That generosity extended beyond the court for Lillard Thursday night with the second-year guard from Oakland taking 30 kids from the Trail Blazers Boys & Girls Club in Northeast Portland on a holiday shopping spree.
The kids from the Boys & Girls Club traveled by bus not knowing until right before arriving that they would each be the next hour roaming the aisle of the Toys “R” Us in Jantzen Beach with Lillard, each of them having free reign to spend $100 on whatever they liked.
“This is the highlight of the week, especially because of the time of year it is,” said Lillard, whose week included hitting back-to-back game winners during the course of a 3-1 road trip. “Some people aren’t as fortunate to get Christmas presents and have a Christmas tree and have a bunch of family around them, so just the fact that I could give them something close to that with this trip, that means everything to me.”
Another quality possessed by great point guards is an ability to know what play to run in a particular situation without asking for assistance and a belief in their own judgment allows them to know almost instinctively what to do without looking to the sideline. Lillard has done that both on and off the court, coming up with the idea to host the group from the Boys & Girls Club on his own accord and using his own resources.
“This is who I am as a person.,” said Lillard. “What’s going on with the Trail Blazers, how well we’re playing, that’s great. I’m in Portland to play basketball and I’ve been enjoying that, but doing something like this is who I am as a person. I chose to do this; this was my idea. I just feel great about it what I can bring out of the kids, the smiles on their faces and how they react. Them being able to go get $100 worth of toys all for themselves, that’s what I do it for.”
But the kids didn’t just by toys for themselves. Many in the group committed their own acts of generosity by using part of their $100 by buying gifts for their brothers, sisters and cousins. Despite many of the kids not having much of their own, they thought first of what they could give to others, a reminder of the kindness, selflessness and gratitude that sometimes seems in short supply, even during the holiday season.
“When I was their age if somebody would have given me $100 to do shop, I would have spent it all on myself!” said Lillard. “I think it says a lot about some of the things they’ve been through, just the fact that they think about other people, people they’re close to. That’s big of them to have somebody hand you $100 to go shop and the first thing you do is think of the next person. For me, that says a lot about them, but it also allows me to reach out to more than just the kids here.”
That reach extends to their parents as well. While this time of year is generally considered to be a joyous time, for some, it’s a time when inequities can feel their most egregious.
“We’re just really thrilled because there’s so many kids who don’t have enough or a lot of family, people who are close to them to fall back on this Christmas,” said Erin Cunningham of the Boys & Girls Club. “So to be able to have something special that’s just for them, they’ll remember it for a long time.”
The exchanging of material possessions is certainly not required to have a happy, meaningful holiday, but for a parent dealing with hard times, there’s a pain that even the most grounded individual might not necessarily be able to shake when confronted with not having the means to fulfill your child’s wishes,
“A big part of why I feel so strongly about it is because I know how much it means to them, not only the kids, I know how much it means to their parents,” said Lillard. “The parents aren’t always in position to do what they would like to do, especially at this time of year, so just the fact that I can do it for the kids and for some of the parents that aren’t as fortunate, that might be struggling or might be going through something and can’t give their child the kind of Christmas that they want to, something like this could definitely help. I think about all those things when I decided I wanted to do something like this.”
Like a great point guard, Lillard was able to see how one action sets another in motion. Make a child happy by sharing part of what you’ve sacrificed for, save a parent from the heartbreak of seeing their child go completely without. Give a gift to one child, they turn around and use that give a gift to another child.
“What I’ve been able to do as a basketball player, it makes this stuff that much more valuable because it puts me in a position to do things for the community and for the kids,” said Lillard. “To see how they reacted, the smiles on their faces, that’s everything to me, because growing up in the neighborhood I didn’t have this type of stuff. I always knew that if I had the chance to do it that I would want to see this happen.”
And all in the process, hopefully he played a small part in inspiring the next generation, something all true greatness does.
“I think he’s such a great role model for the kids,” said Cunninghamm. “Because at the Boys & Girls Club, that’s really what we’re trying to instill all the time is giving back and being part of the community and being a good citizen. And so for them to be able to have someone that they see all the time, someone that they can look up to and see them giving back and for them to be able to be a part of that, that’s huge. It makes such a huge difference for the kids and it makes our job a lot easier in explaining why giving back is so important and how it builds community. That he’s willing to do this will speak volumes to the kids, for a long time.”
According to Shams Charania of The Vertical, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will not play for Team USA at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in order to rest and continue rehabilitating the plantar fasciitis injury that dogged the 6-3 for much of the 2015-16 season. I can confirm this report.
