The Portland Trail Blazers are considered by some to be a darkhorse contender for a playoff run in the NBA’s bubble. They’re talented, they’re mostly healthy, and - most importantly - they have Damian Lillard.
Jason Quick of the Athletic spoke to Lillard about his mindset, and how his development has led him to this point:
“The night I got drafted, my dad congratulated me and said ‘Now you are in the NBA and you are in position where you can pick up other people.”’ Lillard told The Athletic. “He said, ‘So don’t just think of it as you are a basketball player. You can be bigger. This is bigger than you.’”
Even back then, at age 22, impacting and empowering others wasn’t a foreign concept to Lillard. He had grown up listening to adages and soaking in advice from his closest aunt, Vanessa. So much so they echo in his head today.
“My Aunt Van always reminds me of this; she says it all the time: ‘Our gifts are not given to us for us. They are given to us to share with others,’” Lillard said. “I take that kind of stuff to heart.”
His gifts, of course, go far beyond being one of the NBA’s best point guards. For all of his skills — his quickness, power, dead-eye shooting, and coming through in the clutch — perhaps his greatest trait is leadership, and in particular a certain type of leadership.
While some lead by example, or vocally, or by the sheer fact they are the most talented player, Lillard specializes in inspiring those around him.
Lillard’s mentality has seemingly reached a crescendo at this point in his career, after eight years in the league and turning 30 earlier this month:
When broached with the notion that he seemed different these days, he thought for a second, and matter-of-factly delivered his latest version of Lillard-esque leadership.
“I want to win it all. I think it’s that simple,” Lillard said. “You know, I just turned 30 and I still feel young, and I am young, you know? But I’m just to that point where, you know, I’ve done just about everything. Off the court I’ve done a lot … and I’ve done a lot on the court: five-time All-Star, this year most likely be five-times All-NBA, I’m having my best year statistically … I’m doing all these things — I haven’t been MVP, which I want to be — but I’m just like, what do I want to walk away with? What really means the most when I’m done playing, where I can look back and I can say I did that, I experienced that? And that’s winning it all.”
So as he hears the tick-tock of his career, and sees the opportunity before him and the Blazers in an unprecedented end-of-season format, he knows this is his time. His time to excel, his time to inspire, his time to lead.
Click here for the entire feature, including more on Lillard’s thought process, how he approached Nurkic and Whiteside, and more (subscription required)