The Portland Trail Blazers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of their first round series tonight at 7:30. ESPN’s Royce Young wrote about Blazer star Damian Lillard and his ascension into the limelight, from “Lillard Time” against the Houston Rockets in 2014 to his role as a leader.
Young wrote about how Lillard literally shot his way to fame with his signature series winner against the Houston Rockets in 2014, setting the Blazers up for hope after years of despair.
That shot against the Rockets changed Lillard’s life -- and the Trail Blazers’ trajectory. He had a $100 million signature shoe deal and was doing commercials, and with a catchphrase and likability, Lillard’s stock was soaring. To this day, framed pictures of the shot hang in offices in the Blazers’ practice facility, because it represented -- and still does, really -- a new era of promise for the Blazers, an emergence from an apparent destiny of perpetual adversity and heartbreak.
The shot not only launched Lillard Time, but also brought on higher expectations for the Blazers, expectations which have not been met thanks to early round exits. It’s no secret that the Blazers have struggled in the playoffs ever since Lillard’s signature moment, failing to make it past the second round since then and losing 10 straight playoff games until last Sunday. Young points out that despite the adversity faced, including the injury to Jusuf Nurkic on March 25, Lillard remains loyal to the Blazers and stands as their leader.
Lillard isn’t shy talking about his affinity for the Blazers and desire to hold all their franchise records. He is open talking about what the Blazers have, how sound their culture is, how it should be a place players want to play. When he is asked about how he has impacted those things, with context in the question of how it doesn’t seem like he is ever considering playing somewhere else, he interrupts the question: “No, I’m not.”
The pressure Lillard feels is less about personal achievement and more about what outcomes mean for those who count on him in the organization. What did a sweep mean for Stotts? For his staff? For the trainers and their families? For teammates that he loves, such as Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless? Other places would’ve fired the coach or made a trade after the embarrassment of last postseason. The Blazers just did what they’ve always done: They leaned on Lillard.
Lillard also talked about how playoff success doesn’t define his career and how he doesn’t believe his legacy is defined by how many rings he has at the end of his career.
“A lot of people kind of ... conform,” he said, thinking over the word choice. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying don’t care about championships. That’s not my point. But what I’m saying is a lot of people give in to the pressure of, ‘I didn’t have this, I didn’t have rings.’”
You can read Young’s full piece on Lillard here.