There is no player in the NBA that I would want to build a franchise around more than Damian Lillard. Not only is he an elite talent on the court, with his signature #LogoLillard range and #DameTime late-game heroics, but he’s as loyal, hard-working, and passionate about the community as it gets. He’s everything you want in a superstar. Not only has he been a pillar of strength for a Blazers team that is severely hobbled, but he’s doing so while enduring unbearable tragedy.
One week ago today, while in Los Angeles for a game against the Lakers, Lillard learned of the shooting deaths of two people close to him — one was a cousin, and the other was a family friend. He played against the Lakers the next day and totaled 35 points with seven assists.
In 2020, he discovered the dead body of his cousin and personal chef, an aunt died from cancer, a family friend died from COVID-19, and a cousin was killed in West Oakland at the beginning of this year.
In his interview with The Athletic, Lillard told of when he found his cousin.
“I stood over his body, man. Like, he was dead. Minutes. I’m standing over his body,” Lillard said. “People don’t know what type of trauma that is, and what that is to have somebody that close to you laid out and you stand over him. Like, I still struggle with that. You know what I mean? Like, I still struggle with that. That’s a battle for me.”
Lillard also said “I could be 45. I’ve done seen and been around so much.”
Through the weight and the burden of tremendous trauma and turmoil, Lillard’s demeanor never changes. He looks like the stoic superstar on the court that he has been for years, leading the Blazers to a 20-14 record, good enough currently for the fifth seed in the Western Conference.
Last night, Lillard was Lillard. Down by one with about 15 seconds to go against the Golden State Warriors, Lillard stepped back and pulled up from about four feet behind the arc. He knocked down the three, like he usually does. He didn’t celebrate, and his teammates looked as though they expected him to make it, as always.
On the other end, Lillard drew a charge from Draymond Green to win the game defensively. Teammate Carmelo Anthony made sure to sing his praises after the win.
I know that the MVP has become a popularity contest and not truly about who the most valuable player in the league is, but there is nobody more valuable than Lillard. He is single handedly doing yeoman’s work and carrying a Blazers team that is currently missing C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkić, and Zach Collins because of injuries. He’s fourth in the league in scoring at 29.4 points per game, is averaging 8.0 assists per game, and is dominant in clutch situations.
Lillard is the face of the Portland franchise, and is on his way to passing Clyde Drexler in every category to be the greatest Blazer ever. He is the MVP, whether the voting will reflect that or not.