Fans Returning To Moda Center Reminds Lillard 'Of What's Really In Your Heart'
Having fans at Moda Center for the now-completed homestand wasn’t the only reason the Trail Blazers were able to go 3-0, but it was certainly a contributing factor, especially when one considers they went 0-4 without fans in the previous homestand. After playing their first 28 home games in front of a small collection of players, coaches and staff, conditions pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic improved enough to allow the Trail Blazers to bring fans back into the arena, albeit at a considerably reduced capacity.
But while regaining the advantage that comes with having some of the most devoted fans in the NBA in the building is certainly a welcomed change, especially as the Trail Blazers face a close race to avoid the play-in tournament in the last days of the 2020-21 season, it’s not the end all, be all for why some players in particular were especially interested in fans returning. For at least one, it was more personal that professional.
“It’s just different,” said Damian Lillard, whose desire for fans to return to Moda Center might have helped push the state toward allowing venues to reopen at reduced capacity. “We know our fans, we know what the team means to them and we know what we mean to our fans individually as well. But for me personally, just to come into the building and to feel that appreciation in the flesh, where people are like ‘Dame, we love you! Dame, we appreciate it!” to be here in front of people and to see my jersey on a bunch of people and the pride that they have in being fans of the Trail Blazers and my pride of wearing a Trail Blazers uniform, having them in here was refreshing.”
It’s not as if Lillard forgot how much he and the team are beloved by the fans who, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, packed Moda Center on a regular basis. And he appreciates the well-wishes and support that he receives from his millions of followers on social media, even though he sometimes questions both the source and authenticity. But when a connection is as deep as Lillard’s is to the fans in Portland, having to keep at a considerable distance, even with good reason, just isn’t as fulfilling.
“It hit different because it’s in the flesh,” said Lillard. “It’s like when I talk to my mom on the phone on the road, it’s like, I know I love my mom and I know how much my mom means to me, but then when I come home and I’m sitting in front of my mom, I feel different. Or if somebody that I’m family or friend with, if there’s a disagreement or an altercation, on the phone, we might argue. And then when we get in person, I’m gonna be more compassionate and my real feelings is going to be like, you know what, it’s not worth it because we up close with each other. That’s kind of like how it felt, it’s just different when it’s up close. It’s a reminder of what’s really in your heart.“
After over a year of being forced to keep most everyone at least six feet away in order to slow the spread of COVID-19, it makes sense that many would crave a return to a time when hugs and handshakes were encouraged rather than avoided at all costs. The same could be said for Lillard, a man who prior to the pandemic would sign autographs and pose for pictures every time he left the floor after warmups at Moda Center and in the middle of the night for fans awaiting the team’s arrival on the road. So while a relatively small number of fans returning to Moda Center isn’t as far along as anyone would like to be at this point in the pandemic, it’s served an important purpose, for both the fans and the team in general and for Lillard specifically.
“You come in the building and people are in front of you, they’re looking at you and they got the jerseys on and you see them screaming and how much they care. It’s just different,” said Lillard. “It was a reminder of like, this is what makes me care so much about it, this is a part of the deal for me.”