Damon on Damon
Homegrown point guard settles in with his team and his town
WEST LINN Ñ There's a calm about Damon Stoudamire these days. A sense of serenity. It comes from being in the right place at the right time. It comes from good things happening in his basketball career.
So it's fitting that the point guard of the Trail Blazers gets a little settled in at this stage of his life.
His new house might help. It is a year-old, Spanish-style, gated, 9,000-square-foot palace he bought from Anthony Newman, the former NFL player who had the home built.
Stoudamire is putting in a backyard pool to be ready for summer. With 2 acres of land and all the amenities a millionaire could want, it ought to meet the needs of one of Portland's most famous bachelors.
The 5-foot-9 point guard isn't just a Trail Blazer. He's a homegrown Trail Blazer, having played his high school basketball at Wilson when the Trojans took home two state titles.
He is wealthy, the result of a seven-year, $81 million contract. He also is the product of an athletically renowned Portland family, with celebrated athletes as brothers, cousins, uncles and dad. And he is one of the leaders of a team that, after a woeful start, has regrouped to emerge as a serious playoff contender.
At 28, Stoudamire is doing more than moving residences Ñ he's entering a new phase of his life. He is not fully moved in yet. He is still in transition between his new place and his old house in Lake Oswego.
It's taking some getting used to.
'This is like my dream house, but at the same time, it's kind of big,' says Stoudamire, who hasn't yet slept in the new house. 'I have to get used to it, just like I did at the other house.'
With a half grin, he adds:
'I'm not going to say I'm scared of burglars, but you have to get used to those noises in houses. You know what I mean?'
Stoudamire has sold his house in Atlanta, where his only son, 2-year-old Damon II, lives with his mother, and where Stoudamire spent much of the past two summers. The Portland native intends to buy a smaller house there, but for the first summer in three years his primary place of residence will be here.
Part of that is because he feels more comfortable playing pro basketball in his hometown than he has since the trade from Toronto that brought him to the Blazers in 1998.
And part of it is maturity. 'This is what I really want to do,' he says. 'I'm going to be spending more time in this house than I ever did in the other one. I mean, I'm growing up.
'From the time I was about 21 to 25, I was a kid, and I was playing basketball, and I had a fast lifestyle. I just hung out. I could go out all night and come to the gym in the morning and play basketball, and it wouldn't faze me. Now, if I go out all night, I'm hurting. I can't do it. It's going to affect me for two or three days.
'But I've learned how to live in my environment. A lot of guys tell you as you get older, the four walls you live in are the most coverage you'll ever have. Once you go outside those four walls, you're going to expose yourself to a lot of temptations.'
Growing up in public
Stoudamire used to be a regular on the late-night party circuit. He says he is backing away from that.
'I am definitely in a settling phase. I still like to hang out, but I hang out in different ways. I don't need to hang out with 10 or 11 guys. That's not me. I go out with two guys maximum, and then I am kind of to myself. I like to sit in the corner and watch everybody, and then I go on home to bed.'
When he does go out in public, he is comfortable fading into the background. For that reason, he is glad to be 5-9.
'I have always shied away from the public eye,' he says. 'I never wanted to be the focal point. If guys are 6-9, 6-10, they go places, and they attract attention. Being my size, I can blend in.'
Stoudamire is redefining his priorities in life. Basketball remains No. 1, but other things are important, too.
'Different things interest me now,' he says. 'When I was 21 or 22, I was narrow-minded. I didn't want to know about a lot of things. As I have gotten older, I have found things I would rather do than hang out with friends all day and do a bunch of nothing.'
Art is one new interest. His second coach in Toronto, Darrell Walker, turned him on to paintings, and he has maybe a dozen adorning the walls of his new place. There are African and musical motifs, 'but I just like lots of types of pictures,' he says. 'And with this house, it all fits.'
His father, Willie, has helped him with the selection and acquisition of a number of sculptures. 'People pay a lot for interior decorators,' Stoudamire says, 'but I think I have a pretty good one for free.'
Willie, who doubles as his son's business manager, says he tried to put a cross-section of artistic influence into the new home's decor. One of the larger paintings is by Portlander Arvie Smith, but the work of such national artists as George Hunt and Cybebe are also displayed.
