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Around Hollywood, “Fruitvale Station” has come out of the gate as the movie to beat in the Oscars Best Picture race. It is the emotionally wrenching true story of Oscar Grant, an African-American living in Oakland who was shot in the back and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer while Grant was handcuffed and on the ground. The shooting on New Year’s Day 2009 sparked mass protests, both at the time of the shooting (which was recorded on video) and after a jury returned a verdict of involuntary manslaughter for the officer who fired the shot.
Damian Lillard knew Oscar Grant.
Portland’s Rookie of the Year, Lillard grew up in Oakland and talked about Grant and how the movie hit home for him in an interview with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.
“He went to high school and played on the same football team as my brother,” Lillard said. “I used to always be around my brother at the high school and crossed paths with [Grant]. We were on the bus at the same time. We were always in the same areas….
“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,” Lillard said. “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.
“At the end it was breathtaking how [Grant] kept saying after he was shot that he had a daughter, you see how friends were [helpless] and see how his family came together. This wasn’t just a movie. This really happened. At that point, I kind of sat in my seat and was like, ‘Wow.’ “
Some people in life are just forced to grow up faster than others (as a parent, it’s something I kind of try to protect my daughter’s from, I want them to savor childhood). Part of that is just simply where you grow up and what you are forced to deal with as a result.
Lillard dealt with a lot and come through it a better, more mature man. That may make him a better basketball player, but any on-court benefit is secondary. The world just needs more stand-up people, thoughtful people.
Lillard told Yahoo he is trying to set up some programs for youth in Oakland (something Gary Payton and other Oakland natives have tried to do there). It may be a small step toward helping an area dealing with a rash of murders and violence, but it’s a step. And the fact Lillard is doing something says something about him.