It shouldn‚Äôt surprise anyone that Damian Lillard won the offseason workout video wars with his cutting parody of the genre, which he released this week on his Twitter feed. This is the same guy who introduced himself to the NBA with a series of well-crafted videos that helped make him the most intriguing prospect in his draft class. Dame knows the medium.
What makes the video work is that it gets its point across without being preachy. It wouldn‚Äôt have been out of place on the old Late Show with David Letterman that reveled in absurdist humor. The only thing missing was Larry Bud Melman ripping off the cape and breathing mask.
Dame gets sarcasm, which makes him the oldest 28-year-old in the NBA, and maybe the only player who would appreciate that outdated Letterman reference. He understands that in order to make sarcasm work, there needs to be people who are in on the joke. This can be a problem in this irony-free social media era. After Steph Curry replied that this was his real workout, the internet was flooded with posts taking him at his word. (We get the internet we deserve sometimes.)
The key moment comes at the very end of the clip. After hula-hooping and getting pelted with tennis balls shot out of toy cannon, Dame fires up an air ball as his partners count down the seconds on the clock. He turns and offers a wide grin.
The grin lets you know that none of this is real. For one thing, the real Damian Lillard would never heave an uncontested air ball from the top of the arc ever, let alone with the game or any other kind of contest on the line. And while the summer workouts may be real, the packaged videos that accompany the daily toil, which so many other players put up each offseason, are merely an elaborate fiction.
Put it another way: How many players do you really want handling the ball in the final seconds?
There‚Äôs a reason why so few of Lillard‚Äôs actual workouts are available on the internet. He keeps that private. What‚Äôs real are the games. That‚Äôs where truths are revealed and lies are put to the test. There are no games during the summer, so we‚Äôre left with the workout mixtape. They‚Äôve become a mildly amusing diversion, but if you skipped out on social media throughout the summer you really didn‚Äôt miss anything.
This gets to the whole point of the video: How much do players owe their teams and their fans during the offseason anyway? Staying out of trouble and coming to training camp in shape are minimum requirements. Working on your craft and honing your skills is a given for anyone with All-NBA aspirations. After everything that Dame has done for his franchise and his city, it‚Äôs absurd that anyone would question his commitment.
It wouldn‚Äôt be a Dame production without a clapback at his critics who get in a tizzy every time he does something that doesn‚Äôt have anything to do with basketball. He gets that in early via his Twitter tease, and then makes the point more subtly when he breaks free of the hula hoop and all those cascading tennis balls to put on a mini dribbling exhibition.
The point is that ball isn‚Äôt life. Life is life. Nobody spends 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the gym. Dame can have a life, and he can still keep that dribble on a string because he puts in the work when it‚Äôs time for work. The rest is just for show in an ever-increasing bid for attention and validation.
That‚Äôs not meant to denigrate any of the trainers or the players who are putting in the time to improve their games over the summer. The NBA has a thriving workout culture, which is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. Individual skill level is at an all-time high in an era where big men play like guards and everyone‚Äôs expected to have range out to 25 feet.
Workout coaches have become as much a part of the NBA fabric as agents, nutritionists, and massage therapists. Many of them would just as soon not have to market themselves through Instagram, but hey, we‚Äôve all got to make a living. Besides, we‚Äôll all know soon enough who put in the real work this summer.