'I like bold colors, (the African) heritage. É It's kind of a remembrance of our roots,' the elder Stoudamire says. 'I like to get the up-and-coming (artists). We bought a lot of art from across the country, from Tennessee and St. Louis, from Atlanta and New York.'
His son also has picked up his reading.
'I am into books, magazines, picking people's brains,' he says. 'Let's talk about current events. When I was younger, I lived for basketball every day, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. As much as I love sports, and I love sports to death, I have finally found that medium where I can totally get away from basketball when I leave the gym and concentrate on something else.'
During the 1998-99 season, his second in Portland, Stoudamire decided to explore the Bible. 'I try to read a Scripture every day,' he says. 'I am not always on it, but I try. I am not claiming to be a Christian guy. I am probably far from that.
'Sometimes when you go through tough times, it brings out the other side of you. You go to something else to clear your brain and then come back to what you need to do.'
Roots and relationships
Though he is defined in part by the family he comes from, Stoudamire has often struggled with his relationships. Born and raised in Northeast Portland, he was a standout at Wilson before embarking on a collegiate career at Arizona that led him to the NBA.
His father also was a high school and college basketball star and was one of the top players in Portland State history. Damon's uncle, Charlie Stoudamire, made his mark with PSU's football squad and also was a fine basketball player for PSU.
Damon's cousin, Antoine, was a prep star at Jesuit who played at the University of Oregon; another cousin, Salim, was an All-State player at Lake Oswego who followed Damon to Arizona and recently was named Freshman of the Year in the Pacific-10 Conference.
Willie Stoudamire left the family when Damon was in preschool. He moved to Milwaukee and didn't come back to Portland and into his son's life until Damon had reached Wilson High.
The two are friendly now, but a distance remains Ñ at least in Damon's mind:
'By the time he came back around into my life, I had formed my ways. When a kid is 14 or 15, there is nothing you can do to change that. He hadn't been around, and that probably isn't the way to come at a kid.
'What has happened in the past is past, and you can't get it back. As every young man grows up, he wants to know his father, regardless of the pain you might have had.'
His father sees the situation differently. Any purported rift 'was blown out of proportion,' he says.
The move to Milwaukee Ñ to accept a job as a district manager for Miller Brewing Co. Ñ 'was a career move for me,' he says. 'I missed some formative years in Damon's life, but he had a great support system with my brothers and through his family.'
As for their relationship now, 'as a father and son, we are still growing,' the older Stoudamire says.
'We are getting there. I know Damon has grown immensely as a person. That is where we are coming stronger in our relationship. He is beginning to understand the true meaning of family.'
Through most of his formative years, Damon was in the loving care of his mother, Liz Washington. She lives in Portland and has retired from her longtime job with Consolidated Freightways. But even they went through the tough times that are so typical when a youngster is in high school and college.
'Even my first couple of years in the NBA, there were a couple of insecurities about our relationship on her part,' he says.
'It had to do with outside influences in her ear all the time. Once we cleared that up, smooth sailing ever since. She was always there for me when I was young, always had my back, and will always have my back.
'No matter how anybody views me, I am always going to be her boy. I love her to death for that. She has always been great to me. For that, I try to repay her every way I can.'
Stoudamire, who has never been married, says he doesn't have a main squeeze, nor is he sure how a wife would accept his independent nature.
'In order for me to get married, I need a real woman who is secure with herself,' he says. 'I go with the flow. I might not come home some night. I might have just gone over to my friend's house and stayed the night.
'I am an independent type and for any woman to try to lock me down, that is the worst thing she could do. In the process, she is running me away. That's how I have always been.'
Stoudamire makes it clear, though, that he is not afraid of commitment, in life or in business.
'I am a responsible person,' he says. 'People can say things about me, but they can't say I am not professional. Whether the job is going good or bad, I always showed up, I never came late, I always did what I had to do. É It is something I pride myself on.'
Perhaps the biggest impact on his self-image is his son, whom he spends time with sporadically through the basketball season but sees often in the summers.
'I'm looking at a spitting image of myself,' he says, chuckling. 'I look at his attitude, his demeanor É I know that's what I was probably doing at that age.
