Damian Lillard discusses the launch of his first signature shoe from adidas, the D Lillard 1

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Damian Lillard launched his first signature shoe from adidas, unveiling the D Lillard 1 at an event which was held at the company’s headquarters in Portland earlier this week.

Fans were invited to attend through Lillard’s social media channels, and they packed the place for a fun afternoon event that celebrated the player who has risen to quickly become the best on a very good Trail Blazers team.

Music was a theme throughout the sneaker launch, and with good reason. Lillard is the rarest of NBA creatures who is actually a skilled rapper, and his #4BarFriday weekly Instagram contest has become a fan favorite on a global scale.

As media arrived in Portland, they were given an iPod shuffle with 10 tracks preloaded that were chosen by Lillard himself. Once the event got going, Lillard gave us a live rendition of his latest 4bar creation, and there was a surprise performance from hip hop artist Future Hendrix, during which Lillard and members of his family weren’t afraid to put some of their dance moves on display.

After things wrapped up, the media spent the evening at a nearby recording studio, where plenty of silliness ensued as we were invited to lay down 4Bar tracks of our own in a professional setting.

[I did not do this. But those who did were surprisingly creative, hilarious and impressive with both their words and their respective styles — shout out to Abe Schwadron of SLAM, Lance Fresh of Bleacher Report, and Ian Stonebrook of Nice Kicks.]

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As for the sneakers themselves, Lillard was heavily involved from the very beginning of the process — one  that started 18 months before the shoes were ready to launch.

“I was all over it,” Lillard said. “I probably got on their nerves, because I would just pop up and show up to the office like, what you got? Let me see.”

“They were good about it,” he said. “I would send in pictures of some of my favorite shoes as a kid, or stuff that I like if I just see it on the Internet. I would screen shot and send a picture to them. … They listened to everything I had to say.”

Coming up with the details wasn’t easy for Lillard at the start, however — mainly because of the fact that while he of course had likes and dislikes from an aesthetic standpoint, he had paid little attention to the performance aspects when playing in the past.

“Basically, I’ve never really had a preference,” he said. “I’ve never loved a light shoe, or cared if it was kind of heavy, or [whether] it had a strap, or not a strap. I never really had a preference. So that’s what I had to get around. I had to figure out what I really wanted my shoe to look like, and it was kind of hard because I didn’t want to make their jobs hard by saying I don’t like that, or this is not how I want it, or I like this better than this. I had to fight that because I wanted it to look how I wanted it to look, so that’s probably why they brought me so many shoes, because we went back and forth about stuff. Because they were willing to work with me the way they did, it turned out just fine.”

How many shoes did they bring?

“Probably at least 20 different versions,” said Robbie Fuller, who designed the shoe for adidas. “But we had a really good starting point, because he gave us some real specific must-haves, which was to have this tech fit sleeve right next to the foot. He gave us the direction of how he really wanted to lace hard. And then finally, the SprintFrame construction, which we started with the adizero Crazy Light. It’s an efficient way to build a shoe that makes sense. You reduce the amount of softer, heavier material, and you replace it with something that’s lighter and stronger.”

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Keeping the price of the shoe down was near the top of the priority list for Lillard, who didn’t want his fans to have to break the bank just to be able own his first signature shoe. That meant keeping costs down from a manufacturing standpoint, which affected the choices he had to make when helping to create the shoe’s construction.

“We talked about the Boost, which would obviously have made the shoe probably 35, 40 dollars more expensive,” Lillard said. “But that’s why I wore [the D Lillard 1] a lot. In the summer I was wearing it, and then after that I had a few pairs that I just would always wear, because I wanted it to be a quality shoe. I didn’t want it to be just a shoe they put together so it could be cheap, you know what I mean? I wanted it to be quality. And it still ended up being a quality shoe without having the ‘greatest’ technology. I think you can still have a really good shoe without it being made out of the most expensive stuff you can use.”

The shoes feel great. They’re comfortable when you first slip them on, with zero break-in required. The cushioning that was used is more than ample — especially in the heel, but there’s enough in the forefoot to provide a smooth enough ride. We got a brief chance to play in them, and the above-average level of traction that was present was impossible not to notice.

Events like these can be awkward for the athlete, who is at the center of attention while hundreds in attendance focus on him and sing his praises for an extended length of time. Lillard managed to remain humble throughout it all, which, along with the wealth of on-court talent he possesses, is a quality that helps endear him to so many fans.

