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'Fruitvale Station' hits home for Damian Lillard

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

The Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard and a cousin saw the biopic "Fruitvale Station" in an otherwise empty theater in Portland on Wednesday night. Considering that the NBA Rookie of the Year personally knew the man portrayed in the film, it probably was easier to watch it in the Pacific Northwest without many people around rather than in his hometown of Oakland, Calif.

"If I would have watched it at home I'm sure there would have been a lot of people out there crying," Lillard told Yahoo! Sports on Thursday in a phone interview.

"Fruitvale Station" is based on the true story of Oscar Grant, a young African-American who, while handcuffed with his face to the ground, was shot in the back and killed by a transit police officer in the early morning of New Year's Day 2009. Grant's death sparked mass protests in Oakland.

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Damian Lillard grew up in Oakland before attending Weber State. (USA Today Sports)

Lillard says he became familiar with Grant through his older brother, Houston, who knew Grant well. Lillard learned of Grant's death while attending Weber State University.

"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."

Lillard was initially nervous to see the movie, which won awards at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. The emotional ending hit him hard.

"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.' "

Lillard tweeted his initial reaction to the movie and his connection to Grant and received a reply from LeBron James.

" 'Bron is a normal dude," Lillard said. "Cool guy and it just let me know that the story hit home with everyone."

Lillard is familiar with his hometown's troubles with violence. He hopes to soon develop a program, with the aid of local sports and city dignitaries, to help curb the problem. As of July 25, Oakland already had 56 homicides this year.

"Right now it is out of control," Lillard said. "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."

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