Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is a two-time NBA All-Star, and he, along with many others, believe his resume should have double the appearances.
The NBA announced Thursday that 11-time Grammy winner Pharrell and his hip-hop-rock band N.E.R.D will headline the halftime show at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles next month.
Despite putting up career numbers the past two seasons, both years the franchise guard was snubbed of an invite to compete with the best in the annual mid-February exhibition contest.
It’s a tired, recurring theme for the guard, but he told ESPN that his All-Star drought should be eliminated this time around.
“I’ve gotten frustrated just for the fact that it feels like I always got to be the fall guy and every other guy has been deserving,” Lillard tells ESPN. “In the past, the thing has been, ‘All right, my team has been 10 games under .500 or not in the playoffs,’ but every year we’ve found a way to be in the postseason, and this year I think we’re in much better position than we have been in the past two seasons that I didn’t make it. I think I’ve gotten over the emotional part of it the last few times that I didn’t make it. Now I’m kind of like expecting it to go that way, but I feel like I should be there.”
The starters for next month’s All-Star game in Los Angeles will be announced on Thursday evening. The coaches will select the reserves, and those names will be announced next Tuesday.
Lillard is ninth in the league in scoring (25.0), and seventh in free-throw shooting (91.6%). He is one of only four players averaging 25 points, four rebounds and six assists, along with LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden. He tied his career high with nine 3-pointers against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 9, becoming one of five players in NBA history to make nine 3-pointers four or more times.
In the second All-Star fan ballot returns that were released last week, Lillard was eighth among Western Conference guards, with 266,519 votes. But to make matters worse, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball was a spot ahead of him, with nearly 30,000 more votes.
“He plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the most, if not the most, storied franchises in that big of a market,” Lillard explained to ESPN. “So, so many people are going to support him throughout that, and also with his dad and all the attention that’s been surrounding him since college. There’s a lot of people that follow him, so, that’s not really a surprise to me. The market size and what’s going on with his family, it’s no surprise really to me.”
Portland is 23-21, in a three-way tie for the sixth-best record in the conference with the New Orleans Pelicans and LA Clippers. Last season, through the first 44 games, the Trail Blazers were 18-26 and out of the playoff picture, a possible reason why the coaches left him off the All-Star team.
Damian Lillard hasn’t been named an All-Star the past two seasons. “I think I’ve gotten over the emotional part of it the last few times that I didn’t make it. Now I’m kind of like expecting it to go that way, but I feel like I should be there,” he said. David Sherman/NBAE/Getty Images
Lillard is one of the most entertaining, visible basketball players in the association. His game is explosive, he’s on multiple national television commercials and he’s also regarded as the best rapper in the league. Yet still, it hasn’t helped him much with the fan votes.
Many argue that market size is not a major factor, as it once was in gaining exposure prior to the internet and social media.
“I think it’s a million things that say that’s not true,” Lillard replied. “I think for me personally, I don’t think market size matters as much as it used to because of social media and all that stuff. I have a signature shoe that does well. I got a social media following; there’s a lot of people following my music. There’s a lot of things that I’ve been able to be successful at while playing in a small market because of social media. But I still think playing in a big market, there’s a difference in a big market and a small market. That’s just the way it will always be. You can’t look at Memphis and New York City and say, ‘Oh, well, if you’re a star, you’re a star.'”
Lillard is used to slights.
He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school in his hometown of Oakland, California. The 6-foot-3 guard attended a small college, Weber State, and initially wasn’t viewed as someone who could break into the professional ranks. There’s the All-Star snubs, and now he’s even getting snubbed from his own accomplishments.
On Tuesday, an ESPN graphic on Twitter revealed Chicago Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen had nailed 100 3s in the fewest number of games in history (41). On the graph next to Markkanen were other notable shooters such as Stephen Curry (58), Ray Allen (76), Dirk Nowitzki (113), Reggie Miller (116) and Michael Jordan (382).
The player who was actually the record-holder was not on the graphic. It was Lillard, who reached 100 triples in 44 games. Lillard retweeted the graphic with a face palm emoji.
“I try to speak on that stuff to a minimum because I don’t want to look too sensitive,” Lillard said to ESPN. “My issue is, when I see something is wrong, I have to [address it], so it comes off as sensitive or overly bothered. I might be a little bit bothered, but it really ain’t that deep. So I try to minimize it as much as possible so people don’t ever get the wrong idea. But the thing is, it just happens to be me [getting left out] a lot of the time, so I’m just like, ‘Man, what’s going on?’ I’m like, ‘Yo, what’s going on?’ You know? That’s like something simple. There’s a lot [of] records that’s like your first couple years in the NBA [and you made] this amount of 3s. I hold a lot of those records. So if we’re speaking of records where I’m the previous record-holder, why wouldn’t I be on there? And that’s something small. I didn’t even think about it that long other than when I mentioned it. So, it’s whatever.”
Lillard might not receive the recognition or get the credit he deserves because he plays in the Pacific Northwest, but he’s an individual who is fully invested in becoming the best player in Trail Blazer history.
All-Star votes or not, his loyalty runs deep.
“That speaks to me, because when you think of the Mavericks, you think of Dirk,” said Lillard. “You had a lot of people that came through there, but he’s been there. I think what he’s meant to that organization is huge. The same thing with Tim Duncan. He represents the Spurs. That’s the name that comes up. And for the Trail Blazers, I want to be the best Trail Blazer ever. And when people talk about this franchise, I want them to talk about me. I want to be what people think of first when they talk about the Portland Trail Blazers.”