Damian Lilliard: more than just a great basketball player

Lilliard’s commitment to the Portland Trailblazers and work-life balance is a big part of his budding legacy.

Lilliard drains a buzzer beater to secure a win over Oklahoma City. — Photo: Bruce Ely/The Oregonian

By: Nathan Washington, SFU Student

When the greatest NBA players are discussed, more so than in other major sports, the principle of loyalty between player and organization is often a determining factor. Whether it’s Reggie Miller with the Pacers or Larry Bird with the Celtics, great players that demonstrate a long-term commitment to pursuing a championship with a single organization are often elevated beyond greatness to legendary status. This is what differentiates  Damian Lilliard of the Portland Trail Blazers from other superstar-caliber players, as Lilliard works his way up the list of all-time great NBA players while attempting to bring championship glory to the state of Oregon.

Lilliard was drafted sixth overall to the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2012 NBA draft. Portland, one of the smallest markets in the league, invested in Lilliard early by making him a starter in his first season, which resulted in him winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Lilliard and the Blazers have been loyal to each other ever since — a rare bond between a superstar player and a small market team. 

In the 2019–20 season, Lilliard has been showing his value, demonstrating nightly why he is one of the premier players in the league. Despite the Blazers’ slow start, the team had a mid-season resurgence on Lilliard’s back, which was highlighted by a stretch of six games from January 20 to February 2 in which the team had five wins and one loss. During the streak, Lilliard averaged 48.8 points, 10.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game, numbers that are almost unheard of. The difference between Lilliard and the other players of his caliber in today’s NBA, such as Kawhi Leonard and James Harden, is his unwavering loyalty to Portland and his determination to win a championship as a Trail Blazer. 

Lilliard has not only stayed with the Blazers, he has also been outspoken about the mutual trust he has with the organization and city, and the goals he has for the team. In a 2019 interview with Complex, Lilliard said, “I wanna be the one, the star that wants to be here, I wanna be the one that embodies all of those things and then be a part of the rise from ‘we haven’t won since 77,’ and now we won, and Dame’s everything to our city.”

Further to this organizational commitment, Damian Lilliard truly marches to the beat of his own drum and does not listen to the uninformed criticism around him. Despite facing backlash for avoiding the NBA Superstar off-season norms of workout clips and scrimmage highlights on Instagram and YouTube, Lilliard uses his off-season downtime to further his rap career as “Dame D.O.L.L.A.” He has released three studio albums and four singles. He claims that the work-life balance his musical pursuits have created have allowed him to be a much more effective basketball player — a claim backed up by his improved statistical performance since his musical debut. 

Lilliard’s on-court play is continuing to move him up the list of best point guards to ever play in the NBA, but it is the pairing of his professional success with his loyalty to Portland and the Trailblazers that is cementing his legacy in Oregon, and beyond, for years to come.