The debate over Damian Lillard’s MVP candidacy came to the fore on ESPN’s First Take yesterday, when Stephen A. Smith spent five minutes apologizing to the Trail Blazers star for not giving him his dues.
Smith said for too long he had overlooked Lillard’s ability and called on other NBA experts to acknowledge this lack of respect and recognize his MVP chances.
“We owe him an apology and the number one person on that list, would be me.”
“We all know how great Damian Lillard is, we just don’t talk about it enough and we don’t talk about it so much that we have taken this man for granted.”
“I challenge anybody out there to tell me who strikes more fear in you when crunch time arrives than the ball being in his hands.”
“On behalf of all the great NBA reporters, all the great aficionados, all the great analysts, on behalf of everyone I will put myself at top of the list, I apologize, it’s my fault because this brother, Damian Lillard, has been ignored for far too long. He is the real deal and he does it time and time and time again and we don’t talk about him enough.”
“It’s going to stop today, it’s going to stop today, he’s on that damn MVP list, he’s on that MVP list right now and I will not make that mistake again, I apologize, I apologize, it’s my fault, we going to talk about this man moving ahead. Because what’s he’s doing and what he has been doing is ridiculous.”
Smith’s co-host Max Kellerman rebutted, suggesting the reason Lillard’s name had not been mentioned enough was due to a lack of team success and his location in Portland.
“Damian Lillard is a top 10 player, I think everyone agrees with that. Damian Lillard is in the MVP conversation but not one of the two guys right now who we believe is going to win it.
“Damian Lillard is a great player but we’re not taking his team to win the championship. That’s why he’s not talked about more.”
However, Smith replied with a suggestion that team success was not necessarily a pre-requisite for the MVP award, citing Russell Westbrook’s win in 2016-17.
“Got mad respect for Russell Westbrook, he ain’t ever been this dude. Russell Westbrook is the most athletic point guard in NBA history but in terms of running a team, being a leader and being the shot maker, he ain’t never been Damian Lillard.”
You can watch the segment here.