Oakland long has been a hotbed for producing top-notch basketball talent like Bill Russell, Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and Brian Shaw.
Now the title of The Town’s best baller belongs to Damian Lillard. The Portland Trail Blazers star joined NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors analyst Dorell Wright to talk about his Oakland roots, competing against Steph Curry, to share some Kobe Bryant stories and more. Check out Part 1 of the interview here and tune in to Warriors Pregame Live on Sunday, Jan. 3 at 4:30 PT for Part 2.
Back in August, Lillard showed some love for Oakland during Game 1 of his first-round playoff matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers in the bubble. After drilling a deep 3-pointer with about six minutes left in the game, Lillard started dancing -- or “going dumb” as he told TNT after the game -- once he heard Too Short’s "Blow the Whistle" start playing on the speakers in the arena in Orlando, Fla.
“I hit a shot and they started playing it in the middle of the game,” Lillard said. “I was like, ‘If that comes on, I got to do something.’ I can’t just act like I don’t hear that. That was just a nod to our culture, you know what I’m saying?”
But for all the NBA stars Oakland can claim, there’s perhaps no player revered more than Demetrius “Hook” Mitchell. The streetball legend made his name in the late 1980s and early 1990s by jumping over cars to throw down slam dunks and dominating local 3-on-3 tournaments, before serving 51 months in prison for armed robbery in the early 2000s.
Lillard, who was born in 1990, still puts Hook at the top of his list when it comes to players he idolized growing up. Rumors recently surfaced that Mitchell had died, but they were later deemed to be false.
“That was the person that we saw all the time,” Lillard said. “You would see him on the bus some times, you would see him at a random rec center hooping and everybody would be talking about how he was better than J-Kidd and GP and all them. And they would say the same thing.”
It seems like Lillard always puts on a show whenever he comes back to The Bay. On Friday, he scored a season-high 34 points while leading the Blazers to an easy 123-98 win over the Warriors at Chase Center in San Francisco.
But it’s not the same without that trip across the bridge, from the hotel in The City to Oracle Arena, which is just down the street from his native neighborhood of Brookfield.
“It ain’t the same, bruh. It’s different,” Lillard said of playing the Warriors in San Francisco. “The [freeway] exit we getting off of [in Oakland] was the same one you could use to get off to get to my neighborhood. I felt like at home, like, all right, everybody’s right down the street and they’re going to come to the game. It was that feeling of being home. But now it’s like I feel like we never cross that bridge. I feel like I’m right here, but it ain’t a true homecoming.”