The Portland Trail Blazers presented guard Damian Lillard with the 2013 Rookie of the Year award on Wednesday in a ceremony at the Rose Garden.
Over the years I've cracked on the Blazers numerous times for unorganized (Larry Miller discussing Brandon Roy) and/or boring (introducing Chris McGowan) and/or awkward (Hasheem Thabeet/Jonny Flynn trade) press conferences. This was probably the smoothest and most flawless Blazers press event that I have attended. It was also probably the largest, as Lillard's family and representatives from his agency, Adidas, and a number of team employees were in attendance, in addition to the local media. The presentation was televised on NBA TV and emceed by Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett. As such, Lillard spoke longer than expected, giving a bit of background on himself to the national television audience.
Here's a transcript of the comments made by Blazers GM Neil Olshey, coach Terry Stotts and Lillard. Lillard also took a few questions afterwards. Those answers will be posted later Wednesday (or possibly Thursday).
Blazers GM Neil Olshey
The first step in building a championship-caliber organization is finding a championship-caliber point guard. About 10 months ago at this point we decided that Damian was that guy. As much as [agents] Aaron and Eric [Goodwin] begged me to tell them he was the guy, I kind of played it close to the vest and we waited until Draft night, to make sure that no one jumped ahead of us and stole him.
Ever since that day, not one time has Damian shirked ownership, accountability and the responsibility that we placed on him as an organization, long before Chris [McGowan] joined us as president, before we hired Terry Stotts as our head coach. That mantle that we asked Damian to carry as our future franchise point guard was a heavy one to bear. Throughout it all, Damian accepted that responsibility and handled it with such great aplomb and courage and determination to prove to everybody that small school players can excel in our league. He has done that.
The pressure we put on him was self-induced in a certain way. The work ethic that Dame showed every day in practice, in the locker room, on the floor, playing all 82 games, leading our league in minutes played, all the way through to the last game, whether we were in the playoff race or eliminated, back in Summer League and training camp, sets the kind of standard that we want for players to join this organization going forward.
I know that Damian's best days are ahead of him. This is the first step of a long journey for him, and for him leading the Trail Blazers and I want to thank him for all of his efforts this past season. I know everybody in Portland embraces how special this kid is and how lucky we are to have him.
As a coach you really relish an opportunity to coach someone like Damian. He's a very special young man. We all get to see what he does on the court every night, I get to see it every day in practice. But the thing about Damian, if you haven't learned it already, is his character. People have talked about it, but the type of person that he is has made him into the kind of player that he is. The sky is the limit for what he can do because of the type of person that he is and the work ethic that he's shown to get to this point in his career.
He was getting accolades from the very first game. He scored 20 points in the first three games. He was getting putting up along with names like Oscar Robertson. The thing for me that has distinguished him among other players that I've coached is that he was never satisfied. He had well-deserved accolades throughout the season, he had milestones throughout the season, but he was never satisfied.
He's about winning, he's about character, he's about community, about team, and he's about getting better. As well as he played this year, he was never satisfied. For me as a coach to be able to coach him down the road, coach him next year, knowing that he has that desire to improve as an individual and improve us as a team and organization, that's all you can hope for.
I was very fortunate this year to have the opportunity to coach him. Hopefully I'll be able to coach someone like him again. But I sure enjoyed this year and I'll always treasure it. Damian, congratulations.
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First of all, I want to thank God for making all of this possible for me. I want to thank my family. [Goodwin Sports employees Aaron Goodwin, Eric Goodwin], Mary, everyone there supporting.
I just want to tell everybody a little bit about myself because I kind of started from an unfortunate situation. I grew up in Oakland, California, and there's a lot that goes on there. I grew up with a lot of people that did things that I knew, from the gate, was out.
I started playing football and I was kind of soft, and I admit, I was scared. My family, they constantly picked at me about it. 'Oh, you're scared to get back out there. You don't want no part of that contact.' I just remember my brother, my cousin John, and they made me get in the grass. They were hitting me as hard as any kid could ever hit. I came back two years and I got defensive player of the year. Just the fact that they were able to put that confidence in me, that let me know a lot of things.
I fell in love with basketball after that. I believed I could do anything. There was even a point where I wanted to be a professional wrestler. God knows I was willing to do that. I really thought I could be it. The biggest thing my family taught me is to put my head into whatever I want to be and really try to pursue it. When I started to fall in love with basketball, I started to learn to work hard and I started to really want it. To learn all the different things about the game, everything that came along with it.
Little did I know I had a scholarship to Weber State coming. It was a smaller school, I always felt like I could make it to the NBA. I went there, I had a little bit of success, my coach there, he would always be on me. 'You gotta know how to respond to adversity. You come from Oakland, you know what it is to be against this wall, against this challenge.'
I got there, I had some success. I was Freshman of the Year. I was MVP of the league as a sophomore. The next year I had my mind made up. 'I'm going to come out here, have a good year, and take my family to the NBA. My mom is struggling right now, I have the chance of a lifetime to take care of her, make it to the league, all the problems are going to be solved.' Then I broke my foot.
At that point, I thought all of that stuff was coming to me and now my foot is broken. I was down about it. I got motivated all over again because I knew what was on my back, I had my family that I needed to take care of. I had all of these people that believed in me that I didn't want to let down. I really got after it. I did everything I needed to do to put myself in a position and I really came out and had a good year.
I had decided I was going to enter the Draft. Then the critics came. 'Oh, he's from Weber State. He's only 6-foot-2. He's not that athletic. He didn't play against the best competition. He's 22 years old.' Anything they could think up to put an end to it, that's what they were saying. That wasn't nothing new to me. I had been up against it my whole life.
I came out and proved it up. I'm not afraid to say, I didn't care who wanted to be my friend. I went into workouts, I showed them what I knew I could do. I went to the combine, played both days, I wanted to show them that I wasn't scared. I'm not running from nobody. I got picked sixth. To a lot of people that's a huge accomplishment. I was excited but I knew what I wanted for myself.
In a press conference back at school, I told the crowd then that I wanted to be Rookie of the Year. Some people back then might have said I was crazy. Now here I am getting this award. I'm not surprised by it, that's not meant to be a cocky statement. I'm not surprised by it at all because I know I put the work in to put myself in this position.
Everything that's happened this season, I just expected from myself and I want everyone here to know that I expect more from myself because winning this award is letting me know that everything I did, has paid off. It's not about collecting some hardware, acknowledgement, the attention. It's just reminding me that everything I did to put myself in this position is paying off. I just felt like everybody should know a little bit more about me, my story, and what it took for me to get here. I can't tell you guys how much I appreciate it.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter