to Weber State in Ogden, Utah, he was a fish out of water:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v

Far away from home and feeling so alone

A boy amongst men I ain’t even wear cologne

Girls call me MCM, I’m tryna be Jerome

The Jazz up the road I wanna play for Jerry Sloan

— Wasatch Front, from The Letter O

“That song was just about when I first came to Utah, in my freshman year,” Lillard said. “I remember going up and there would be pickup games when I first went down to Utah in the summer. It would be like Deron Williams, C.J. Miles, all those guys, Ronnie Price, playing pickup. Jimmer Fredette was in college at the time and he was going down and was playing with them. And Jerry Sloan was still the coach. And I was fantasizing about being an NBA player. Seeing those guys, I was like, man, I want to play in the league. And seeing how close I was to the Jazz, it was like, man, I want to play for Jerry Sloan.”

Those days were crucial to Lillard’s development as a player. He more than held his own against the pros, and it gave him confidence that he’d be found at a relatively small school.

“Obviously, back then, I was probably doing better in my mind than I really was,” Lillard said. “But I always could shoot the ball, and I took shots. Ronnie Price really made me feel comfortable, because he was such a down to earth guy. He took time to speak to you, give you pointers and really made you feel like you fit in.”

Lillard got a notable collection of artists to collaborate with him on the album, including Raphael Saadiq, Juvenile, Lil’ Wayne, Jamie Foxx and Marcia Ambrosius.

“I met Juvenile a few years back,” Lillard said. “I met Wayne a few years back. I met Jamie a few years back. Since I’ve been in the NBA, I haven’t been the type to go meet a lot of people. I’m kind of comfortable around people that I know. I wanted to get artists on the album that I was a fan of. That’s another thing with my music; me not pursuing music full time, as an NBA player, if I’m going to do stuff I’m going to do it with people that I’m a fan of, have fun with it. I’m a huge Marcia Ambrosius fan, and I wanted to do a song with her.”

It would be naïve to think every team is cool with their stars going so hard into non-basketball work. But there are certainly more who are understanding than there used to be.

“Why is it OK for coaches to travel with their golf clubs but not OK for players to tap into their passions?” one executive asked Sunday.

Lillard, obviously, can do multiple things at once. After scoring 19 Sunday in Portland’s win over Memphis, he’s averaging a cool 32 points per game for the 4-3 Blazers.

“It’s a way to express yourself, for people to get a peek into how you think, how you feel about certain things,” Lillard said. “Fans and outsiders, they don’t always know. They see interviews after the game, they see us play. They see the very few moments of who we really are. If they see a picture on Instagram, they might read the caption. They don’t get a full picture. And I tried to allow people to see a full picture of who I really am.”

… AND NOBODY ASKED YOU, EITHER

That’s very thin. What the hell, thin’s my middle name. From Edgars Andrulis:

I would like to get your take from cold place in Norway. As of now looking at your Monday Tip with Draymond Green and your take on the Dubs about (being a) skinny team which can be a problem in playoffs.

So my question is — will the Dubs go for some bigs and try to make the team deeper? If so, where should they go and what should they try to get? Maybe even more importantly: who can they give away? Draymond might be the only one they can move somewhere (hard to believe KD and the Splash Brothers will be traded). At the same time it’s hard to see why some teams in West (playoff teams) should even consider trading with the Dubs. As it sits now, everyone has a bit better chance to beat them if not with 3, then with extra chances due to rebounds and with size. Also, if we go deeper into the playoffs when the game slows down and gets more physical, teams will have even greater chance to make it interesting and maybe make it a bit longer day in the office for the Dubs.

I was asked this very question on GameTime on NBA TV Thursday, Edgars. My answer to the studio crew, and to you: right now, the Warriors aren’t going to make any significant roster moves. If we get to February and the Warriors are having major problems rebounding because opposition bigs are beating them to the ball, maybe they’d look to make a deal. But even then I don’t think they’d need to make a trade. I’m sure they’d be able to find a castoff veteran big who gets bought out and released after the trade deadline for the stretch run. A lot of guys would love to play in the Bay for three or four months and get a shot at a ring.

The Future of Boogie, Vol. MCMXLVII. From Kevin Davidson:

With the new arena in place, will the Kings finally sell DMC and rebuild or keep trying to put a square peg (Cousins) in a round hole (a franchise player of a winning team). Do you ever see the Sacto Kings winning a playoff series with DMC on their team?

Fair question, Kevin, but remember — it takes two to tango, and Boogie will have options of his own after 2017-18, when his deal expires, and he’d almost certainly be the top big man on the market. I still can’t see owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac pulling the trigger on a deal now. They’ll want to see if Cousins and coach Dave Joerger can mesh. No doubt in my mind Sac could win big with Boogie if it put the right players around him (i.e., shooters, shooters, shooters). He’s a big-time talent.

