It’s become universal around the NBA that when the game is on the line and the ball is in Damian Lillard’s hands, don’t doubt him.
The Trail Blazers guard has established himself as one of the best guards in the NBA and one of the greatest all-time scorers in the game, in large part to his motivation to prove his biggest critics wrong.
Ahead of the 2021 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, where Lillard made his sixth NBA appearance, he was asked whether or not he thought when he was younger that he’d one day be recognized as one of the best guards of the era.
In his response, Lillard detailed the stigma that small athletes coming out of smaller school’s battle, and one experience following his time at Weber State that led to his “chip on his shoulder” attitude.
“Honestly, I never looked that far ahead,” Lillard said. “When I was coming out of college, I came from a small school, nobody really knew who I was. So, my trainer and all the people around me was giving me the speech ‘you might be in the G-League for two years.’ You might not play. And that was the route that I was expecting coming from a small school. I thought I’d come in and have a journeyman kind of grind-it-out career. I just knew I was going to earn my way. I was going to stick, and I was going to find a way to help a team, and when I got here, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It wasn’t as I guess as difficult to get in because I was picked high and started from day 1.
It’s not the first time Lillard has bounced back from criticism in his inner circle. The Athletic reported a specific incident in high school where after struggling to get minutes at St. Joseph’s, the Oakland born and raised player asked Coach Don Lippi what he could do to get more minutes.
“You are nonchalant … you have soft passes … he just started running off this list of things,” Lillard said. “Some of it was accurate. But some of it felt like he was upset, like I was coming at him. After that, it just went downhill.”
That experience changed him as his brother Houston recalled.
“It changed him. Damian before that was lazy — lazy, but talented. He played a lot, but he didn’t do any of the extras,” his brother said. “He didn’t have that laser focus we know now. But that experience, it 100 percent triggered him.”
Lillard continues to prove his doubters wrong time and time again. After being the No. 6 pick in the first round by the Trail Blazers in 2012, the Trail Blazers star has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Portland players of all time.
He’s staked his most forceful claim as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player this season after leading a team without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic to a 21-14 record at the All-Star Break. He’s dropped 29.8 points per game, and 8.0 assists while doing so, and the 30-year-old’s pride and loyalty to bringing a championship trophy back to Portland remains unmatched.
Lillard is still on fire and playing with a chip on his shoulder, and Trail Blazers fans wouldn’t have it any other way.