Ogden, Utah, known for its railways, is home to just over 80,000 people. East of the city, the Ogden and Weber Rivers flow and the Wasatch Mountains stand tall and proud. Summers are hot and dry and thunderstorms pass through with regularity. The winters don’t get too cold but most of the city is dedicated to federal and state buildings. There’s not too much to do.
That’s why Damian Lillard spent so much time in the gym while at Weber State, which is in the heart of Ogden.
“I was in college and the coach that I worked out with, he would be like, ‘Dame, you need to get shots up. Dame, you need to do some lifting, you need to do some ballhandling.’ He would be telling me all these things that I needed to do,” Lillard remembers.
“And I would always get emotional about it and I would do it for like a week straight. And I would have a little bit of slippage where I would have a few days where it was a little bit harder to keep doing it after that week. And he would call me a 50-50 guy. In my mind, I would always fire back at him like, ‘I’m not a 50-50 guy, I work hard. I really wanna make it, this is what I wanna do.’ He was like, ‘Well, you worked out last week every day and you got shots up and then this week, the first two days, you didn’t do anything and then you got shots up. It wasn’t a good week for you.’ And then I realized that he was right.
“I had a whole month where I just went every day. I powered through how hard it was. Then it became who I was.”
The rest is history. Now Lillard’s a two-time All-Star, has his own signature shoe and is the face of a new Powerade campaign. The commercials combine Dame’s love of hoops, boxing and working out.
For years he’s stressed the importance of hard work in everything he’s done. On the court, in the studio (Get you a work ethic/Go about it maniacal), with adidas and now with Powerade. In his new commercials, he was actually working out with famed boxing trainer Virgil Hunter.
“It was funny because when we talked about it, they actually knew that I was a huge boxing fan,” Lillard says. “They threw out some names and I was like, ‘Nah, I’m thinking more of Virgil Hunter.’ And they laughed. They said that they thought I would say something like that. He’s from Oakland and he also trained my favorite fighter, Andre Ward, who’s also from Oakland. They said for us to have get the real thing, we were gonna have to do a little bit of work. I went into it knowing that I was gonna have to put some work in.”
What the cameras captured was a real training session, where Hunter combined elements of basketball and boxing to put Lillard through the ringer. Dame, a creative storyteller, says he and Powerade wanted to show what happens when the lights aren’t on.
“This is actually showing what goes on behind-the-scenes,” he says. “They just see you come out and you have good performances. They see that you went from a small school and now you’re in the NBA. But I think this campaign really allows the people on the outside to actually see what’s going on. I think that’s why you see the action in a lot of the scenes. It looks real because it was.”
Lillard’s putting up a career-best 26 a game this season while his Blazers fight for the eighth seed. He dropped 42 on the Mavs back in November, has scored at least 30 points in 15 games and he had a career-high 16 dimes in December. The body blows from coach Hunter are paying off.
And while Dame gave a convincing performance in his commercials, he won’t be hitting the silver screen. At least not yet.
“Just like it takes hard work to become the athlete I am, I’m sure it takes hard work for people to be on those big screens and be able to get into those characters,” Lillard says after a laugh. “It’s something I would be interested in but I know it would take the same mentality to get to that point.”