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Damian Lillard Shows Up Despite The Pain

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After a wave of family tragedies, the star point guard aims to overcome his personal struggles.

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NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Dallas Mavericks Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Rip City has been whispering: is Dame okay? That Damian Lillard, star point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers, has been struggling is perhaps not apparent at first look, but for many of the faithful, it has seemed obvious that something wasn’t quite right. In a recent story by Jason Quick of the Athletic, Lillard details the personal tragedies his family has faced in the last year and a half, from his cousin and chef Brandon Johnson to an aunt, a family friend, a cousin, and most recently, another cousin and a family friend right before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers. That hit so hard Lillard considered not playing.

“I thought about (not playing), because mentally I was like … I don’t want to say I didn’t care, because I did care,” Lillard said. “But emotionally, I was like, whatever.”

The multiple losses of family and friends has left Lillard wondering about his priorities.

“What really matters in life, you know?” Lillard asked. “When you consider that, and when you consider what your family is going through … it’s a battle mentally to put yourself in that place where this game is the most important thing right now.”

For Lillard, it was difficult to see his parents upset after the death of his cousin and friend.

“When you see your parents get emotional, that just sent me over,” Lillard said. “Because that just tells you people are really affected.”

But he acknowledges that his family depends on him to do what he needs to do.

“I have to put those emotions to the side to care about the game and make sure I’m here for my teammates, and to do my job, because my job takes care of a lot of my family. It does a lot of things for people in my family,” Lillard said. “I think understanding that is what helps me kind of push forward.”

His family supports him as best they can, and they make sure to watch every game.

“I know that my success makes them happy,” Lillard said. “Every game we play, my whole entire family is at home watching. They don’t miss a game. I know that does something positive for them, and that it means something to them, and that’s a major part of our happiness as a family and us being able to continue forward and stay together.”

Lillard recognizes that the death of his cousin and chef, Brandon Johnson, hit him particularly hard, and that it has been hard ever since.

“I was hurt by that,” Lillard said. “I cried a lot. Just hurt … I was with B every day, and in the summers when I would travel to train, he would come and make sure I was eating right. I was with him every day. Talked with him every day. Sat there with him every day. So that one just had me hurt. To this day.”

Despite his pain, Lillard continues to show up and push through, even though the haters on social media would love to see him fail.

“I’ll say this — it’s been bittersweet for me the last year and a half,” Lillard said. “A lot of people don’t know, because I don’t seek sympathy, I don’t make excuses. I just show up. It’s like, you get on Twitter and people have so much to say. And when I post on Instagram, people have soooo much to say. ‘You didn’t do this’ … ‘Your team is never going to win a championship’ … you know, everybody just got so much negative shit to say. And I’m just looking at it like, I’m coming out here to practice every day, I show up for my team every damn game. I don’t make excuses. I just do stuff the right way. And I perform. I show up. If shit goes bad, I don’t shy away from it. I say, ‘My bad. I wasn’t good enough.’ When shit goes well, I don’t say it was all me. And that’s not just me trying to do the right thing. I say how I feel about stuff and how I see these situations.

“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t take into consideration that we have lives, too,” Lillard said.

But Lillard recognizes that time moves on, too. His son, Damian Lillard Jr., continues to grow, and he and his fiance, Kay’la Hanson, had twins Kali and Kalii in January. His expanded immediate family keeps him grounded and going, in spite of everything else.

We here at Blazer’s Edge wish Lillard and his family the best as they deal with these personal tragedies.

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