With just one shot, Damian Lillard forever endeared himself to the Trail Blazers fan base.
“The Shot,” as it became to be known, occurred in the blink of an eye, with 0.9 seconds left on the clock in the Trail Blazers’ first-round matchup in 2014 against the Rockets. Lillard’s game-winner and series-clincher instantly cemented his star status in Portland and perhaps more notably, around the league.
But while “The Shot” definitely influenced the rest of the league’s perception of Lillard at the time, Portland was already fully behind him. As a rookie, Lillard burst into the Portland subconscious and immediately made an impact. He unanimously won the 2013 Rookie of the Year award and quickly established himself as the Blazers’ point guard of the future.
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And what’s not to love? With his brashness and offensive exploits, Lillard immediately injected a new life force into the Blazers and has since given them the dynamism they needed from the point guard position.
Even more interesting about Portland’s relationship with Lillard is that it is symbiotic. Lillard loves Portland as much as the city loves him. So much so that the lead track on his debut rap album, “The Letter O,” is entitled “Bill Walton” and is all about how badly Lillard wants to win a championship in Portland.
Lillard’s ultimate goal for Portland and his career is apparent in how he plays and the confidence he carries himself with and exudes. This carries over to everything Lillard does off the court in Portland as well, a fact that is quite evident at his annual basketball camp at the Beaverton Hoop YMCA.
In its fourth year, Lillard’s camp is spread out in two sessions over two weeks and had over 300 participants for each session. Lillard’s name is not just attached to camp for publicity purposes. The Blazers star plays an active role, leading and participating in drills with campers. Lillard does this for the entire two week run because that is simply who he is.
“I take pride in anything that my name is attached to,” Lillard told The Step Back. “This is something that my name is attached to and something I run. So I’m not doing it to make camp money or anything like that. I’m doing it because I want to have a relationship with the kids and influence them and have an impact on them. And I want to teach them the game. It’s that simple.”
A player participating in their own basketball camp is nothing novel. Former Spurs big man Matt Bonner was very hands on during his career at his basketball camp in his hometown of Concord, New Hampshire every summer. But Bonner was a role player. Lillard, on the other hand, is a two-time All-Star and franchise superstar.
Lillard’s active role in his own camp can perhaps also be traced back to his own experience attending basketball camps growing up. With the Warriors situated right in his hometown of Oakland, members of the team would often host camps Lillard attended. One such camp featured former Warriors big man Erick Dampier, whose lack of participation still sticks out in Lillard’s mind all these years later.
“I remember I went to one camp and Erick Dampier came,” Lillard said. “I remember it was the end of the week, last day of camp, he came in there, he sat in a chair by the door, we sat next to him, took a picture, next person, we moved along and that was it.”
Lillard’s camp is far more than a photo opportunity with an NBA star. For the Trail Blazers star, his camp is an opportunity to directly connect with his fans and also to set an example for young hoopers.
“We’re in there working out, they need to see me working out so … when I’m telling them, ‘You need to go hard,’ they’ve seen me go hard,” Lillard said. “When I’m sharing the message with them, it’s not coming from my camp coaches all the time. Because they’re coming to Damian Lillard’s Camp. So it’s no reason why they shouldn’t be getting the message and shouldn’t be seeing activity from Damian Lillard.”
Lillard’s devotion to his camp is equal to his commitment to the city of Portland and the Blazers. It’s what makes Portland love Lillard and is why he returns the adoration wholeheartedly with everything he does on and off the court.
“I’ve got a great relationship with [Portland],” Lillard said. “Part of it is because I’m not just a basketball player. I give them my time. I think you have a lot of professional athletes where they try to, I guess, finance everything. They want to (say), ‘Well, I’ll pay for a suite. And I’ll build a basketball court at the park. And I’ll do this. I’ll buy book bags and school supplies.’”
“But it’s different when you’re present. When you’re present, it means more to them.”