Lillard 'Could Never Have Dreamed' Of Being Named Among The Top 75 Players In NBA History
After nine seasons, Damian Lillard has already solidified his place among the elite in Trail Blazers’ franchise history, and is arguably already the best to ever play in Rip City. But while Clyde Drexler and Bill Walton, his only contemporaries in the discussion of the best player in franchise history, had previously been recognized among the elite in NBA history by being named to the 50th anniversary team, Lillard had not yet reached the point in his career where he could be considered among the best to ever make the league.
That is, until now.
On Thursday, Lillard was announced as one of the NBA’s Top 75 players of all-time as a part of the league’s 75th anniversary celebration. The 6-3 point guard out of Weber State, who averaged 24.6 points, 6.6 assists, 4.2 rebounds over the course of nine seasons, is one of just 11 current NBA players to make the 75 and joins Walton and Drexler as the only players primarily known as Trail Blazers to be honored. Lillard has earned a considerable number of accolades throughout his career in Portland, from winning Rookie of the Year in 2013 to being named to six All-Star games and six All-NBA teams, and moved into the Top 100 all-time in scoring in Portland’s first game of the 2021-22 season, but even he was surprised to learn he had made the Top 75, which was voted on by current and formers players and media.
Here’s what Lillard had to say about being named to the 75th Anniversary Team, what he thinks it says about his legacy, some of the reasons he thinks he made the cut, joining Walton and Drexler on NBA all-time lists and his place in franchise history.
— NBA (@NBA) October 21, 2021
Congratulations on making the NBA's Top 75 players in league history! Were you expecting that?
Damian Lillard: Honestly, I hadn’t even been tracking it and following it because you know I never expect nothing like that to go my way. I was actually surprised to see it fall. But when you actually think about it, as the game has evolved and changed, I think I’ve been steady from the first day I came in the league. It fits by the numbers. Obviously there’s some guys that got left off which is what made me surprised, like Dwight Howard, T-Mac, Vince Carter, I would expect to see them on the list. I can’t complain about it, this is one of the times it worked out in my favor.
What are your thoughts on being in such elite company? Seventy-five years, seventy-five players, that’s a rather lofty honor.
Damian Lillard: It’s a special honor, probably the best honor of my career so far to be considered one of the 75 best in a 75-year history. That’s a hell of an accomplishment, a hell of an honor. And I’m still playing.
You’re still in the prime of your career so I don't know how much you think about this kind of stuff, but what do you think this says about your legacy?
Damian Lillard: It says a lot. They always mention "This guy has a ring," they evaluate us by how many rings you’ve won, playoff success. And I think I’ve had playoff success, I just haven’t won a ring. For as much as they talk about that, I think outside of that, I’ve achieved a lot, six-time All-Star, six-time All-NBA. A lot of guys have a lot of All-Stars but they’re not always All-NBA as well. So to be All-NBA six times in nine years, All-Star six times in nine years, has made it to the Western Conference Finals, the furtherest I’ve made it in the playoffs, I’ve been averaging over 25 points for the last six or seven years, it says a lot. But for somebody that comes from the background that I come from, my story of going to Weber State, a small school. And then the rise from that, it should have never been that way. To come from that and exceed all the expectations on this type of level, I never could have dreamed of it.
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 21, 2021
Do you think the way you’ve carried and conducted yourself played into making the Top 75? As in, you’ve taken on the responsibility and wanted the responsibility of being a franchise cornerstone, someone people equate to the Portland Trail Blazers, the face of the franchise. I’m not sure some of the guys you mentioned that were deserving but were left off can say that.
Damian Lillard: I think it does help. When you go about things a certain way, when character counts, it does help. And also rising to the occasion, accepting responsibility and embracing that challenge. That’s part of being great is how much you embrace the challenge and how many people you get to follow you and believe in you, how many people you get to believe in themselves and how many people you lift up. All of those things are a part of being great, it’s not all on the floor. So I think that mentality and how I’ve gone about my career counts. I have a great vision and idea of how I want to reach the top, how I want to win a championship. And my words haven’t changed on that and I’ve always said I’m willing to go down swinging as long as we’re all in for the same thing. I think I have gotten credit for going about it that way, and not in a fake way, actually meaning it and actually standing by what I say and also performing at that level.
Bill Walton and Clyde Drexler are the only other Trail Blazers on the list. Everyone has their own thoughts on how to rank the three of you in franchise history -- I’ve already got you as no. 1 -- but you’re on the Top 75 AND still in the prime of your career.
Damian Lillard: I feel like the best years of my career are ahead of me, I honestly believe that. I think as far as Trail Blazers’ franchise history, eventually the numbers will all point to that. I think it already does and is beginning to be as easy call by the numbers. I don’t think anybody who has come here before me has embraced being a Trail Blazer the way I have, I don’t think anybody has embraced this city the way I have. Made it home, my family’s home, stood tall in crazy situations, adversity, been about what I say I’m about, speaking my mind and then standing on what I say and backing it up, giving our fans a reason to believe, giving them something to cheer for, giving them a show, bringing success consistently, winning and at least a chance to make a run in the playoffs. I don’t think anybody else has done it that way. And I’m just halfway. I do think, if I’m not there already, I’m close to it and by the time I’m done I’m definitely going to be, I think, viewed by people as the best to ever come through here. And I say that with love for Bill and Clyde.