During a segment on Monday’s edition of Pardon The Interruption, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon took up the topic of Damian Lillard, his series-ending game-winner Friday against the Rockets and whether or not he’s now a national star. You can listen to the audio here, though I’ve transcribed the interview below. I’ll add my comments at the end.
Tony Kornheiser: Let’s go backwards now to the most exciting single play of the weekend. Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater in Game 6 to send your over-hyped Houston Rockets home.
Michael Wilbon: My Rockets?
Kornheiser: Chandler Parsons had just hit what seemed to be the game-winner but Lillard came back with .9 seconds to win. Wilbon, is Damian Lillard now a national star?
Wilbon: Not quite, not quite. A game can do that, a shot can do that. We saw that at a different level with Austin Rivers. Austin Rivers people probably knew more than Damian Lillard because he’s the son of a famous coach.
Kornheiser: That was a college game but that was the number one college game of the year.
Wilbon: But that makes you a star, right?
Kornheiser: That’s right. Right.
Wilbon: This shot, which is being called — and you and I have been to Portland, we’ve seen great Portland teams and games in Portland — it is being called the biggest shot, the most important shot, in the history of that franchise. Not yet, Tony.
Kornheiser: That’s ridiculous.
Wilbon: I’m telling you what it’s being called in Portland.
Kornheiser: That’s ridiculous! Because they won a championship with Bill Walton.
Wilbon: But maybe there was no one shot associated with that team.
Kornheiser: I can’t listen.
Wilbon: I know that’s one of your favorite teams. But hold on for a second. Lillard can get to stardom from where he is now. Bill Walton has been a star in Portland. Clyde Drexler, lesser star, but a star. You can be a star in Portland. If Kevin Durant can be a star in OKC, Portland is a bigger place than Oklahoma City.
Kornheiser: Damian Lillard is not now a star for two specific reasons. One, he went to Weber State, which is not Duke and not Kansas, not Texas if you want to mention Durant. He doesn’t come into the league with anything.
Wilbon: He had no hype coming in.
Kornheiser: And now he’s in Portland, which is an outpost. And they play their games at 11 o’clock at night Eastern. Now, you go down the coast, the Lakers have stars and the Clippers have stars, but in Portland, not a place with a lot of stars in the background other than Bill Walton, it’s harder.
Wilbon: It’s harder.
Kornheiser: Adidas has just given him about a trillion dollars.
Wilbon: Adidas, like Nike, they’re right there.
Kornheiser: And maybe because they’re afraid that Derrick Rose is never really going to play again, so they got somebody with the same color
scheme and they want to make him into a star. But for Damian Lillard, now in Portland, to be a national star, they’ve got to get to the Finals. Got to get to the Finals.
Wilbon: But if they beat the Spurs …
Kornheiser: LaMarcus Aldridge is better known than Damian Lillard!
Wilbon: You would think he’d be higher up the totem pole.
Kornheiser: And he’s (Aldridge) not a star. He’s not a star!
Wilbon: But there’s something about Lillard. The commercial, by the way, is very good, you admit, right?
Wilbon: They got THOSE people to be in that commercial. Pretty impressive.
Kornheiser: Yes, but he’s not, no, not yet, not a star yet.
Wilbon: Population theory or just northeast bias?
Kornheiser: No, no, no. Outpost! Do you think it’s northeast bias when I say that the Lakers and the Clippers have stars?
Wilbon: It was hard for you. The Lakers …
Kornheiser: The Clippers have stars.
Wilbon: You’re like all the other northeast writer, just annex the Lakers in like they’re yours.
Kornheiser: Yeah, pretty much.
Wilbon: Because you see some east coast people sitting on the front row.
Kornheiser: I tell you what, go to Portland, live.
Wilbon: Portland is a beautiful place.
Kornheiser: Yeah, except when it rains 300 days a year. I love you Portland! Love you!
So there you go. Now, a few things.
There’s probably no point in arguing who is and isn’t a “national star” as everyone has their own interpretation. Outside of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul, I’m not sure there’s a single player who everyone would characterize as a “national star.” Does Paul George fit that description despite playing in Indianapolis, a market smaller than Portland? How about Kyrie Irving in Cleveland? Or even the likes of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and (to a lesser extent) Tim Duncan? There are no hard and fast rules.
But in regards to Lillard, who has now been featured in numerous national ad campaigns, Kornheiser’s argument is that the combination of playing college ball at Weber State and professionally in Portland is the reason he doesn’t consider him a national star is specious at best. Maybe you had to play in a large market when Kornheiser first started working in sports three decades ago, but the media landscape has changed a lot since then.
Anyway, Lillard’s response was better than anything I could come up with anyway …
I don’t care what Tony Kornheiser thinks of me but whatever I do or do not become, will not be because I went to weber state. #RespectIt
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 5, 2014
As for Kornheiser’s opinion regarding Aldridge, maybe he’s not a household name, but three-straight All-Star appearances goes pretty far toward being a star in the NBA.
In regards to whether Lillard’s Game 6 game-winner is the biggest shot in franchise history, I’d be willing to listen to other suggestions, but considering it lifted the Blazers to their first Western Conference semifinals in 14 years and saved them from almost assuredly losing Game 7 on Houston’s floor, I’d say it’s minimum Top 3 all-time.
Finally, no one who chooses to live in Washington DC and willfully endures their brutally cold winters and putrid summers as Kornheiser does gets to complain about the rain in Portland. We love you too, Tony!
(By the way, I realize Kornheiser and Wilbon are laying on the shtick pretty heavy here and no one would take any of this all that seriously, but I assure you this provides some extra motivation for Lillard and Aldridge. Damian, in particular, lives for proving doubters wrong.)