As one of the NBA's premier stars, and the face of the Portland Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard stands under one of the biggest spotlights in basketball. Naturally, that status is going to come with a few caveats.
Even when Dame does everything right, he'll always have the haters and naysayers there to dish out criticism. That reality is just a part of the job for Dame and other stars, but it doesn't mean it's fair.
As Lillard recently pointed out in a chat with The Athletic, fans often don't realize what's going on behind the scenes. They often take for granted what a player is having to fight through in their own personal lives.
"It's been a hard year and a half for my family, man. People have no idea," Lillard told The Athletic's Jason Quick.
“I’ll say this — it’s been bittersweet for me the last year and a half,” Lillard said. “A lot of people don’t know, because I don’t seek sympathy, I don’t make excuses. I just show up. It’s like, you get on Twitter and people have so much to say. And when I post on Instagram, people have soooo much to say. ‘You didn’t do this’ … ‘Your team is never going to win a championship’ … you know, everybody just got so much negative shit to say. And I’m just looking at it like, I’m coming out here to practice every day, I show up for my team every damn game. I don’t make excuses. I just do stuff the right way. And I perform. I show up. If shit goes bad, I don’t shy away from it. I say, ‘My bad. I wasn’t good enough.’ When shit goes well, I don’t say it was all me. And that’s not just me trying to do the right thing. I say how I feel about stuff and how I see these situations.
“I think there’s a lot of people who don’t take into consideration that we have lives, too,” Lillard said.
Obviously, none of this is to say that ballplayers should be immune from trash talk or criticism. It is, after all, a part of the job, and people have a right to express their own opinion. But perhaps we shouldn't just ignore the fact that athletes are people with real lives and challenges that have a much greater impact than fans can see on the court.
Over the past year and a half alone, Dame Dolla has faced a number of grueling tragedies.
His emotions had been worn thin because, in the past 18 months, it seemed like he had lived a lifetime. In 2020, he was the first to discover the dead body of his cousin and personal chef. An aunt died from cancer. A family friend died of COVID-19. And in the early months of 2021, a cousin was killed in West Oakland.
And then last Thursday, the day before the Lakers game, Lillard learned of the shooting deaths of two people in his inner circle. One was a cousin close enough to Lillard to be at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Portland in November. The other was like family — the best friend of perhaps his closest cousin, who was among the first family members to move to Portland when Lillard was drafted by the Trail Blazers in 2012.
Needless to say, some things are just bigger than basketball. So while Dame doesn't have as much postseason success as the fans would like, he's got a lot to be proud about, all things considered.
Honestly, what he's been able to do amid such turbulent times has been nothing short of extraordinary.