(Video by Ron Quant / Photos by Jim Taylor / Words by Casey Holdahl)
There are some experiences that nearly every NBA player has in common with one another. Everyone had to work hard to get into the league, and all but a select few have to continue to do so just to stay there. They've all spent countless hours flying from city-to-city and coast-to-coast, staying in hotels, often times for less than 24 hours, that inevitably become indistinguishable from the last or the next.
But while there are many things all players share, there are a smaller number of experiences which are reserved for the NBA's elite. The NBA Finals, the All-Star Game, national commercial appearances, seven-figure sneaker endorsement deals. And just a month into his professional career, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard got his first taste of what it's like to be at least a fledgling member of the NBA' s glitterati when he participated in his first national magazine cover shoot for Dime Magazine
"It's a blessing for me to be able to come from where I came from and be on the cover of any magazine," said Lillard. "That's good for me. I'm happy I got the opportunity."
It's the "where I came from" part that makes Lillard's appearance on the cover of Dime so exceptional. A Google image search of "Dime Magazine covers" returns a host of images of players, such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, whose successes in the NBA have been ordained since their high school days.
Then there's Lillard, who had to transfer from a private school to Oakland High after his sophomore season due, at least in part, to a lack of playing time. Once transferred, Dame would go on to have successful junior and senior seasons, being named first-team all-league both years, but it still wasn't the kind of prep career that screamed "Sure Thing" like so many of the players who have graced Dime's cover (the five covers preceding Lillard's featured Bryant, Wall, Rose, Miami's "Big Three" and Kyrie Irving).
Even as his profile began to rise during his final season at Weber State, no national magazines were sending professional photographers to Ogden, which is to be expected when your most famous alumnus is a tossup between UCLA head coach Ben Howland, the CEO of Black & Decker and the founder of Marriott Hotels.
But even with no prior modeling experience, Lillard conducted himself during the shoot at the Trail Blazers' practice facility like a seasoned pro, which should come as no surprise given his performance this season. The same unflappable demeanor that has served him so well on the court through the first months of his NBA career came in handy while posing and preening for the camera, something that is more difficult than many realize.
"It wasn't hard because I'm a fun person," said Lillard. "I like stuff like that, messing around, doing the stuff they needed me to do. When I'm at home I probably do that same stuff with my brother and my sister just around the house."
In fact, Dime probably could have done the shoot at the Lillard household, seeing as how the clothes and shoes for the shoot were all from Damian's personal collection.
"It was my first time having to change clothes, take pictures, smiles, look mean, say stuff," said Lillard. "I got to use my own clothes, so I didn't have to come here not knowing what I was going to be wearing. I was comfortable because of that."
(Damian, who is of course sponsored by adidas, wore Crazy 8, South Beach Top 10, Pro Model "Detroit Player", Campus, aid High EXT and Jeremy Scott Wings "Denim" if you're interested.)
Lillard's first cover shoot and the corresponding profile by Andrew Greif
, much like his performance so far this season, was an unqualified success. And if his performance on the court continues along the same lines, his Dime cover will be the first of many.