Damian Lillard was drafted into the NBA almost 11 years ago, and the league has changed immensely since then.
That’s straight from the horse’s mouth, by the way – The Portland Trail Blazers superstar admitted that he is not a fan of how much the association has changed since his rookie year.
On J.J. Redick’s “Old Man And The 3” Podcast, the Portland Trail Blazers star said younger players have now become entitled due to lack of veteran presence and often being given “the keys to the franchise” the second they get drafted:
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“When I came in the league, like Jason Kidd was starting for the Knicks and Grant Hill and Kurt Thomas and Kenyon Martin. It was real older dudes in the league. I played with Jared Jeffries, he was 40, 41 or something. Earl Watson was 40 when I played with him,” Lillard said.
“I played with real vets, and it was a lot of stuff I learned, like being a point guard or how to lead from Mo Williams and Earl Watson and Jared Jeffries. And they didn’t even play, it was just the way they showed me how stuff had to be done, I had no choice but to respect the game. I didn’t have – the word I was looking for is entitlement. Like, when I came in the league, you had to earn not just what you get from the team or the respect – you had to earn your space on the team.
“There was no ‘You’re the sixth pick in the draft, it’s your team.’ What is this your team stuff? I think now, the biggest difference is you don’t have that veteran presence. So you got players who are more talented than ever coming into the league, they’re getting picked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, they’re making more money than those picks ever made, so not only that, now you’re giving them the keys to the franchise.
“There’s nobody there to really let them know ‘you’re super-talented, but you’ve gotta earn stuff around here. You gotta earn your way.’ They come in and everything is given to them from the beginning. So that affects how they are, the way they play. They play for themselves, they play for stats. They think they’re LeBron James when they make an All-Star Game or get a max contract. It’s just different. I don’t know how to completely put it together, but the NBA I play in now is not the NBA I came into.”
Lillard is a future Hall of Famer, but there’s one thing missing on his resume: An NBA title.
The 32-year-old has remained loyal to the Trail Blazers, who selected him sixth overall in 2012, when he very easily could have been traded to or signed with a championship-made roster. Staying in Oregon has likely cost him some jewelry.
But Lillard is not a fan of the NBA becoming all about ring culture.
“I feel like I play for the love of the game. I want the competition, I want to know what it feels like to win, I want to see my teammates do well, I want to see my teammates get paid, I enjoy the bonding part of it — we spend more time with each other than anybody — but now, it’s like, ‘that don’t count, regular season don’t count, get a ring,” he said.
“This guy’s the MVP, this guy did this.’ What is this stuff? I don’t want to make it about my situation, but I was talking after a game like a week ago and somebody was asking me about to win a ring, and I’m like I don’t need to prove to y’all that I want to win a ring. Why the hell do I play? While I understand we play to win championships — we all want to win the championship — we can’t keep acting like nothing matters.
“Like the rest of this stuff, the journey, doesn’t matter. We can’t keep doing that. I feel like there’s so many ways that the league is different, and I think about it all the time where I’m like, man, I don’t know if I can just play a long, long time, because I don’t enjoy what the NBA as a whole is becoming.”
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He hears all the noise about how he’s without a title, how he should team up with this superstar or that superstar, or how he should be a better recruiter for Portland.
But he’s unbothered by it. How?
“I have a real life. I think that’s the best way to put it. I don’t like my life as ‘Damian Lillard.’ I go home, I play with my kids, I go to my mom’s house, I hang out with my cousins. I have a life. I talk to my grandmother on the phone. My uncle calls me, and we talk on the phone all night about regular stuff. I have a life that’s stable, and it’s not based upon who I am as an NBA player…
“I don’t sit here and just think about ‘I need to leave’ all the time… When my career is over, y’all are not about to be talking about me. Y’all are gonna be talking about Luka Doncic, Ja Morant, Jayson Tatum, whoever, when I’m done playing… Why am I going to be sitting here overly concerned with what every single person has to say about me when they don’t know my life. They don’t think about me when they get off of that camera, and when I’m done playing, they won’t think about me. They don’t think about Michael Jordan, so why are they gonna think about me? Why should I be concerned with it.”
Barring a miracle, Lillard will not win a title this season, which is his 12th in the NBA. The Blazers are 31-37 and 13th in the Western Conference, two games behind the New Orleans Pelicans for the final spot in the play-in tournament (ironically, that’s where his former teammate CJ McCollum is).
It should go without saying he’s upset about his team’s lack of success this season, and his team’s lack of postseason success throughout his career.
But no matter how it ends, he seems at peace with all the decisions he made in professional basketball.
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