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.”