After Monday night’s 106-102 victory over Indiana, Damian Lillard met the media wearing a designer T-shirt inscribed with “Billionaire” across the front.
And why not? Lillard isn’t as rich as his team’s owner, billionaire Paul Allen, but he’s in America’s highest tax bracket as point guard of one of the NBA’s elite teams.
Elite? Sounds funny to say that about a Trail Blazers club that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2000, but it’s the truth. Portland is on a short list of teams that have a chance to win a championship this season, and Lillard’s as big a reason as any.
After unanimously winning NBA rookie-of-the-year honors in 2012-13, Lillard is playing even better in helping Portland become the league’s surprise team a month into the season. The 6-3 point guard is averaging 20.6 points and 5.7 assists. He is shooting only .396 from the field but is .403 from 3-point range and ranks eighth in the NBA in free-throw percentage at .907.
“He was so darn good last year,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel says. “I don’t know if he has dramatically improved this year, but their team has improved, and he is an elite point guard. I was blown away with his efficiency, poise and shot-making ability as a rookie.”
Lillard’s defense — a liability a year ago — has improved. In Sunday’s win over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center, he made two big plays on the Lakers’ Jodie Meeks in the deciding final moments, first deflecting a pass that turned into a steal and a Portland basket, then rising to block a Meeks shot with the game still on the line. In Monday’s win over Indiana, Lillard blocked a Paul George 3-point attempt in the closing seconds to help preserve the victory over the team with the NBA’s best record.
“The most important thing for Damian this season wasn’t necessarily going to show up in his stats,” coach Terry Stotts says. “He is being more efficient playing a couple of minutes less than last year. He has taken the challenge at the defensive end and improved there. He is doing a lot of the same things as a year ago, but has a better control, a better understanding not only of his game, but of the team game.”
In collaboration with SoleCollector, the Gary Payton x Nike “Sonic Wave” Zoom Glove will release this Saturday at Nikestore.com and 14 Nike retail locations. The shoe pays tribute to GPs career in Seattle. Check out the details below:
In the modern era of sneaker themes and evolved colorways, we often see stories drafting off of various aspects of a player’s life, off-court interests or hobbies.
When we sat down at the start of the year to begin working on a collaboration version of “The Glove,” Gary Payton’s iconic shrouded signature shoe from 1998 designed by Eric Avar, this wasn’t the time to overthink things and randomly pull from a reaching theme or draft off of a car or watch. The inspiration came rather easy, and came straight from Gary.
With colorways of his most beloved sneaker already in the works that paid tribute to his collegiate days at Oregon State and his other pro stops, it was Gary’s beloved Seattle SuperSonics and the city where he played thirteen seasons of his Hall Of Fame career that he wanted to honor most.
“All of Seattle is my throne,” Payton joked just before entering the Basketball Hall Of Fame — as a Sonic — this past September.
He may have worn the team’s newer colors during the 1998 season that The Glove was originally released, but the mandate from GP this time around was simple: “No brick [red]. Classic Sonics colors!”
With that in mind, a Pine Green base featuring an all-new “Sonic Wave” graphic covers the shoe’s zip-shrouded upper, with a burst of Tour Yellow seen once unzipped and along the translucent outsole insets. The shoe also takes on details that only Gary’s original PEs featured, with hits of “GP” and “20″ along the heels.
ATLANTA – Staying ready is a challenge.
Even for Willie Green.
A humble, spiritual and kind man, Green, 32, has made his way through more than a decade of the NBA by priding himself on being prepared for any moment. And in Green’s case he’s seen just about everything.
He’s been a collegiate star, winning conference player of the year honors as a senior at Detroit Mercy. He’s been a second-round rookie working to make the 76ers final roster in 2003. He’s been a full-time starter, midway through his seven-year tenure in Philadelphia. He’s had to deal with being injured, being traded, being a free agent, and feeling wanted and unwanted by a franchise.
“I think above all things, having spiritual maturity and understanding that sometimes we go through different challenges throughout life,” Green said. “And the true test of your character is development when you come out of a difficult situation.”