“People have been asking me all day, are you excited, are you going to cry, are you this, are you that,” Lillard said. “And I’m like … I’m trying to make myself, I guess, appreciate it more, because I know that I overlook a lot of things that I should probably be proud of, because I’m so quick to want to move on to the next thing.

“But I’m actually proud of it, because it’s something that’s mine, and I know how much I played a part in developing the shoe. It’s something that represents me.”

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The D Lillard 1 will be available at Foot Locker and adidas.com on February 6 at a retail price of $105.

To Bam Adebayo, Heat game days are always Mother’s Day

Heat star Bam Adebayo
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Miami center Bam Adebayo went into the locker room at halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals knowing that he wasn’t doing enough.

He didn’t need to see video. Or talk to Heat teammates. Or check the stats.

He only needed to think of his mother.

“That first half wasn’t me and I had to reboot myself, man,” Adebayo said. “So, you ask yourself: Where do you come from and what’s your why? What’s your why? And for me, that’s my mom.”

Marilyn Blount, this was for you. Adebayo nearly outscored the Boston Celtics by himself in the third quarter, the Heat turned the game around and went on to win 106-101 Thursday night to take a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals — putting the kid who grew up in a single-wide trailer with a mom making something like $15,000 a year two wins away from the NBA Finals.

Adebayo had four points at the half, and the Heat were down by 13. He had 17 in the second half, when Miami outscored Boston by 18.

“Games are long and you just have to figure out different ways to impact winning,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “And Bam, he understands that.”

It wasn’t just Adebayo in the second half, which is the brilliance of this Heat team — it’s never just one guy. Adebayo had 17 points after halftime on 8-for-10 shooting, Goran Dragic had 16 points in the final two quarters, Tyler Herro had more rebounds than anyone after halftime and Jimmy Butler made three steals in the final 3:40 to help Miami finish off matters.

“I’m happy to be on this team with these guys because everybody here has a different story,” Adebayo said. “We all come from nothing and that’s what’s beautiful about this team.”

He may have come from nothing. Right now, for a Miami team that is 10-1 so far in this postseason to match the best start in franchise playoff history, he’s doing everything.

He had the game-saving block of a Jayson Tatum dunk attempt in the final seconds of Game 1 of the East finals, made the NBA’s All-Defensive team, became an All-Star for the first time and won the skills competition at All-Star weekend.

He’s averaging 16.8 points, 11 rebounds and 5.1 assists so far in the playoffs; the only two players who have done that, at his age of 22 or less, in a full postseason are Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.

“He knows what makes him tick, what makes him go,” Butler said. “He knows why he’s playing the game. Spo always says, ‘What’s your why?’ He gets it. He understands. He knows that we need him to play at an extremely high level to be successful. He’s an All-Star, All-Defensive Player. He’s everything for us.”

Adebayo could agree this offseason, whenever free agency starts, to a contract that will set him up for life, set his mother up for whatever she wants as well. He’s already looking at houses for her; these days, she’s got an apartment in the same building where her son lives, just down the street from the arena that the Heat call home.

He doesn’t hide from the past. He doesn’t forget having nothing. It doesn’t embarrass him. It inspires him.

“That competitive nature comes out when I feel like I’m playing bad and when things aren’t going right,” Adebayo said. “I think about how she fought through struggle. I feel like she was in the gym tonight. It was like I could hear her in my ear. I watched her get knocked down and get back up so many times. You see that for 18 years straight, you take that load on and feel that responsibility. And my responsibility is to provide for my mom, and the best way to make sure I can do that is to help us win.”

They’re winning. They’re the surprise of the bubble, in the sense that they’re the lowest seed — Miami was No. 5 in the East — still standing.

Two more wins, and they’ll be going to the NBA Finals. Adebayo knows they’ll be the hardest wins to get.

“It sounds crazy,” Adebayo said. “Think about the beginning of the year, when we were telling everybody, ‘We have a chance, we have a chance.’ I remember having a conversation with a couple guys, playing out how the season was going to go before it started, and they said we were a No. 7, No. 8 seed and would get knocked out in the first round.

“I took that kind of personal,” he added. “You’re not going to sit here and just bash my team like that. We’ve proven to people now that we belong in the playoffs, that we’re taking this head on. We’re underdogs. That’s our mentality.”

