If you’ve been paying attention to Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard at all this week, you’ll know he’s on a tear.
On Sunday against the Houston Rockets, Lillard put up a career-high 71 points — a Blazers’ record — contributing more than half of the points to the team’s 131-114 victory. According to CNN, Lillard is the first NBA player to sink more than 70 points in less than 40 minutes.
Lilliard is in his 11th season with the Blazers, drafted from Weber State in Utah, and will turn 33 in July.
He dons the letter O — don’t mistake it as the No. 0 — for his hometown of Oakland, California. But with all his years in the NBA in Oregon, the O on his jersey can also symbolize his connection to the Beaver State.
Let’s revisit what makes Lillard a tour de force.
Rip City is the name Portland holds as home to a men’s basketball team. “Dame Time” has been ticking since Lillard arrived in 2012. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year — the fourth player to be selected unanimously.
Lillard has made waves ever since.
Lillard doesn’t have a championship ring, but his acclaim is top-notch: Pop-culture digital magazine Complex ranks him as the 7th best shooter the NBA has ever seen. He won gold with Team USA at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. And he came out on top in the 3-point contest at the NBA All-Star weekend last month.
Earlier this week, NPR’s Tom Goldman revealed he’s a big-time “unabashed fan” of Lillard, as someone who’s followed sports professionally for decades: “tucked away here in the upper left-hand corner of the country, largely off the nation’s sports radar, we in Portland have gotten something deeper and more meaningful from Damian Lillard,” Goldman wrote. “A combination of leadership, loyalty and perspective rare for someone so young and part of today’s zillion-dollar, super-hyped world of major professional sports.”
Rooted in Rip City
In national league sports, basketball is the biggest game in Portland — no disrespect to the city’s soccer teams — and Lillard has been the main face of the Blazers for over a decade. He is Portland’s most famous current athlete, but he’s known as a humble team player.
While he’s a star on the court as the Blazers’ all-time leading scorer, Lillard is loved in Portland for more than his shots. His involvement in community service includes commitments to a youth foundation, the RESPECT Program at several Portland high schools and Special Olympics.
The Blazers take on the Atlanta Hawks Friday. Just over a month remains in the NBA season, and the Blazers are currently 12th in the Western Conference. So Portland fans shouldn’t expect a playoff appearance this year — as of Thursday, data-driven news site FiveThirtyEight gives the Blazers an 8% chance of going to the postseason.
Though that’s a disappointing outlook for the Blazers, Lillard has made clear in the face of what seems to be the forever question from sports media: He isn’t going anywhere.
Next year, Lillard will be on the cusp of becoming the team’s longest-tenured player in franchise history: Clyde Drexler played just shy of a dozen seasons as a Blazer before going to Houston midway through the 1994-1995 season.
If Lillard stays for a full 12th season — and Lillard continues to say it’s not an “if” — he’ll pass Drexler as the longest-active Blazer. By spring 2024, that could give Portland fans another source of pride in the man they call “Dame.”