Damian Lillard's newest tattoo reads, "Oakland - Heart of the City"

Lillard Reacts to 'Fruitvale Station'

Apr 14, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Portland Trailblazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during the first half against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

For many of us, the name Oscar Grant only invokes a sense of forgotten familiarity. Perhaps even bewilderment. But for some, it renders an immediate portrait of police brutality and civil unrest. You may be more familiar with the name in the context of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shooting in 2009. Unarmed, Oscar Grant was fatally shot in the back while being subdued by BART police. If you recall the chilling cell phone footage, you already knew that.

Spurring protests, anger, and tears throughout Oakland and beyond, the incident became national news overnight. That was New Years Day, 2009, and more than four years later, the city of Oakland faces the same struggles.

Damian Lillard knew Oscar through his older brother, Houston Lillard. Now, I’m not going to sensationalize this story by saying they were close friends, or that they hung out regularly, but he knew him. From what I have gathered, he was a secondary acquaintance. So when the critically acclaimed independent film Fruitvale Station based on Grant’s final night came to Portland, Damian made a point to watch it.

“You don’t see a lot of movies that are actually based in Oakland and give a chance to see what people are going through there every day. It was nerve-wracking to see in the movie how they had everything down pat and how they eventually went through the day in the life of a lot of people, a lot of young men in Oakland.”

– Damian Lillard, via Marc J. Spears: Yahoo! Sports

Lillard was hit pretty hard. His hometown of Oakland is very dear to him, and he knows the city well. Earlier this summer, he had a full chest tattoo done to remind him of his roots. He hopes to use his influence as an NBA player to start programs that will transform the atmosphere.

“Right now it is out of control. While I don’t think [the problem] can be completely taken away – it’s always going to be a problem – I do think it can be better. With being in the NBA, I have so much influence with a lot of the kids, I think I can at least start to change the culture.”

– Damian Lillard, via Marc J. Spears: Yahoo! Sports

If I may explore a tangent, I am reminded of the instance in which Ray Allen brought teammates and coaches to the Holocaust museum in his Celtic days. Obviously these scenarios are very different, but I see in Lillard the same humble deference in the face of atrocity that cemented Allen among the league’s most admirable personalities. Lillard’s compassion off the court is a sign of greatness independent of basketball.

His desire to help others has been on display since he took the national stage. From his anti-bullying campaign, “RESPECT, Pass It On,” to going out of his way to make a fan’s day, to bringing awareness and support to his hometown, Lillard has quickly become a humble hero in the eyes of the sporting world, and I hope he never changes.

[1] – For more on the BART shooting, please visit: http://topics.cnn.com/topics/oscar_grant or select your preferred news venue.

[2] – Here is the trailer for Fruitvale Station

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