Rank rankings. From Karen Throndson:

I don’t want to come across as a crazy fan but honestly can’t understand your ranking the Detroit Pistons ahead of Toronto — did you not see the game last week? Toronto destroyed Detroit! Does it really seem that noteworthy that Andre Drummond shot 50 percent from the line. I guess his improved shooting has justified the ranking?? Did losing by double digits to Toronto really warrant a ranking of 10 and Toronto to drop to 14? P.S. No one on Toronto shoots less than 50 percent from the line.

You’re not crazy, Karen. Your question is crazy, though. Kidding! The rankings are subjective; there’s no specific criteria used, though I do factor in how a team played the whole week. In the Raptors’ case, they lost to Cleveland as well, while Detroit came back and had strong wins over Orlando and Milwaukee. But I may have had Toronto a few spots too low last week; that has been fixed this week.

Send your questions, comments, and less invasive aggressive varmint solutions for next week’s Morning Tip to daldridgetnt@gmail.com. If your e-mail is funny, thought-provoking or snarky, we just might publish it!

MVP WATCH

(Last week’s averages in parenthesis)

1) LeBron James (24.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 11.3 apg, .474 FG, .773 FT): Moved into the top 10 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list Saturday, passing Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946 points). Next on the list is Elvin Hayes, at 27,313.

2) Kawhi Leonard (24.3 ppg, 8 rpg, 3.5 apg, .449 FG, 1,000 FT): Saturday’s 3 of 13 from the floor against the Clippers a rare misfiring night for the Klaw; he hasn’t shot that poorly in a game since going 1 of 7 against Detroit in January of last season.

3) Kevin Durant (28.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2 apg, .618 FG, .643 FT): Mad Durant is the best Durant.

4) Russell Westbrook (27.7 ppg, 6 rpg, 7.7 apg, .429 FG, .742 FT): Could pass Jack Sikma (4,493) for fourth place on the franchise’s all-time field goals made list as soon as tonight against the Heat.

5) DeMar DeRozan (32.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, .522 FG, .780 FT): Scored 30+ points in each of his first five games this season, the first player to do that since Michael Jordan in 1986.

Dropped out: Anthony Davis

BY THE NUMBERS

$192,500,000 — Estimated cost to renovate Philips Arena, in a joint city-team financing plan announced by the Hawks and the city of Atlanta last week. The city will contribute $142.5 million toward the plan, with the Hawks kicking in $50 million. The team also committed to extending its current lease with the city in the building for an additional 18 years, to 2046.

157 — Consecutive games in which Stephen Curry had made at least one 3-pointer, a streak that ended Friday night when he went 0-for-10 behind the arc in a stunning 20-point loss to the Lakers. It was the first time since Nov. 11, 2014, that Curry went 3point-less, and the first time in 196 total games including playoffs that he didn’t make at least one three.

10 — Consecutive games the Jazz had lost in San Antonio, a streak dating back to 2010, before Utah’s 106-91 victory over the Spurs at AT&T Center last Tuesday.

I’M FEELIN’ …

1) Vote. If you haven’t voted early, vote on Tuesday. I do not care for whom you vote, or why, nor do you care who I vote for, and why. But none of this works if you don’t vote. There is no perfect candidate or political party. But too many people gave too much over the last 400-plus years — time, blood, life — to ensure that all of us have the right to choose who we wish to represent us. To abandon that privilege mocks their sacrifice. Go vote.

2) Twenty-five years ago today, Magic Johnson stood at a podium at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles and said he had “attained” the HIV virus. Mistakenly, we all thought at the time that meant he had AIDS, and if you had AIDS, you were going to die. Twenty-five years later, Magic Johnson is still, most assuredly, not dead, having been lucky enough and athletic enough and rich enough to find something that has fought the virus to a standstill in his immune system. He is a business titan and part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his life seems to be going just fine. And for that, I’m thankful. Our world is much better with him in it.

3) Brandon Knight has been clowned for years since DeAndre Jordan posterized him in 2013, when Knight was with the Pistons. Few noted that Knight did the right thing for his team by sliding over and trying to defend a guy a foot taller than he. Glad Knight now has his own highlight for immortality.

4) Very cool story on a former NBA Draft pick who opted to preach rather than play.

5) No, it does not change the fact that far too many police engage in and cover up hostile acts against people of color. But there are lots of good cops trying to do their job, too, and we all need to back them up when they do the right things.

NOT FEELIN’…

1) A mention is not nearly enough to encompass the career of Ray Allen, who officially announced his retirement last week on The Players’ Tribune. Hopefully there will be time in future weeks to fully account for his impact as not only one of the greatest shooters in the history of this game (I’m not sure there’s been a bigger or better basket made than this) but also one of the greatest preparers of all time. To watch Allen, three hours before a game, going through his shooting workout, taking hundreds of shots from all over the floor, was to watch a master at his craft.

2) Pels just can’t catch a break. Now it’s Lance Stephenson on the shelf (and who could possibly be off the team). Thought New Orleans was smart to bring in former Suns first-rounder Archie Goodwin Sunday, though.

3) The Orlando all-black unis? Nah.

4) Probably best for Russdiculuous.

More Morning Tip: Warriors, Thunder remain linked | DA’s Top 15 rankings | Q&A with Tobias Harris

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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