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Kerry Eggers on Sports: 'It probably won't ever happen again in my career,' he says of NBA play stoppage

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Damian Lillard of the Trail Blazers talks to media during a Tuesday Zoom call.

The media got a glimpse at what Damian Lillard has been doing since the parties last met three weeks ago via video conferencing on Tuesday.

The Trail Blazers' All-Star point guard has been landlocked at his West Linn home since the NBA put the season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, Lillard has worked out in his personal gym, reached out to a number of teammates and rivals around the league, spoken with Commissioner Adam Silver, recorded a song with Shaquille O'Neal, binge-watched TV shows and old-time boxing matches and enjoyed extra time with son Damian Jr., who turned 2 on Sunday.

Lillard has had difficulty getting used to a schedule that doesn't include team workouts, practices and games.

"It's a little different," said Lillard, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt with "Be Better, Be Different" across the chest as he spoke to reporters from his home. "I wake up every day and I'm like, 'What should I be doing? What's the next thing? Should we be prepared to play?'

"I'm trying to stay on edge, trying to be ready to play whenever they call us back."

Lillard has the luxury of working out at his home gym. He has been running in the mornings, lifting weights and doing plenty of core work despite the Blazers' practice facility being off limits by order of the NBA.

"At the moment, they don't want us in the facility," he said. "They don't want us training with any of our coaches. They don't want us training at a third-party gym or with a third-party trainer.

"If you don't have a gym at home, you can't train. I've been able to continue to get work done. (Players) who don't have that at some point are going to be expected to come back as a professional athlete and perform on call. That makes it tough."

Lillard expressed concern about the common folks who have been laid off jobs and are struggling to make ends meet through the pandemic.

"My primary concern and focus has been how many people are out of work," he said. "How are people supposed to survive, to keep their houses stocked with food and water and all the things necessary to survive with things like this going on?

"It's disturbing to know that so many people are going through that. It's a hard time right now."

Lillard said he has contributed $100,000 to the COVID-19 relief effort and to subsidize part-time employees through the league's shutdown. It's not clear whether that is part of the $1.4 million previously pledged by owner Jody Allen and the organization.

The Blazers' captain said he encouraged teammates to chip in, but without pressure.

"I don't want anybody to feel like they're responsible, but I felt like it was important to share that and to plant that seed and let people know this is not a situation where we're doing a favor," he said. "It's the right thing to do.

"And the team is going to support it and do the same thing. That was a good step in the right direction to support the people who are going to have a harder time with this than we are."

Lillard hasn't been tested for the coronavirus.

"I've been following all the rules and protocol we've been given, checking my temperature, making sure I'm staying isolated in the house," he said. "I haven't experienced any symptoms."

Lillard said he was contacted via phone by Silver and "at least four or five other people in the league, who reached out to me and asked, 'What do you think about this?'"

But Lillard said he is unsure what is going to happen to the rest of the season, if there is a rest of the season.

"I haven't heard anything," he said. "I haven't been seeking out extra information. ... (but) it's starting to feel like postseason, like the (regular) season is over."

When the regular season was halted, the Blazers (29-37) were in a virtual three-way tie for ninth place in the Western Conference, 3 1/2 games behind Memphis (32-33), which was in the eighth and final playoff spot. There have been many scenarios about how to handle the rest of the season. Lillard has his own idea.

"It's only right that teams like ourselves get a chance to make a playoff push or (participate in) some type of tournament style that is fair," he said. "They should do something like the NCAA Tournament, with every team (participating) in single-elimination up to the conference finals or something like that. Then it's a three-game series (in the conference finals and NBA Finals). If there's ever a time to get super creative so people would be tuned in and excited about it, this is the time."

Lillard said he is hopeful that the league doesn't end this season so late that it delays the start of the 2020-21 campaign.

"I wouldn't want to sacrifice when we start next season, even if that meant a one-game elimination finals," he said. "Our schedule is perfect right now."

One of the options being considered is having games played in an arena devoid of fans.

"That would be weird," Lillard said. "I played in a small conference (the Big Sky), so I've been in some pretty empty gyms, and in high school I played in a few, too.

