Bulls Insider

LaVine, Lillard share mutual respect forged from gold

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

Zach LaVine knew Damian Lillard a little bit from endorsing the same shoe company before LaVine recently switched and also talking on the court as opponents over the years.

But the high-scoring guards really got to know each other while playing for the U.S. Olympic team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were staged in 2021 because of the pandemic.

And what struck both players about the other is how selflessly they played en route to a gold medal.

“I think there was so much talent on the team, we weren’t going to have to do what we do for our teams on that Olympic team. And Zach was just like, ‘Whatever I gotta do, that’s what I’ll do. If I gotta pick up fullcourt, be a playmaker, be a spot-up shooter, I’m good.’ He literally said that.

“It was fun to see a player of his type of ability embrace that role. Because he was so good at it. You don’t have the responsibility of scoring and doing all these things, so he was flying around defensively, catching lobs, blocking shots, hitting open 3s.”

Interviewed separately and hours apart on Saturday, LaVine said essentially the same thing about Lillard.

“I think for a lot of guys with the Olympic experience, it showed what they were willing to sacrifice. For Dame, at the beginning, he was playing strictly point guard and not shooting the same way. He literally told everybody, ‘I’m going to do whatever.’ We had Kevin Durant, all these different great scorers on our team. So Dame was like, ‘I’ll facilitate if I need to. I’ll play defense,’” LaVine said. “It just shows what guys are willing to do for winning. Him as a person, he was always being vocal in practice and just an extremely competitive guy.”


That’s what made Saturday night at the United Center also such great theatre.

Back in their alpha roles for their respective teams, Lillard posted his 10th 40-point game and LaVine dropped 36 points in the Chicago Bulls’ 129-121 victory. Both scorers made the game look almost effortless and also finished with five assists---and several hockey assists---when double-teams arrived.

“Oh my gosh. He’s one of the best point guards ever. I think he’s top-75 (all-time players) already,” LaVine said. “He doesn’t get enough credit for how he shoots. I know Steph (Curry) does. But if you’re going to put Steph up there, you gotta mention Damian Lillard. He’s right next to him.”

Lillard ended up averaging 11.2 points for that star-studded Olympic team, the fourth-highest average on the team. LaVine averaged 9.7 points, the fifth-highest.

“I think that was the first time, at least for me, where you didn’t think you were the best player on the team. It was Kevin Durant and then it was everybody else,” LaVine said, laughing. “Everybody else was competing their butt off against each other, sizing each other up, and KD was just up here.”

LaVine held his hand above his head as he offered this last comment. Durant indeed averaged a team-high 20.7 points for a squad intent on sacrifice for Olympic gold.

“That was one of the most beautiful things about that whole experience was seeing star players with out-of-the-world physical and athletic talent just doing different stuff and how good they could be at it,” Lillard said. “It was memorable.”

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