Blazers

Mo Williams always knew Damian Lillard would be one of the NBA's elite

Blazers

When Damian Lillard ended Houston's season in just 0.9 seconds, Mo Williams had a first-hand view, standing in the far corner, of the shot that made the Blazers point guard a national superstar. 

In fact, Williams is the unsung hero of the play. He was the one who told Dame to go get the ball, rather than it be inbounded for LaMarcus Aldridge like designed by Terry Stotts.

"When I stepped on the court, Mo Williams kept telling me 'Go to the ball, go to the ball.'" recalled Lillard. 

"I was like, 'That’s not the play.' He was like, 'I don’t care. Go get the ball.'"

[Listen to the latest Talkin’ Blazers Podcast with hosts Channing Frye and Dan Sheldon!]

The rest is history.

Dame took off running, Chandler Parsons was a step late, and Lillard drained the first playoff-advancing buzzer-beater in 17 years. 

What gave Williams the confidence to make that call? One that went directly against what his head coach made in the huddle?

Well, just like he had seen the shot up close, Williams had seen Lillard up close all season and knew the kid from Weber State was special. 

"Absolutely. I saw this happen as soon as he stepped foot in Portland as a rookie," recalled Williams on Blazers Warm-Up. 

After the NBA named Lillard the 2013 Rookie of the Year, Neil Olshey signed Mo Williams to bring a scoring punch off of the bench. The former All-Star helped the Blazers win 54 games and earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference. 

 

While winning games on the court, Williams and Lillard grew a bond off of it. 

"I had an opportunity to be there with him [during his sophomore season]," expanded Williams. "We developed a brotherhood and he's a little brother to me. I love him to death."

What's Dame's secret to his success? Williams thinks it's Lillard's mentality of seeking improvement and responsibility. 

"At the end of the day, talking about [a] player, just talking about the work that you put in, it's not just the work you put in. It's a mentality-thing to want to be the best."

Two years after Williams' lone season in Rip City, the Blazers lost 80% of its starting lineup and were projected to have the worst record in the NBA. Instead, Damian Lillard led his team to the second round of the NBA Playoffs. 

"It's mental and [Lillard] has that capacity to take adversity, to take things that don't go his way and bounce back really quick. That's what makes [him] a great player.

"Not only that but the mentality to continue to get better even though you know you already hit every pinnacle you can hit. As a young athlete, he keeps that going on-and-on-and-on-and-on, using everything as motivation.

In 2019-20 when the injury-riddled Blazers began the NBA bubble outside of playoff contention, Lillard's confidence in himself and his teammates never wavered. He knew Portland would be in the postseason.

The result? Lillard had one of the greatest eight-game runs in NBA history and was named the MVP of the seeding games. 

Williams saw the seeds of the leader Dame would become when Lillard was a sophomore in the NBA. 

"He's been like this since Day-One," remembered Williams. "As he got older, he started to grow into himself, he was able to lead others better.

"But he's always had those leadership qualities in him, that's what makes him who he is. He's done a great job of that. He's never been a person to throw someone under the bus. Like you said, he's never been a guy to throw coaches under the bus. He's always uplifting his teammates on social media, in interviews... I look for those types of things when guys are being in front of a camera, who do they talk about? Do they talk about themselves or do they talk about their coaches or their teammates? He constantly and repeatedly always talks about his teammates even when they do something well or they do something bad, he's always up-lifting them."

Now, with Portland holding the fifth seed in the Western Conference, what's Lillard's recent motivation beyond wanting to bring an NBA Championship to Portland? Being named an All-Star starter. 

"The All-Star snub," said Williams. "I texted with him today, I wasn't even talking about that... He brought it up. So it's still on his mind. It still bothers him and rightfully so. He's done a lot... especially these last three years and every single year he seems to be passed up in that starting lineup. It's motivation for him and he's going to continue to get better."

 

What's Mo's personal opinion?

"I think he's done enough for our game. He's done enough for our league to deserve this spot and people say it's an individual award but at the same time, he's... one of the best players in our league. To go out each and every night to lead to his team... at a high level... and doing it consistently, throughout the year, he needs that opportunity to be a starter in the All-Star game because he's definitely deserving. 

All of Rip City agrees, Mo.