"(The NBA) is the best of the best. We pack crowds and play in front of thousands of people. To have that same energy and warm up and (the p.a.) playing music before the game, and then we get out there and it's just us against them and the referees? It'd be different."

Lillard thinks the break would help the Blazers if the season were to resume, with bigs Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins returning from injuries.

"That makes me a lot more optimistic, knowing that not only one but they both are back," Lillard said. "It's not like they came right at their targeted dates. We'd be past both guys' targeted dates.

"When we come back, everybody will have a little bit of rust to shake off. They'll fit right in with everybody else, and we'll be at full strength minus Rodney (Hood). Us being an experienced team, we'll come back in shape, come back ready. There's even more of an opportunity to make a real push. Once that happens, anything can happen more than at any other time because of the circumstances. I'm going to be ready to try to take advantage of this."

Lillard always has been an underdog, from his high school years in Oakland to Weber State to the small-market Blazers. He'd love the opportunity to prove some more folks wrong during the playoffs.

"I was looking forward to the feeling of the playoffs starting and everybody's like, 'How did they still end up here?'" Lillard said with a smile. "I still want to see that happen."

Lillard acknowledged the possibility there will no resumption of play this season.

"I know the league is doing everything in (its) power to make sure (the season resumes)," he said "But if we don't come back, it will be for the right reasons, for the sake of our health. That's what comes first. I think at some point we'll be back, but if not, there will be a great reason for that."

Lillard said he has been "on the fence" about how much he misses the NBA.

"l love going to practice every day," he said. "I love being around my teammates and coaches. But I also appreciate the stillness, being able to be at home at this time when I typically wouldn't.

"I walk over to my gym and get in the steam room, get a lift in, come back and my son is waking up from a nap. And he's running up to me and we're watching Mickey Mouse together, and then we're playing and I'm teaching him stuff. I get to be more hands-on with him, and it's constant. I really appreciate it.

"It's a good feeling to be around that constantly and to be with my fiance (Kay'La Hanson) and interact and do stuff together. I'm embracing it and enjoying it and taking it all in. It probably won't ever happen again in my career."

Lillard said he has gained a new appreciation for parents' day-to-day duties.

"Even in season, I spend a lot of time with my son," he said. "But there's something different about waking up and he's full of energy and running around and bouncing off the wall at 7 a.m., and then he wants to eat.

"I feel like I work for him. Make his food. Go turn his TV show on. Clean up his toys as he's messing up the whole house. Get him some almond milk. Follow him around so he doesn't get into something. Make him lunch. Give him a bath. Change his diapers. It's constant work.

"For all the parents who do this on the regular, I have the most respect in the world for you guys. This is a full-time job, for sure."

Lillard has had time for a few of his own activities, though.

He and O'Neal made some noise last October by arguing publicly about who was the better rapper.

"It was never personal. There was no real beef," said Lillard, who got on the phone and agreed to put together a song with Shaq.

"I have some new music," Lillard said. "I'm going to put out a mix tape soon. I have some guys featured on it, (including) a song with Shaq."

Lillard has caught up on several TV shows, including "Ozark," "Snowfall," "All-American," "Blacklist," "The Stranger, "The State" and "This is It."

Also: "Don't F**k with Cats."

"That might be the one, out of all of them, people need to watch," Lillard said.

Boxing is one of Lillard's passions.

"I'm disappointed about the NBA season, but I might be more disappointed that they aren't continuing with boxing," he said. "I need some fight hype. I've gone back and watched some fights, like Floyd Mayweather against Ricky Hatton, Diego Corrales and Arturo Gatti, and Julio Caesar Chavez versus Pernell Whitaker. I've watched at least 12 to 15 old fights."

Finally, Lillard was asked about big brother Houston Lillard's appointment as head football coach at Portland's Jefferson High.

"I'm real proud of him," Damian said. "He won't do nothing for himself just to make money. He has been training a lot of the best football players around the state for years now, and he pretty much did it for free. He enjoys pushing kids and getting the best out of them and helping them with their future.

"That's why him getting that job is going to be huge. It's a school where he can really impact those kids, on and off the field. He was drawn to it because it was something that was needed in our neighborhood and our high schools in Oakland. He's coming into it with the intentions of having that type of impact."

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@kerryeggers


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