Though Lillard was able to play through the injury after missing seven games in late December, the pain caused by the plantar fasciitis in his left foot never really went away. He received treatment on his foot throughout the season, though the most effective approach to the injury, which causes extreme pain on the bottom of the foot and heel, is rest, which is obviously hard to get when you’re the leader and best player on a team trying to make the postseason. By forgoing the month-long lead up to the Olympics and the Games themselves, Lillard should have the recuperation time he’ll need to go into Portland’s 2016 training camp completely healthy.
Charnania is also reporting that Lillard was hoping for more time to make the decision before being pressed by Team USA for a commitment one way or another. This could very well be true, though if being completely healthy and rested for the start of the 2016-17 NBA season is Lillard’s motivation for declining a Team USA invite, it’s hard to figure how another week or two would change his decision.
Lillard initially declined being a part of the pool that Team USA draws their roster from, though he ultimately relented despite not feeling particularly optimistic about his chances of being named to the Olympic team after being passed over for the FIBA World Cup team in 2014. But between players opting to rest in preparation for the upcoming season and the myriad of concerns regarding the 2016 Games, the number of candidates has dwindled to the point where Lillard would have been a lock to make the Olympic team had he chosen to participate.
But Lillard opting for rest over Rio doesn’t mean you won’t have a Trail Blazer to root for during the Olympics, as Al-Farouq Aminu and the rest of Team Nigeria (a team that also includes former Trail Blazer Ike Diogu and former Oregon Duck Chamberlain Oguchi) have qualified for the 2016 Games after winning AfroBasket 2015 in Tunisia. And CJ McCollum has also been invited to play on the USA Select Team, whose purpose is to help the USA National Team prepare for international events, though players from the Select team have been promoted to the National team, with the most recent example being Mason Plumlee making the 2014 World Cup team.
Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is currently barnstorming through Asia as a part of the adidas “Take On Summer” tour. He’s meeting fans, instructing young players, working on his dance moves and generally having a good time in one of the most basketball-obsessed places in the world.
But even though it’s already Tuesday in Asia, it’s still Monday here in the United States, which means Lillard has a new track to post on his Soundcloud account under his nom de rap “DameDOLLA.” And this week, it’s a freestyle featuring V.I.P., one of Lillard’s regular collaborators, entitled “Shook Ones”…
A few select four bars from Lillard’s latest offering…
Last of a dying breed and they’re taking me for granted
I represent the ones working for it, nothing handed
The world is all backwards. How we lazy and demanding?
We ain’t working towards dreams we’re just working towards mansions
I see my people struggle when they still don’t ask for nothing
We always gonna keep it solid, I know when the times are toughest
I know when they gonna be fine and i know when to give them something
Don’t ever try to finesse me, I know when a sucker bluffing
Good stuff. “Shook Ones” is just the latest of Lillard’s growing number of tracks, which include Soldier In The Game, Full Stomach, Why?, Free Bands, The Villains and last week’s Isley. All of these tracks and more can be found on Lillard’s Soundcloud page.
In between playing a few rounds of golf and enjoying some of Oregon’s finest beverages (I’m assuming), Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts joined Chris Mannix on “The Vertical” podcast to discuss his past as a player and coach and Portland’s unexpected 2015-16 season…
Adrian Wojnarowski, NBA oracle and head of “The Vertical,” leads off the podcast, with Stotts’ segment with Mannix starting just before the 42 minute mark. Whoever put the post together was kind enough to break down the topics in case you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, and I’ve transcribed a few segments for your reading pleasure…
Stotts on CJ McCollum’s season, which culminated with the third-year guard being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player…
“I knew he was going to have a good year and I knew he would probably be in the conversation for Most Improved. Now, I wouldn’t have said how many points he was going to average or anything else, but I knew that the opportunity was going to be there and he was going to take full advantage of it because he’s extremely skilled, he can put the ball in the basket and. There were some question marks — one was his health — because he had had injuries each of the three previous seasons, we made him our backup point guard, that was something that he hadn’t done at this level. So there were certainly question marks in certain areas, but the fact that he could score and do what he can do well, I don’t think that surprised anybody within our organization.”
Stotts on Damian Lillard using slights from the media, perceived or otherwise, as motivation…
“I will say in this day and age, I think everybody knows what everybody is saying about everybody. If they don’t read it, a friend reads it or a friend retweets it or forwards the tweet. It’s really hard not to know what’s going on out there and people can try and say, ‘No, I don’t pay any attention to that’ but Damian is a very honest person and he’s true to himself. To say that he doesn’t know what is being said, it wouldn’t be truthful. I think a lot of players and a lot of people in general use that as motivation. I find it funny how people think that Damian is alone with that because you have goals and he wants to do well, he wants to prove what he can do. I think it’s more about what he’s capable of rather than what people are saying.”