In Green’s two seasons with the Clippers, he’s endured a situation perhaps even more unusual, or at least something a significant number of players would struggle with. After the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday’s opponent in the onset of L.A.’s seven-game road trip, traded Green to the Clippers in the summer of 2012, he already knew that he may perhaps be a so-called spot starter for veteran Chauncey Billups.
Billups was still in the rehab process for his torn Achilles tendon and Green would fill the void at shooting guard until Billups was healthy enough to return. Behind Billups, or Green, former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford was entrenched as the team’s first guard off the bench. It was clear then, that Green would likely go from starter to DNP-CD.
But as Billups’ health became tenuous throughout the year, Green vacillated from 16-18 minutes some nights and not seeing the floor others… for the entire season. He started 60 games in all, including one continuous stretch of 34 games when Billups was down with a left foot injury. He rode a rotational seesaw of sorts. Billups was in and out of the lineup, while Green was the out and in.
When called upon, he was ready. He led the team in 3-point percentage and was one of the league’s deadliest threats from long range in March and April when Billups missed a dozen games with a groin problem.
As the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself.
The enormity of what he had accomplished hit Damian Lillard on the streets of New York City nearly one year after his NBA career began. The unanimous Rookie of the Year voting, the sweep of Rookie of the Month honors, the first-team All-Rookie accolades didn’t sink in until he returned to the Big Apple with his mother for the 2013 Draft Lottery. There, on the crowded sidewalks frequented by celebrities every day, Lillard was one of them.
“When we played in New York during the season, here and there somebody would be like, ‘Are you Damian Lillard?’” he said. “Then when I went to the Draft Lottery, I went shopping on the streets and the whole day I was out it was just nonstop people like, ‘Can I get a picture?’ ‘Can you sign that?’ In New York, there are stars all over the place so once that happened, that’s when I realized it changed.”
Lillard, accompanied by the woman who has kept him grounded his whole life, was stunned by the attention. “This is the first time this has ever happened,” he told his mother. She laughed in disbelief as her son posed for photos and inked autographs in one of the biggest cities in the world. In just one season he had become one of the most notable names to watch in the league.
Last season, Lillard took backcourts by storm after the Portland Trail Blazers selected him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He averaged 19 points, 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, played the most regular season minutes (3,167) and finished 10th in total assists (531).
Along the way, he broke Stephen Curry’s record for most three-pointers in a season by a rookie (185) and joined the ranks of Oscar Robertson and Allen Iverson as one of the only rookies in NBA history to record 1,500 points and 500 assists in a single season. Lillard also took home hardware for winning the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during All-Star Weekend.
Yet the laundry list of achievements didn’t translate into stardom to Lillard. He had spent his rookie year surrounded by family, friends and teammates who never altered their treatment, and a grueling schedule combined with All-Star Weekend obligations left him with little free time away from basketball.
“I didn’t know anything else [last season],” Lillard explained. “I was at practice, home, game, travel, the same thing. I wasn’t hanging out enough or being around in public to where I could see people coming up to me and see things changing.”
First-round NBA draft pick. Three-time dunk champion. One point every two minutes. New Denver Nugget. Latest addition to Pepsi’s awesome Uncle Drew series. Short man.
As told to Nate Hopper:
I am five-nine even. With no shoes. Five-nine-and-a-half with shoes.
I’ve got a brother that’s six-one; I’ve got another brother who’s five-eleven/six-feet. I got a little brother that I’m taller than, thank god. My little sister, too. My dad’s, like, six-one-and-a-half, six-two almost. My mom is the short one; she’s the little Smurf.
We’re a competitive family—we compete in everything we do: playing cards; if we’re walking down the street, we want to be the first one down the block.
When I was younger, I was a bit of a feisty fighter type of guy. That’s something my father told me as I was becoming a man: You don’t go picking fights, but you don’t run from any of them. And I was more afraid of my father than anybody else I had to fight.
I don’t condone myself being like that—I just love to be a happy, positive person—but if I feel like they’re disrespecting me, I’ma let them know, and I’m not the type to argue.
I’ve blocked some of the greats, some of the Hall of Famers. But Yao Ming—I was just in the right place at the right time. I was in help defense, and I went to go jump and block it, and I was like, Either he’s going to get blocked, or I’m going to get dunked on. So I rolled the dice, and I ended up winning.