For His 30th Birthday, Lillard Asks His Teammates For That Which Cannot Be Bought
Damian Lillard takes his birthday pretty seriously. Born on the July 15, 1990, the 6-3 point guard typically rents out a venue in downtown Portland sometime around the middle of his birthday month to throw a party celebrating another trip around the sun. Friends and Lillard’s extended family are always in attendance, seeing as how it’s one of the few times of the year in which he has some time to entertain off the court.
But this year, there was no Lillard birthday bash. No acquaintances trying to get added to the list at the last second, no busses full of Lillard’s cousins, aunts and uncles party-hopping from one location to the next. Not being able to hold parties is the new normal thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, so in that way, Lillard’s situation isn’t all that unique. However, most people aren’t also quarantined on the other side of the country from their families and most of their friends as they embark on an unprecedented attempt to restart the 2019-20 NBA season and save the 2020 playoffs.
“My family has always done big things for birthday parties, that’s always been a big thing in my family,” said Lillard. “It was definitely weird not being with my family.”
So, with somewhat of a heavy heart, Lillard asked his teammates in attendance at his impromptu 30th birthday dinner at Ale and Compass in the Yacht Club Hotel at Walt Disney World in Orlando for just one gift: “Let’s not waste our (expletive) time out here.”
It’s not exactly a new sentiment for Lillard, as he’s stated some version of notion since it was officially announced that the NBA would attempt a 22-team, eight-game restart of the regular season in Orlando. But since he was in the fledgling hours of the third decade of his life thousands of miles away from home -- he said it was just the second birthday he could remember not being with family on his birthday -- it seemed like a good time to reiterate.
“Let’s not waste our f**king time out here.”@Dame_Lillard with a message for his Blazers teammates after they sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him in Orlando.
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) July 16, 2020
“I think the sacrifice is being here given the circumstances of us being in a pandemic and us not knowing 100 percent what could happen in this bubble,” said Lillard. “I think that’s a sacrifice by itself, being away from our families, coming out here for the entertainment of the NBA fans. Obviously we make great money to do that but your health is the most important thing and I think that’s a major sacrifice that we’ve all made. I wanted to share that message with the team just because I think the easy thing to do would be to come here and make up excuse that we haven’t played in months.”
Lillard message speaks to the fact that the Trail Blazers have a tough road ahead if they’re to qualify for the playoffs for the seventh-consecutive season. Only having eight games to make up a four-game deficit in order to even force a play-in series, let alone staying in front of the four teams either tied or just a few games back from their position, while having one of the more difficult schedules makes the Trail Blazers situation unenviable, even with the likes of Jusuf Nurkić and Zach Collins returning to the lineup. Even their best might not be enough, so for his birthday, Lillard simply requested that they give their all, not to him, but to the themselves.
“There’s a lot of ways out the back door, so I just wanted to make sure that we understood this is a great opportunity for us, to come out and make a push in the playoffs,” said Lillard. “Everybody is basically starting from scratch, everybody is going to be dealing with a little bit of rust. It’s a great opportunity for us, so let’s not come out here and take the easy way out and basically waste a month and a half of our time. Let’s make the most of it and do what our team is capable of doing, and that’s making a run.”
There are no indications that the Trail Blazers are taking their time in Orlando anything other than very seriously. In fact, Lillard said he probably didn’t need to say anything considering the way the team have conducted themselves on the practice court, in the weight room and with regard to observing the rules of the relatively strict rules of the NBA bubble.
But you only get one birthday wish per year, and when you’ve got just about everything you want in terms of material possessions, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to request that which cannot be bought. So Lillard, as he’s been known to do over the course of his professional career, took his shot.
“Let’s come out here, be aggressive, try to put our best foot forward and live with whatever the result is,” said Lillard. “At least have the effort and your mind in the right place so we could do that. That was my reason for saying that. If we come out here loose -- ‘let’s see how it goes’ -- and not really determined then you’re setting yourself up for failure. So I just wanted to make that as clear as possible.”