Damian Lillard is a generational player that any GM dreams of building around — known for his clutch shooting, ridiculous range, leadership, and, most importantly, loyalty.
Portland Trail Blazers postseason success
Drafted in 2012, Lillard is entering his 10th season with the Trail Blazers, a franchise rich in history but also a team that has failed to last in the Playoffs for the last 20ish years. They made it to Playoffs 8 out of 9 seasons during Dame's tenure, which is a pretty damn good result. However, they always ended up with the participation award, failing to last and reaching the conference finals once, only to be swept by the Warriors in 2018.
The paradox of today's NBA
In the last 20 years or so, the NBA has expanded its fanbase globally, becoming the leading sports organization of the digital age, bringing in colossal TV contracts, and in doing so — the game of basketball has eventually changed. The concept of player loyalty that we used to have in the 70s, 80s, or even 90s is no longer there. Players are given astronomical contracts based on their potential.
Some players have a considerably larger social media following than their franchises, essentially being more powerful brands than their employers. How crazy is that? In this paradoxical environment of the players league we have today, some lads occasionally end up using the power of their brand as leverage to push their way out of situations they may dislike. I am sure all of you are familiar with the Ben Simmons saga that has been all over the headlines in the last couple of months. James Harden pushing his way out of Houston to join his buddies in Brooklyn is another prime example.
Damian Lillard's loyalty to Portland
Dame is different. There is no doubting that. He has always firmly stood behind his franchise and been grateful for the opportunity of having the 'keys to the gym.' In doing so, Dame has shown loyalty and love to the people of Portland and, most importantly, the Trail Blazers. Lillard must have gone on record a couple of hundred times saying how he will never leave Portland up until this last off-season.
This off-season, Dame was in serious trade discussions after publicly voicing his displeasure with the front office for not bringing in new star power. The team remained pretty much the same, and Dame ended up not leaving, again, thanks to none other than his new head coach — Chauncey Billups.
"I think a big part of [my change in mindset] was me and Chauncey's conversations, and where we see things the same," Dame Lillard via The Spun
Lillard Freestyling about his Loyalty
In a recent video that went viral on Reddit, Dame was freestyling about the Blazers, his teammates, and his loyalty to the franchise. He went on saying, "Me not wanting to join a super team might end up being my Achilles heel."
While we must appreciate Lillard for staying in Portland for so many years, through all the ups and downs, when someone needs to point out his loyalty so often, it just becomes weird. Imagine your spouse telling you she's loyal to you every single day — you would probably start questioning your relationship.
I am confident there is nothing Dame would want more than winning the championship with his homies in Portland. But I would like to remind him of Giannis, Dirk, and others who had to stick it through the painful process of losing until they finally climbed to the top — and we didn't hear them overemphasizing their loyalty or complaining about the lack of star power.