Damian Lillard

Steph Curry, Damian Lillard deserve better than ridiculous debates

Steph Curry, Damian Lillard deserve better than ridiculous debates

The evidence gets clearer by the day. With the coronavirus pandemic and all its inglorious but sensible restrictions, too many people with too much idle time are flocking to social media and diving keyboard-first into irrational discussions.

Such as the one that raged Tuesday night and into Wednesday and was unrelated to Kamala Harris as a vice presidential candidate:

Is Damian Lillard better than Stephen Curry?

The answer is no, but that doesn’t stop “debate.” Nor should it.

One of the charming aspects of sport is that it is, like a crowded barber shop, a virtual playground for silly arguments. Sports are where conflict prompts research before meandering to laughter and expressions of mutual respect. It’s OK to agree to disagree. On those rare occasions when it escalates to violence, the blame lies not with the disagreement but with whomever loses perspective.

With Lillard lighting up all comers in the NBA bubble, pulling the Portland Trail Blazers into favorable playoff position -- and doing so in spectacular fashion -- it’s natural that hyperbole would take flight into a loony dimension. Recency bias is real, and it’s the fastest route to folly.

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Dame is the best point guard in the bubble, so he must be the best point guard in the NBA. The first claim defies debate, the second invites it.

Which leads the conversation directly to Curry, the point guard against whom all others should be measured. He has the least to prove and is the most decorated player in the league not named LeBron James.

Curry is the only active point guard with three championship rings. He’s the only point guard with two MVP trophies, and the only player in history to nab the award by a unanimous vote. Moreover, he is the only point guard that can make a legitimate claim to altering the offensive philosophies and defensive strategies of basketball at all levels, regardless of gender.

All the things Dame wants most, Steph already has.

But Dame is coming. And hard.

His performance in Florida has been a portrait of stone-cold determination and preposterous production. Lillard is averaging 37.0 points (48.5 percent shooting, including 41.4 percent from deep, 88.8 percent from the line) and 9.3 assists per game. In their last two games, with increasingly high stakes, Dame put up 51 and 61 points. Of the 69 points that Portland totaled in the fourth quarters of those two games, both excruciatingly close, he scored 40.

In scoring 61 points to put away the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, Lillard joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games of 60 or more points in a season.

Hats off. Caps, too. Lillard lives up to his Dame D.O.L.L.A. (Different on Levels the Lord Allowed) nickname. The praise coming his way, is richly deserved. He shouldn’t plead with anyone to “Put some respect on my f---ing name,” as he did Tuesday night.

Curry might not be caught uttering that phrase, but it surely lives in his heart. That’s where these two players are most alike. Each was a three-star recruit out of high school and landed at a mid-major -- Steph to Davidson, Dame to Weber State. Each entered the NBA to the yawns of skeptics. They feel disrespected because they’ve been disrespected.

But comparing Dame to Steph is cheap debate bait.

[RELATED: Trainer says Steph is 'as bouncy and energetic' as ever]

Curry, he has the chips and the dip. His teams crush Lillard’s at every postseason turn. Steph’s presence in the Bay Area is responsible for the Warriors hysteria that has surfaced over the last seven years. Chase Center does not get built without the team’s runaway success, and that success does not happen without Curry.

At the root of this silly debate is, sadly, perception.

Despite his record and his innate toughness, Curry always will be perceived by some as a soft kid from the suburbs, son of a millionaire NBA player. His baby face, relatively fair skin and his exhibitions of joy are magnets for jealousy and bound to lure detractors.

Lillard gets props for surviving his upbringing. He’s a Brookfield Village kid, raised in a five-block stretch between railroad tracks and I-880 in East Oakland. He's a credible rapper. His court demeanor is of such intense focus it’s almost trance-like. He is serious business.

Curry and Lillard deserve better than to be fantasy-pitted against each other, with slander flying both ways, at a time when one is radioactive and the other inactive.

Debate can be fun, but rarely is it vital. How about we cool the keyboards a bit and allow each to be magnificent in his own right? Both are, after all, bound for the same Hall of Fame.

Damian Lillard, Dwyane Wade congratulate Steph Curry on Under Armour brand

Damian Lillard, Dwyane Wade congratulate Steph Curry on Under Armour brand

To quote the legendary Ron Burgundy: Steph Curry is kind of a big deal at Under Armour.

So it makes perfect sense why the Warriors superstar soon will "have his own brand under the umbrella of Under Armour, just like how Michael Jordan has his Jordan Brand at Nike," as Let's Go Warriors recently reported.

And when Bleacher Report posted about the news to Instagram on Monday, prominent members of the basketball world paid tribute to the two-time NBA MVP.

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@stephencurry30 getting like Mike 👀 @brkicks

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Dwyane Wade: "Welcome to the 'own' brand club."

Damian Lillard: "Love it."

Bradley Beal: "(three fire emojis)."

How long has this "own brand" thing been in the works?

