The story of Dame Lillard is one of individual success and underwhelming collective performances, the love story between the Blazers franchise and the point guard who is giving them so much since being selected in the 2012 NBA draft. Unfortunately, tales of faithfulness in sports do not always go the same way as Bird’s with the Celtics or Kobe Bryant’s with the Lakers.
Some of this one-franchise players are not lucky enough to be surrounded by a competitive roster every season, resulting in a critical barrier despite consistently showing elite level performance like Portland’s guard has been doing for a long time. At the NBA level, you can’t win on your own.
Lillard has been chasing been chasing one goal for over a decade, reaching the top of the league with the Trail Blazers. And, despite eight consecutive playoff appearances and a lose in the Western Conference finals, the Oregon Blazers haven’t acquired competitive enough pieces to complement Dame’s great play thus earning the franchise its second-ever championship ring.
Portland’s front office’s incompetence has not caused Lillard’s reputation to take a hit, as he is highly regarded among league analysts and fans. Nevertheless, a continued lack of team success is always looked down upon by history and, the same way it has historically happened to a wide range of unbelievable players, Okland-native superstar could suffer the same fate.
To a certain extent, this has already begun to happen to him, especially during the first years of his career. In the 2016 season, while averaging 25 points and 6 assists per game in only his fourth season in the NBA, he was not selected as part of Team USA’s roster selection pool for the Río Olympics, having to call program director Jerry Colangelo to take part in the selection process.
He also wouldn’t be selected to play in that season’s All-Star Game and, what is worse, the one after that (while putting up 27 ppg and 6 apg a night), a time in which he had already more than established himself as one of the league’s top guards.
The ongoing disrespect severely differs from the league-wide sings of respect he has constantly been given. His peers know what he can do, and who better to recognize talent than some of the best players on the planet.
Dame Lillard, a clutch shot-making artist:
Excluding maybe a few months, it is not rare for Lillard to go unnoticed by the media for most of the year. But if he is known for one thing and one thing only it is for his usual and viral scoring sprees. Any NBA fan that has tuned in for the past decade could probably recognize a variation of headings like: “Lillard drops 60”, “Blazers advance thanks to Dame’s 50-piece and game winner” and, most recently, “D.O.L.L.A’s latest eruption: 71 points”.
The average viewer seems to forget that these kind of performances are not common (even though they have become more usual lately). Such dominance in the offensive side of the ball can be attained by almost nobody, at least like Lillard does it and especially in the playoffs (where he has more than proven). His 30-foot bombs, strong or versatile finishes at the rim and, of course, his clutch gene (trade mark Dame Time) shape him up to be a generational talent.
It is hard to believe that Blazer’s number 0 does not get the recognition he deserves when we take into account that he is a 7-time All-Star and 6-time All-NBA member, but reality is that for most of his career he has barely ever been considered among the top 5 players in the league. Part of the blame could very well be atributted to the constant analogy between him and a contemporary point guard, Stephen Curry.
A head to head with the 2-time MVP would shrink the resume of almost any player to ever play the same position, particularly in a case like Lillard’s, as the absence of collective accomplishments really takes a toll on him when compared to Curry’s 4 championship rings. As a result of a superficial analysis, the debate is instantly over, but, are we really being fair with Portland’s leader?
I am personally a big fan of Steph’s achievements and consider him, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best to ever do it. Nevertheless, this does not mean that I do not fully understand the privileged environment that the Warrior’s superstar has been surrounded by for most of his time in the league. Could Lillard have won two rings with Durant, Thompson and Draymond Green by his side? We will never know, but it seems outlandish that a player of his caliber wouldn’t have done it.
That is why it is often said that comparisons are hateful, and more so in the pinnacle of sports. Because not everybody can be Stephen Curry, but millions would do anything to be a shell of what Dame Lillard has been, is and will be.
Main image: @trailblazers.