It is a truth universally acknowledged that the one player you want to have the ball in the last seconds of a game is Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, and he showed us why again in a victory over the Bulls after a buzzer-beater three. But just how did Lillard perfect the ability to do that? Jason Quick of the Athletic reports that a specific incident in Lillard’s high school basketball career not only gave him quite the chip on his shoulder, but it also cemented the point guard’s work ethic. After struggling to get minutes at St. Joseph’s, a private school, Lillard asked celebrated coach Don Lippi what he could do to get on the court.
“You are nonchalant … you have soft passes … he just started running off this list of things,” Lillard said. “Some of it was accurate. But some of it felt like he was upset, like I was coming at him. After that, it just went downhill.”
Lillard struggled to bounce back after his coach’s criticism, and after the season was over, his coach scoffed at Lillard’s dedication to making it in the NBA. For Lillard, it marked a watershed moment. Even his brother Houston noticed.
“It changed him. Damian before that was lazy — lazy, but talented. He played a lot, but he didn’t do any of the extras,” his brother said. “He didn’t have that laser focus we know now. But that experience, it 100 percent triggered him.”
As for Lillard, he acknowledges how the experienced changed him.
“That experience kind of put me on edge about every little thing,” Lillard said. “After that, I just got more militant. I started to work way harder, and it got to the point where I knew I was working so hard, and I was doing everything I needed to do, that I was expecting to be the best player.”
Lillard isn’t letting the experience go.
“People are like, ‘Let it go… it’s OK,’” Lillard said. “And I’m like, ‘No. I’m not letting it go.’ He literally smiled and chuckled in my face. Even if he was right, I would never do that to a kid. I was 15-years-old. If somebody did that to my son, I might whoop their ass.”
Instead, he uses it to fuel moments like the one we saw against the Chicago Bulls, and he recognizes how unique they are.
“This is one of those ambitious moments that never happen, never comes to life,” Lillard said. “But this time it did, so I think because of that, this will be a special one.”
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