Julie Creswell and Kevin Draper of The New York Times revealed some very important details in late January.

In the summer of 2018, two top Under Armour executives traveled to the West Coast on a critical mission. Kevin Plank, the sports apparel company’s founder and chief executive, and Patrik Frisk, its president and chief operating officer, needed to persuade Stephen Curry, the Golden State Warriors star and the company’s highest-profile endorser, not to leave the brand.

Mr. Plank was unhappy that Mr. Curry, whose endorsement deal pays him millions of dollars a year, would rarely wear Under Armour clothing to N.B.A. games. Mr. Curry was upset that sales of the signature Curry 3 shoe had been weak.

At the meeting, participants found a solution that would showcase just how much Mr. Curry meant to the company. Mr. Plank and Mr. Frisk agreed to build a separate business around him, one reminiscent of what Nike had done for Michael Jordan two decades before. The company brought on the former executive who had overseen the creation of the Jordan brand at Nike to run the Curry brand and promised Mr. Curry much more involvement in the development of his shoes. Mr. Curry decided to remain, and a crisis was averted.

Curry's contract with Under Armour runs through 2024, and is worth a reported $20 million annually.

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Why Trail Blazers-Lakers is first-round NBA playoff series we all need

Why Trail Blazers-Lakers is first-round NBA playoff series we all need

With most of the players strolling through games, Lonzo Ball looking particularly uninterested and Zion Williamson, questionably identified as the future of the franchise, hobbling arthritically about the court, the bubble has been a bust for the New Orleans Pelicans.

They’ll go back to the Bayou in a few days, by which time we’ll have a bigger prize.

Let’s hope it’s Portland. Give us the Trail Blazers. Please.

Despite the pre-restart chatter around LeBron, the Pelicans, Ben Simmons, the 76ers, Victor Oladipo, the Rockets, Bol Bol and Giannis, the most compelling story to emerge has been that of the Blazers, who in a matter of days set fire to the promotional hype of Zion in the playoffs.

Portland in the postseason is good for the NBA and, closer to home, it gives Dub Nation and the Bay Area a rooting interest. With the Warriors watching from outside the bubble, it’s reasonable to believe their fans will stand with Oakland’s own Damian Lillard and his crew.

We want Sleek Melo, who used the hiatus to redistribute his weight -- a euphemism for trading fat for muscle -- and trim 10 of his 36 years.

Bring us Jusuf Nurkic, who lost 16 months to a gruesome leg injury and now looks fantastic.

Bring us CJ McCollum, whose one-on-one offense is a work of art.

The probability of Blazers-Lakers in the first round is downright juicy, and infinitely more absorbing than Pelicans-Lakers ever could have been.

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And thanks to the events of the weekend, the possibility of Blazers-Clippers in the Western Conference Finals -- yes, we realize a lot has to happen -- is spicy enough to trigger copious perspiration up and down the Pacific coast.

After the Clips came back to beat Portland on Saturday, Dame’s response to postgame trash talk by LA’s Paul George and Patrick Beverley -- after Lillard missed two late free throws -- was straight from the flatlands of Oakland, where no insult, no matter how thin, goes without reply.

"The reason why they’re reacting like that is what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect and it shows what I’ve done at a high clip," Lillard told reporters in Florida. "I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should tell you how much it hurt them, what I put them through in those situations previously."

Lillard ousted George and the Thunder last postseason with one of the boldest game-winning bombs in playoff history, draining a 37-footer over PG. Dame made the moment all the more memorable by turning toward Russell Westbrook and George and waving goodbye.

Dame’s buzzer-beating triple in Game 6 to close out the first-round Blazers-Rockets series sent Beverley and his Houston teammates scattering into the offseason.

Beverley, of course, has a permanent place on the 10 Most Hated list of Warriors fans. His attempts to bully Steph Curry are ineffective -- generally ignored by Steph -- but merely attempting to do so is one of the quickest routes to Bay beef.

No doubt invigorated by the darts thrown his way by PG and Beverley, Dame went out Sunday and lit up the 76ers for 51 points, pulling Portland within a half-game of the No. 8-seed Memphis Grizzlies, who have been staggering through the restart like puppies in platform heels.

Of those teams yet to be eliminated -- the Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Blazers -- Portland is the most dynamic and has the most star power. And only San Antonio, which is focusing on development, is more experienced at this postseason thing.

[RELATED: Can pigs fly? Chuck says Warriors have big '20-21 advantage]

The NBA restart has been fascinating for many reasons, the most significant being the ability -- fingers crossed -- to avoid COVID-19. Indiana’s TJ Warren, a quiet bucket-sniffer his entire career, showing out. The Suns, irrelevant for a decade, are showing up. Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. is introducing his game to rousing and much deserved applause.

The new storylines are refreshing and very welcome.

But nothing has been more revealing than the transformation of the Blazers, who are a different team than they were in early March. Which is why, when the playoffs begin next week it’s hard to imagine a more watchable first-round series than Blazers-Lakers.