In today’s culture, few players are more renowned for their cerebral, late-game mastery than Damian Lillard. Prior to the 2020-21 season, the Trail Blazers ranked as the No. 1 clutch shooter in a GM survey. But, as detailed in a feature from Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck, Lillard’s inimitable crunch-time success wasn’t always a given. With the postseason underway, Beck chronicled the process of how “Dame Time” came to be.
As a member of the Rebels, his Oakland-based AAU team, Lillard was tasked with outplaying Jerryd Bayless, another soon-to-be Portland floor general. In that game, Lillard previewed what was to come with what should have been a game-winning 3-pointer. Instead, it turned into the ultimate lesson for his basketball career; he cost his team the game with an excessive celebration.
Then they noticed something else: Young Dame Lillard, long, lanky and skinny, whooping it up on the court…with his red, white and baby-blue Rebels jersey in his hand. Followed by the piercing screech of a referee’s whistle.
Jones, the more excitable of the two coaches, came bounding toward Lillard, bellowing.
“Put your f---ing jersey on! Put your jersey on! You don’t take your jersey off!’”
“And I just remember trying to hurry up and put it back on,” Lillard says.
As fate would have it, Lillard’s team lost by one, by virtue of those technical free throws. It was something the six-time All-Star said he remembered throughout the rest of his basketball career.
“Today when I make game-winners, people always ask me, like, `How are you so calm? How are you just so poised when you make these big shots?’ ” Lillard says. “And I honestly feel like it comes from that. I honestly feel like because of that experience, I’m much more reserved in my reaction and celebrations to when I make like a big shot or do something like that.”
The rest of Beck’s article goes in-depth on Lillard’s pre-NBA story and the mentality that follows—a must-read for Lillard supporters. You can read the full article from Beck at Sports Illustrated.