He’s been one his whole life.

It seems to work for him — thanks to his mom.

“Watching her, I built my competitive nature,” Adebayo said. “That’s how I learned that the strong survive.”

Report: Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

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Giannis Antetokounmpo absolutely dominated the regular season.

That can be easy to forget. Coronavirus caused a lengthy interruption. In the spotlight when play resumed, Antetokounmpo underwhelmed. The Bucks flamed out in the second round.

So, this timing is awkward.

But MVP is a regular-season award, and Antetokounmpo will deservedly win his second straight.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Antetokounmpo’s performance comes as speculation intensifies about his future in Milwaukee.

He’ll be eligible for a super-max extension this offseason. If he bypasses it, he’ll also be eligible for a super-max contract in 2021 free agency.

Because of this award, Antetokounmpo will now also be eligible to sign a super-max deal in 2022 free agency.

Maybe he won’t be a free agent that offseason. But this opens his options if he takes a shorter contract to let league-wide revenue rise post-pandemic and/or further assess the Bucks.

Antetokounmpo has that type of leverage. At just 25, he put himself in the pantheon of players to win consecutive MVPs:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Stephen Curry
  • LeBron James
  • Steve Nash
  • Tim Duncan
  • Michael Jordan
  • Magic Johnson
  • Larry Bird
  • Moses Malone
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
  • Wilt Chamberlain
  • Bill Russell

Antetokounmpo has a bright future, especially with the mentality to fix his shortcomings. He must polish his skills (and maybe approach) to thrive in the playoffs. But it’s easy to project growth there.

Already, Antetokounmpo has the regular season solved.

He joins Michael Jordan (1988) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1994) as the only players to win MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. Fun fact: Jordan’s Bulls also lost in the second round in five games the year he claimed both awards. It got better for Jordan and Chicago from there, eventually.

LeBron and James Harden finished second and third in some order for 2020 MVP. The NBA will officially announce the winner at 2 p.m. Presumably, we’ll also get full voting then.

Report: Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown bickered in Celtics’ locker room

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After their Game 2 loss to the Heat last night, the Celtics – especially Marcus Smart – made a commotion in their locker room.

What actually happened?

Apparently, Smart and Jaylen Brown got into it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Boston Celtics’ Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown had a heated confrontation inside that locker room after the Game 2 loss and needed to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told The Athletic.

Sources told The Athletic that Smart stormed into the Celtics postgame locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable and not simply point the finger toward him when things are going wrong. As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, sources said Brown snapped back and shouted that Celtics players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team, not individually, and that Smart needed to cool off. Those sources added Smart had verbal exchanges with a couple of the assistant coaches during the game.

None of this is new for Smart. Not jawing with a Boston assistant coach during a game. Not getting hot after a loss. Not even clashing with Brown.

This is who he is – sometimes for good, sometimes not. But the same reasons Smart thrives as a feisty player are the same reasons he was going off last night.

Brown, via Justin Leger of NBC Sports Boston:

“He plays with passion, he’s full of fire, and that’s what I love about him most, to be honest. He has that desire and that will and we need him to continue to have that. There’s ups and downs with families all the time. But we embrace each other for who we are. And who Marcus is, I love him for it.”

Brown doesn’t mind a little chaos if it serves a greater purpose. He’s emotionally mature enough to handle this.

But will last night’s incident actually help the Celtics? Maybe it’ll light a fire under them to keep their foot on the gas when leading.

Offensive sets that can beat a zone defense would probably go further, though.

Gordon Hayward reportedly feels good, hopes to return for Game 3

Gordon Hayward return
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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After a frustrating come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Boston Celtics need a boost.

Like the return of Gordon Hayward.

That is on track to happen in Game 3, although nothing is official, reports Jared Weiss of The Athletic.

Hayward has been sidelined since he suffered a grade III ankle sprain in the first game of the playoffs against Philadelphia. He left the bubble for a time to get treatment, but has been back with the team, working out and going through a practice.

Gordon Hayward could be Boston’s X-factor in the conference finals — and his return may be the lift it needs. He gives the Celtics another versatile wing player — along with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — who can create his own shot and knock down open looks. Throw in Kemba Walker, and Hayward would be the fourth scoring option for Boston, making the Celtics deep and difficult to defend. Hayward also spent time guarding Butler during the regular-season matchups.