Words and interview by Eugene McIntosh
The most efficient 70 or more point game in NBA history last night with a true shooting percentage of 80.4%...yep that's #VideoGameDame aka Dame D.O.L.L.A. He shot 22-38 (58%) overall, hit 13-22 (59%) from deep and was14-14 from the charity stripe in 39 minutes...the first player in league history to drop 70+ in less than 40 minutes played.
Damian Lillard has been the underdog...from a private school coach telling him he couldn't to high school basketball to AAU to Weber State where he fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot his junior year to the 6th pick of the 2011 Portland Trailblazers. So why settle now?? One of the more respected players around the NBA, Lillard has an old school soul (he credits his parents for everything) and moves with morals and principles not seen much around the league in this era of ring chasing. Rapper OC said it best in his most notable track "Time's Up" where he spit "I'd rather be broke and have a whole lotta respect."
In Dame's case, he's FAR from broke but the respect factor from his peers and around the league in general is A1.
Over the last three years, we've heard "Dame is too loyal to Portland," "he needs to go team up in another city with another star player to have a chance to win a championship," or my favorite..."let him get hurt and watch him be on the first thing smoking out of Portland." That myth was quickly put to rest after Lillard missed 53 games last season and over the summer signed a 2 year $122 million extension that will make him the highest paid American athlete annually in the history of sports beginning in the 2025-26 season. So who's more loyal...Lillard or Blazers ownership??
Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin looks at Lillard like his on court GM. "Dame & I talk all the time and I'm straight with him. I tell him goals, i tell him pitfalls, i teach him the cap, i go over lists with him of potential guys whether it's now or later. We talk about the draft. You know he has such a good GM mind...he just enjoys it. This is about his future like who do I want to play with and what do we need. The conversations are deep and continual and I think if you ask Damian you'd here an answer that says we're in this together. I think we're as connected as ever," he said.
It's easy to say what someone else should do with their life and career so let's factor in the intangibles. In Lillard's case, Portland is the only city he's known all of his adult life. He and his family have established themselves as a major part of the community, (his RESPECT Program he launched in his rookie season is a Portland staple) it's a little under a 2 hour flight from his hometown of Oakland and in layman's terms....the city is his! On the basketball side, the 2012-13 Rookie Of The Year is the Blazers all-time leading scorer, 2nd all time in assists behind Terry Porter, has led the franchise to the playoffs in eight of his ten seasons with one Western Conference Finals appearance and made his 7th All-Star Game appearance last weekend in Utah. Not to mention he was named to the NBA 75 in 2021.
When asked about his decision to ride it out in Portland and other's thoughts of him wasting his prime instead of playing with another star in another city, he kept it a bean with The Bigs! "People gon always say that you know. And I always said it's easy for anybody on the outside to say what I should do or what I shouldn't do cuz those people won't have to live with the consequences of anything I do in my life. Only I will and I understand that. I understand my purpose, I know what's in my heart and I know what I can live with. You know I want to bring a championship to Portland and that's what it is. And like you said the grass ain't always greener on the other side. We've seen a lot of guys move off one spot to go win a championship and join all these teams and they don't win it. Then they end up gettin passed around to different teams and it don't work out and now it's their fault. I'm not afraid of it not working out, it's just that I'm true to what I'm true to and we all choose what route we wanna go on and this is the route that I'm choosing...until they feel like they wanna go in another direction and start over if that ever happens. But for me I know what I want and nobody else is gon have to walk in my shoes regardless of what decision I make so I gotta be true to me."
The 29-31 Blazers started the season 10-6 before Lillard missed seven straight games with a calf injury. Statistically Lillard is having the best season of his career. Last night he passed Dale Ellis for 63rd on the all time NBA scoring list, he's sixth in league history with most 50+ point games at 15 and third with most 60+ point games at 5 behind Wilt Chamberlain (32) and Kobe Bryant (6). He's third in the league in scoring at 32.3 ppg while shooting a career best .467 from the field. (He's averaging 39.4 over a 19 game stretch) He's10th in assists at 7.2 and 9th in minutes played with 36.3 per game. Dame is attempting a career high 11.4 threes per game shooting 38.1% and 9.2 free throws per game at 91.9%. He's getting to the rim, turning the corner and accelerating downhill at an elite level as he looks stronger than he's ever been. After missing the last 53 games of the 2021-22 season, Lillard credits his strong resurgence to him making the best decision for his career moving forward.
"Im fully healthy. You know I've been dealing with an abdominal injury for like four and a half years. So you know over the years it just got worse and worse and harder for me to play with and last year I had to make a tough decision to sit down and have that surgery once I figured out what it was. It turned out to be the best decision I made for my career, to get fully healthy especially with all of the things it was affecting. I told myself then I'm taking this time, missing these games, being apart from the team which I had never done in my career just to make sure that I got right. I did that. I took all the steps to come back correct and I was also able to clear my mind, fill myself up with a lot of time with my family, my loved ones and I came back with one thing on my mind. Just to level up and show what I've been working on and show that I'm still an elite level player and try to bring my team back to the playoffs and that winning environment."
Continue to carve your path my guy. In the words of the late great Tupac Omaru Shakur...ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME!