Following Portland's brutal first-round defeat in the 2021 postseason, Damian Lillard's loyalty was put to the ultimate test.
For the first time in his career, he was seriously questioning his team's commitment to winning and, subsequently, his commitment to the team.
For years, the Blazers have fallen short of their goals, getting bounced by different opponents year after year.
Naturally, with these doubts at the forefront of Lillard's mind, and the NBA community having caught on to his uncertainty, the star guard was called up by LeBron James, who apparently invited Dame up to his mansion in Brentwood.
The 6-foot-3 guard caught an Uber from his hotel to James’ house. After security opened the gate for the vehicle to enter the property, Lillard was met at the door by a house staffer who escorted him through the living room and into the elevator. The destination was the rooftop.
When the elevator reached the top floor, James and fellow Lakers star Anthony Davis were sitting on one side of a table waiting for Lillard to join them on the other side. Before they fully dove into lunch of an Italian salad followed by pasta and a fine bottle of rosé wine, James kicked off the conversation, detailing his experience living in Los Angeles.
Lillard did not categorize the meeting as a platform for a recruiting presentation, but rather an information-gathering forum among respected peers.
For Dame, all he wanted was to win. And while he still wanted to do that in Portland, joining forces with the Lakers would have given him a much better shot.
On that rooftop, the three of them talked about what a potential partnership would look like.
“’Bron asked what I was thinking with my situation, and I told him what I’m telling you: that I just want to be in a position to win it all,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “He painted the picture to me that if I were to leave, the situation could look like this. He didn’t tell me to come to L.A., and he didn’t say anything to me that I didn’t already know other than what it could look like. I told him, ‘I know if I were to play with y’all, I know it would work out because of my skill set,’ and who I am and who they are.”
They all addressed their respective first-round losses, and what each team needed to improve its roster. Davis explained his transition to Southern California.
Lillard expressed his hesitancy to join any iteration of a super-team.
“I was just saying, I don’t know if this is the route I wanted to go,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports. “And that was pretty much how the conversation went.”
The meeting lasted for an hour and a half.
Lillard promised to keep them posted on what he decided to do, but the Lakers were already privately evaluating their options on potentially landing Lillard, sources said.
Ultimately, Lillard decided to stay with Portland in wake of the Chauncey Billups hiring and a few conversations with management.
He remains there now, and sounds as loyal to them as ever, despite their 3-4 start.
But it's interesting to think about how close Dame really was to signing with the Lakers and how many others would have been sold on joining them after that rooftop meeting with two of the best players in the game.
Clearly, Dame-DOLLA is cut from a different cloth.