Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said he wants to stay with the franchise that drafted him in 2012 and would use this offseason to get healthy and strengthen his game.
While he’s doing that, Lillard also plans to expand a new business venture.
Lillard discussed his desire to stay in Portland when he spoke to CNBC on Monday about Move, a footwear insoles performance brand he co-founded with his business partner, Nate Jones. Move launched in December. It lured more than $100,000 in sales the first month through direct-to-consumer, and it projects $1 million in sales for 2022.
Lillard said the consumer product is “tailored to sports and for athletes.” He added Move wants to help basketball players avoid foot injuries such as plantar fasciitis, which he experienced earlier in his NBA career.
“[Young athletes] need to wear this because the things that you’re doing as an athlete is harder on your body and your feet than my time as a kid,” said Lillard. “It’s harder on [younger players] than it was on me.”
Hitting the ‘reset’ button
Lillard, 31, hasn’t played since January, as he recovers from adnominal surgery and played a career-low 29 games this season due to the injury. Still, the Weber State product averaged 24 points and 7.3 assists this past season and was named one of the league’s greatest players in February to celebrate the NBA’s 75th anniversary.
But after uncertainty around his future with the team surfaced last summer, Lillard watched the Blazers go through a turbulent transition on and off the court in the 2021-22 NBA season. Still, he wants to stay.
“I have no plans of not being a Portland Trail Blazer,” said Lillard. “I want to be here, and I think they want me here.”
The Blazers fired former coach Terry Stotts last year. Team CEO Chris McGowan resigned last November, and a month later, the Blazers fired basketball executive Neil Olshey after allegations of workplace misconduct.
On the court, the Blazers made roster moves that included trading Blazers co-star C.J. McCollum to the New Orleans Pelicans to free up salary cap space. Then, last month, the team shut down Lillard for the remainder of the season and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13 – Lillard’s rookie year.
Asked to describe his 10th season in the NBA in one word, Lillard called it a “reset.”
“I feel born again – health-wise and mentally,” he said.
Lillard will make $42 million next season as part of a $176 million extension he signed in 2019, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts. This summer, he’s also eligible to sign another extension for more than $100 million. That would push the average annual value, or AAV, of Lillard’s deal over $50 million per season.
Lillard warned of naysayers and media speculation surrounding his future.
“Everybody is like, ‘He’s going to do this. He’s going to do that,'” Lillard said. “But the game is so watered down, and the game is so fugazi (fake) that people literally won’t believe what you say even if you say it directly to them.”
Though Lillard wants to stay with the Blazers, asked if he would accept a trade, he responded: “If they came to me and they wanted to trade me – I’m not going to fight them on wanting to trade me. I don’t want to be anywhere I’m not wanted. But I don’t think that’s the case.”
Moving into new business
Off the court, Lillard makes roughly $15 million in endorsements, according to Forbes. Agreements include brand deals with Anheuser-Busch‘s Modelo brand, Disney-owned Hulu, and a reported $100 million contract with sneaker company Adidas.
On the investment front, Lillard is a co-owner of Players TV, a channel that launched on Samsung TV Plus in 2020. In addition, he owns Damian Lillard Toyota in Oregon and goes by Dame D.O.L.L.A. in his musical career.
Now, Lillard is focused on building Move. Lillard said Jones presented the idea to construct the insoles brand in 2019. “As soon as we talked about it, my mind went to my own foot injuries,” he added.
Lillard recalled his battles with plantar fasciitis earlier in his career. The injury causes inflammation of tissue near the heel of the foot and can be caused by improper insoles in sneakers. Lillard said athletes’ “lack of awareness and self-care” with their feet is a problem.
“It’s even worse now,” said Lillard, referencing younger athletes who tend to play all year to develop their skill set and gain exposure. “It’s more important for them to get ahead of the game on these types of things. So, I felt like it was a major marketing opportunity for it not just to be a part of a successful business plan but to be a part of major impact on a lot of these younger athletes’ health.”
Jones, who works with Lillard as an agent and athlete marketer at Goodwin Sports Management, is a co-founder and co-Chief Executive at Move. Jones said the company works with Florida-based Footcare Express, a well-known podiatry clinic used by NBA teams to create custom insoles for players.
Move went to market last year with its Game Day and Game Day Pro insoles, and Jones added it’s a performance equipment company.
The footwear insoles market is dominated by the Merck-owned Dr. Scholl’s brand and is projected to reach $4.5 billion by 2027, according to global market research company Fortune Business Insights. But Jones said name-brand insoles companies fail to target younger athletes regarding foot care. He called it a white space that could benefit Move’s growth.
Jones said Move secured $120,000 in sales in December. Its website converts 5% of traffic into customers, and Move uses social media to build awareness and hasn’t spent funds on consumers acquisition costs with marketing or significant promotion.
“And the response we’ve gotten so far lets us know we’re making traction,” Jones said. “Introducing Dame to the current market, the potential market, and how we’re going about it in a different way – and telling a story to parents and kids about why pro athletes swear by [specialized insoles] – Dame was onboard.”
After targeting younger basketball players, Move wants to shift volleyball athletes.
“A lot of startups in the sports space, they end up failing because they try to be too many things to too many people out of the gate,” Jones said. “We’re focused on basketball, and then organically, we’ll start branching out to other sports. And there’s a lot of overlap between basketball and volleyball.”
Other investors include Phoenix Suns star Chris Paul, former NBA guard Jamal Crawford and prominent sports agent Aaron Goodwin. Terms of their investments were not disclosed. Jones added Move wants to raise an additional $2 million this year as the company looks to expand.
“The stage of my career that I’m in, it’s more about impact than me seeking an opportunity for myself,” said Lillard of his involvement with Move. “I want to have my business cap on – but a lot of my [business] is about impact. I know from my experience that something like this is going to have a major impact and be able to help a lot of athletes.”