What is loyalty? If you ask 10 people the same question, you may receive 10 different answers. In the ever-changing landscape of the NBA, players have more freedom to decide their future than ever before. This makes the idea of traditional loyalty sparse in the NBA, for all except a few. Look no further than Damian Lillard for an example of someone who has taken to a small market, and thrived under the circumstances. So what makes Dame’s ties to Portland so deep, and differentiates Rip City from other places? The people.
The last month has been difficult for many of those same people around Portland. With serious injuries to two of their three largest contributors (Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum) both on the court and in the community, the Trail Blazers are left at a crossroad with the playoffs quickly approaching. While some would lay down and pack it up until next season, Portland’s star has never been known to refuse a challenge.
Though the fire in this team never goes out, the pain of losing a teammate to injury is still there.
"That's my little big brother. We talk every day. We text. We FaceTime. I can probably get on him in a way that I probably can't get on nobody else because of our relationship," Lillard said.
The bond goes deeper for this team, which is a culture that Lillard and others have helped to create. That chemistry is unique among the teams in the NBA, and the Blazers have highlighted internal development as their main method of improvement with free agency as unpredictable as it is. Terry Stotts does his best to develop his players, and keep them focused.
However, the rumor mill doesn’t stop churning. No matter how outlandish the reports may be. Professional athletes are well aware of this fact. Lillard has had his own fair share of headlines and rumors spread about his willingness to stay in Portland, but he has doubled-down in reassuring the league that this is where he plans to stay. Portland’s last NBA title was in 1977 with Bill Walton and Coach Ramsey leading the charge. Dame wants to bring another one home to Portland, and it’s passionate fan base but not at the expense of his teammates. “I want to win a championship for this city, but I’m not willing to put somebody under the bus to do it” Lillard had stated. This speaks to an environment of accountability and friendship that is hard to emulate.
In an interview with his friend from Yahoo Sports (Chris B Haynes), Dame talked about the kind of relationships he has, and the legacy he wants to leave in Portland.
"When my career is over and I'm gonna know the relationships that I'm gonna have. I am going to know the people who knew I was solid with them regardless of if I was at the top or if I control it. All of this stuff. That I did it the right way and I took people's situations and their families and what could be into consideration before I just made a decision based off, 'All right, this is what would be best for me. This is what people want to see me do.” Lillard said.
He stresses that the people around him are his main concern, and by surrounding himself with a family he’s created a home here in Portland. Most recently in a report by Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Lillard will be eligible to sign a four year super-max extension this summer and there’s a high probability of him accepting it.
So what does loyalty mean to Lillard? In large part it means home, family, and earning every victory along the way. The culture he’s helped to create, and his love for the fan base speaks volumes. Winner of the Western Conference Player of the Week, Dame shows no signs of slowing down as the regular season comes to a close.
The ability to overcome adversity is the mark of any good team. The Trail Blazers may need a perfect storm to unseat Golden State for NBA superiority, but with Lillard at the center we’ve come to believe that anything is possible. Though the opportunity is certainly there for Lillard to request a change of scenery, he prefers to take the road less traveled in regards to winning a title. He wants to earn it for not only himself, but the fans and teammates he’s come to know and love in Rip City.