'Just to see him grow and hear him call me Daddy É I never knew what that meant until I became a father. It makes me more careful in life. Every decision I make, that could affect him. Whatever I do, I always think of him.'
Clash of styles
This season, Stoudamire says, has been the most fun he has had in Portland. He notes the contrast of the present under Maurice Cheeks to the 3 1/2 years he spent playing for Mike Dunleavy.
Stoudamire always thought that Dunleavy's offensive style was predicated too much on the halfcourt offense and that it stymied his creativity in the wide-open, fast-break game that he loves to play.
'It has been the most stress-free,' Stoudamire says. 'I know where I stand on this team. I didn't know where I stood before. When Maurice came in here, he had a vision for me. That is all I can ask for. Believe in me and let me do the things I can do, and I am going to be successful.'
Cheeks' vision, though, was of a Stoudamire very different from the one who averaged nearly 20 points through 2 1/2 seasons with Toronto. Cheeks wanted a distributor, someone in the mold of a Maurice Cheeks during his playing days in Philadelphia. It created some friction early in the season. At one point, Cheeks noted that Stoudamire 'has to learn how to run a team.'
Things didn't really turn around until Cheeks began using Scottie Pippen for major minutes at point guard, allowing Stoudamire to work off the ball, spotting up for jumpers or taking the ball to the basket.
But the notion that Stoudamire changed his game to suit Cheeks' desires is a bit far-fetched. Truth be told, the coach came around to seeing that Stoudamire is more like most of the better point guards of this era Ñ a penetrator with a nice shooting touch who creates for himself as much as for his teammates.
'It was probably a combination of both (of them compromising),' Stoudamire says. Then he laughs. 'I did tell Maurice, 'If you weren't messing with me the first month, I could have made the All-Star team.' I was just joking, but in a sense, I was serious.'
The two 'kind of had to get used to each other,' he says. 'He demanded certain things from me. When he first came in here, he thought I was one way, and I wasn't that way.
'What I give him credit on, he is not a stubborn person. He is not a coach who isn't going to learn from his players. He allowed me to grow into the role. I don't think he envisioned this role for me.
'It kind of evolved itself to now everybody saying, 'Damon is a basketball player.' The only reason that has happened is because Maurice allowed it to be that way. I am filling the stat sheet the same way I did in Toronto.'
Stoudamire doesn't want to end discussion on the topic without addressing his former coach one more time.
'It might not have been rosy for me the last three years,' he says, 'but, man, I learned so much from Mike Dunleavy, it is unbelievable. One thing I will always credit Mike on, he prepared us the right way. Mike prepared our team for every game.
'It's just subtle things that I learned from Mike. He taught me how to play a halfcourt game. Now that I am able to get back to the 94-foot game, the style I thrive in, I am still able to be effective in the other style, and my decision making is much better. That has been big for my success this year.'
But really, this is the same Damon Stoudamire who grew up in Northeast Portland. He intends to stay that way.
'Most people think the best thing about this job is the money and travel,' he says. 'Yeah, you make good money, and the travel is good, and the perks are great.
'At the end of the day, though, you are still a human being. You get lonely, you get mad, you have the same everyday problems that everybody has, just on a bigger scale. It's whether you can handle them or not.
'I have a core of about six friends I hang out with on a consistent basis,' Stoudamire says. 'We all played basketball together at Matt Dishman (Community Center) from fifth grade on. We were all in the same program. We've been tight since then.
'Don't try to penetrate my inner circle if you haven't been there for a long time. I am not interested in getting any new extended friends. I have never been that type of guy. I might shoot the breeze with you, but unless I am calling you on a consistent basis, I don't need a whole lot of friends right now.'
Once in a while, Stoudamire's pack will go clubbing. According to Damon, they don't have a particular hangout. More often these days, they will congregate at his house.
'A lot of the guys have families now,' he says. 'You are not able to get together as much, so it is a little more special. You might pick a Saturday. The football game is on, I have the (satellite TV) package, everybody come to Damon's and we'll have some fun.'
Now, Stoudamire has the perfect place. He says he will be spending more time there these days. Just as soon as he gets comfortable with all those crazy, late-night noises.