NBA.com contributor Ian Thomsen recently sat down with Portland Trail Blazers All-Star point guard Damian Lillard to discuss his relationship with his mother and how it helped pave the way to NBA stardom.
Lillard, 24, moved his mother, Gina, and younger sister, LaNae, from Oakland, Calf. to his six-bedroom house in Lake Oswego when he was drafted in 2012. As a 13-year-old, Lillard promised his mother he would use his skills on the basketball court to one day help provide for her:
Gina was working in Oakland for a medical insurance company as a coordination and benefits specialist. She would spend all day in front of a computer screen, processing claims, and she was experiencing health problems of her own. She was having a hard time.
"He said, `Mom, you're not going to have to worry about anything,''' Gina says. "I was sitting in the car with my sister, and I was going through something, feeling some kind of way, and he knew it. He walked up to the car and he just said, `Mom, I'm going to go to college. I've been getting good grades but I'm going to keep getting good grades. I'm going to graduate from college with good grades, and after that I'm going to the NBA, and when I go to the NBA I'm going to get rookie of the year.'''
"I don't remember that,'' Lillard says of predicting that he would be rookie of the year. "I said a lot though. I was saying things I wanted to do that I knew would make her situation better. `I'm going to go to high school and play the varsity my freshman year.' `I'm going to get a scholarship.' `I'm going to make it to the NBA.' I was just saying stuff like that.''
Lillard also opens up with some insight about his father, who clearly influenced his humble approach to the game, even amid Rookie of the Year, All-Star and All-NBA accolades in just his first three seasons:
"My dad is really, really humble and even-keeled, no matter what has happened,'' Lillard says. "I remember I had a big shot in high school against the best team in our league. We were the second-best team, we were down by three with 20 seconds left, and I had just scored like seven points in a row. I came down, stopped a couple of steps in front (of the arc) and I hit the three, all right? So I start yelling and going crazy, and the crowd is on the floor, and the other team called timeout. And while I'm going crazy, I turn around and I see my dad up there, and he's like this ...''
Houston Lillard was nodding down at his son, slowly. Calming him down.
"Everybody else around him was standing and going crazy, and he didn't move at all,'' says Lillard. "He didn't budge."
It could not be more obvious that this prodigy of young legs and a wise old head has learned to see himself as his parents have dreamed of seeing him. "I represent them,'' says Lillard. When he has made a big shot for the Blazers -- there have been many -- he has conditioned himself to think of his father. "I try to act like I've been there before,'' he says. "I try not to be that person that just gets caught up in that one moment.''
The young point guard -- who largely went un-recruited out of high school and ended up playing college basketball at Weber State University, where he averaged 24.5 points per game his senior season in 2011-12 while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 40.9 percent from outside -- draws influence from both his patient, understanding mother and his level-headed father, both of whom cooperated in raising Lillard, even though they were separated as he was growing up. Thomsen spoke with Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts about Lillard's dynamic personality on and off the court:
"He is a big-picture guy who wants things for himself, but he is very empathetic and sympathetic to others and that comes through,'' says Blazers coach Terry Stotts. "Being a scoring point guard is probably one of the most difficult jobs in the NBA, because your strength as a scorer needs to shine; but at the same time you have to take into account your teammates and the guys running the court with you and think beyond yourself. He is never satisfied. He pushes himself, he expects a lot of himself, and so his personality drives him.''
Thomsen's article also includes anecdotes about an armed robbery Lillard was victim to in high school, how he worked through his season-ending foot injury in 2010 at Weber State, his recent college graduation and why he refuses to buy his little sister a $600 designer backpack for getting good grades because, as he states in the story, "I can afford it, but I'm not going to buy her an MCM backpack just because she got a 4.0. That's what you're supposed to do. That's the standard.''
Lillard's work ethic, expectations of himself and those close to him -- along with his respect for others -- are all informed by how his mother raised him. Thomsen discusses at length Lillard's anti-bullying campaign, which was inspired by him sticking up for a stranger in high school who was being picked on by some of the star guard's teammates on the basketball team, which led to multiple confrontations. That stranger eventually became a friend of Lillard's, and at least partially the inspiration for the anti-bullying campaign itself.
If you're interested in Lillard's strength of character, his relationship to his family and his work within the community, Thomsen's piece is a must-read.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter
(Note: Thanks to Blazer's Edge user Batumshakalaka for originally linking to the article in an earlier fanshot)