Fresh off inking an two-year, $122 million extension that will keep him in a Trail Blazers uniform through 2026, at least, and push his career earnings with the team over $450 million, Damian Lillard explained that continuing to try bringing a championship to Portland was more alluring to him than joining up with other stars elsewhere and finding success that way.
“I’ve always said that if I do something that goes against who I am, and say I do end up winning, I know me better than any of y’all know me. So I’d be happy with it, because I don’t think anybody wouldn’t be happy being a champion, but it wouldn’t be as fulfilling to me as I would want that moment to be,” Lillard said at a press conference announcing his extension, ESPN. “As long as I have an opportunity to do it, a good opportunity to [compete for a title], I’m willing to go out however.
“That’s where I’ve always stood, and that’s where I stand,” he added. “It’s going to get done or it’s not going to get done. I don’t want to go out there with this crazy uphill battle that I’m fighting and we need a miracle times 10 to get it done. I just want a shot at it, and if that happens and it doesn’t work out, then I can live with that.”
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Lillard has spent his entire career with the Trail Blazers since they selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft — a unique situation in an era where players rarely remain with one team for an extended amount of time. In fact, Golden State Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the only active players who have been with the team that drafted them longer than Lillard. The loyalty he has shown to Portland over the course of his career is a point of pride for Lillard.
“I feel proud to be that guy,” Lillard said. “Because I don’t think you earn something like this just by going out there and scoring a bunch of points. And something that’s missing in our league is the character and the fight and the passion and pride about not just the name on the back, but the name on the front and how you impact the people that you come in contact with.
“And I think because of how much I’ve embraced that and I haven’t pretended to embrace it, that’s really who I am, and I think this just shows the power in that. It shows that there’s something there for being committed and having your heart in the right place and having your mind in the right place.”
Lillard, who was named one of the top 75 players in NBA history as part of the league’s 75th anniversary celebration this past season, hopes the loyalty he’s displayed — along with the success he’s had in Portland — will serve as an example for future generations of players coming into the league.
“Hopefully, it will have an impact going forward,” he said. “It don’t got to be, ‘Oh, the media says this’ or ‘Everybody’s telling me this.’ And you just get swayed into doing what everybody is trying to convince you to do. Because nobody is going to live with those decisions like you will. So I’m proud to be the person to jump out, and this organization has shown that type of trust and faith in me. But I’m even more proud of what a commitment like this from the organization represents. And I hope that that’s what will reach guys that will come behind this.”
In an era where long-term commitment is nearly non-existent and players seem to switch squads at a breakneck pace, it is refreshing to have a star player basically say “hey, I’m going to be here.” Will Lillard’s stance limit his prospects when it comes to winning a title? Probably, but he’s made it clear that doing things his way is equally as important to him, and that’s worthy of respect.