Lillard On Women Working In The NBA: 'They deserve to be acknowledged and congratulated and shown love for breaking into the men’s game'

After practice at the team's facility on International Women's Day, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard discussed his thoughts on the women working in the NBA, why he seeks out female coaches, shifting opinions among players about the place of women in the league, why he thinks women are smarter than men and the importance of players in the league showing their support...

I’ve noticed on multiple occasions that you seem to seek out some of the women who are currently coaching in the NBA. Why is that?

Damian Lillard: “Just because I come from a family of a lot of women, a lot of hard working women that are the leaders of my family, so I’ve always know women to be strong people. As strong as they are, they’re people that need love and support from men. They deserve to feel good about themselves for being so strong all the time. When I see women working around the NBA — Sue Bird, Becky Hammon, Jenny Boucek, names like that — and they’re working in a men’s league, that’s bold to branch out into something like that.

“A lot of times, it’s just them. They’re the lone woman on whatever staff or whatever team they with and they deserve to be acknowledge. To be out there, all of us guys running around, I feel like they deserve to be acknowledged and congratulated and shown love for breaking into the men’s game, fitting in in a league of men where people years ago probably thought it was no place for women. Probably didn’t think they were capable of doing the job as far as leading men and working with men. I’m just proud of the growth of the league to have it be more of a common thing, and also for them stepping up and doing it wholeheartedly, stepping into it like they belong doing it. It’s pretty cool.”

It does seem like player opinion is changing in that regard. Even if players weren’t exactly against it, it seems like there was, if nothing else, skepticism about how it would work. That doesn’t seem to be as much of the case anymore.

Damian Lillard: “I think players now have more of a platform, so how you gonna use it? Some people support it because they feel like it can help they brand, whether they genuinely feel that way about it. And some people use their platform to help because they feel for women maybe the way that I feel for women. They choose to do that. But I think it also speaks, like I said, to how bold the women are.

“You put Becky Hammon as the head coach of a summer league team and she win a championship. When you’ve got women stepping up and doing stuff like that, taking command and being a leader of men in the locker room, getting them to actually follow your instruction, I think that’s like, ‘Okay, if she can do that, let’s see if the next woman can do it.’ It kind of opens up the game for everybody else, for this league to see that women are capable of filling jobs in our league. So it’s pretty cool that guys are willing to speak up for it and vouch for it because we the ones they gonna have to work with. So when we approve of it and we support it, it’s more likely for them to get more opportunities.”

It seems like as soon as there’s that first example, then people seem to recognize that, 'Hey this isn’t nearly as big of a deal as I thought it might be." Once that preconceived notion is challenged, it makes it easier at that point to accept because in the end, it’s just coaching or it’s just knowledge of the game. The knowledge of the game doesn’t know a gender.

Damian Lillard: “It doesn’t. I think especially when it comes to teaching, the feel for the game. Women are just naturally smarter than men. When you watch a women’s game, they’re more fundamentally sound than men. They can’t move the same way as we do, so everything they do is a little sharper, the footwork is a little more precise. They ball fake and they do all these things that you’re taught when you learn to play the game except they’re really good at it.

“So there’s a place for them! They can come into the game because they’re smart. Women are smart, especially women who come in and play this game at high levels. The WNBA, women’s high level college is really good, the Olympics, all that stuff, so they have knowledge of the game. And when you have knowledge of the game, you have knowledge of the game. There’s really no way around that.

“I mention another woman that I’m tight with, Tina Thompson. After my games, she’s usually one of the main people texting me like ‘Well y’all have this action and this happened then this happened. You guys should have did this and you gotta look at this.’ She’s seeing the game as a player and a coach and she’s expressing her thoughts and opinions to me and it makes perfect sense. It sounds like something that one of our coach would say. So the fact that it’s a woman doesn’t mean anything because knowledge of the game is knowledge of the game. It’s just a matter of if they can manage men, get men to take them serious and listen and that’s what you’re starting to see happen. Men are taking them serious and allowing them to do the job that Coach Stotts would be doing.”

We’re taking about basketball specifically, but if you already have that respect for women in general, it’s probably not hard to accept them as a coach or a player or anyone else you would respect.

Damian Lillard: “It’s not hard at all. It’s natural. When you grow up with women who you really tight with and you respect and you know them as strong people, it’s natural for you to see a woman over there working out an NBA player before the game and be like ‘I really respect that.’ I like to see something like that.

“And then you have other people who might have a terrible relationship with women in they lives and they don’t respect women, but if they don’t respect women and they respect me, and they see that I respect it, maybe they’ll respect it to, you know what I’m saying? It won’t always come down to them respecting women the way I do because everybody just don’t, but if they respect me and they respect the next guy who respects women and we showing respect, what they gonna do, go against women AND us? So when we’re supporting it, guys like us, when we support it and maybe somebody else who wouldn’t any other day, maybe they will because everybody else is.

“It means something for guys to stand behind it because everybody else kind of falls in line because they don’t want to be the one person say ‘I ain’t listening to her!’ cause then you gonna look like a damn fool and you gonna look like a bad person. It’s good and it’s big guys around the league are supporting it.”