As reported yesterday, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard will become the first player ever to participate in all five events during All-Star Weekend. At face value, this seems like quite a bit for the fledgling second-year point guard to take on, and concerns about fatigue are valid.
But truthfully, I could not care less. I love this decision by Lillard, and love it even more because of the reasons he gave. In particular, this quote to USA Today stood out to me: “I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?”
I could not be prouder of the attitude Lillard is taking into the weekend. When we pull ourselves away from the media-driven talk surrounding the NBA about killer instincts, cutthroat desires to win, legacies, and greatest of all time debates, we can start to realize again that it’s all a game. Sure it’s an enormous business as well, but most of these guys wouldn’t be playing if they didn’t truly love basketball.
All-Star weekend is supposed to be fun, for both the fans and the players. What better way for Lillard to get the full experience, for himself as well as his fans, than by participating in everything? That would be an impressive feat without mentioning history, but the fact that he will be the first one ever to do so makes it all the more special.
The decision will also certainly increase Lillard’s personal “brand.” While sometimes I find the time and effort players put into cultivating their brands to be a bit excessive, this is a wise exposure move by Lillard. As is well established, Portland is not the largest of markets, so getting his name out there in such an impressive manner will really help Lillard to become more recognizable.
I am already seeing him referred to as a “star” by outside (non-Blazers centric) sources more and more often. This swells my Blazers-beating heart with pride, because fans like to see their own players get more widespread recognition. In turn, a team can then also reap the benefits of this recognition.
So in addition to beefing up his own personal brand, Lillard is doing the Blazers as a team a tremendous favor, by drastically increasing the whole team’s exposure. Even though LaMarcus Aldridge has been the steadying rock of the franchise for some time, it appears as if it is easier for general basketball fans to gravitate towards a late game hero that is capable of an offensive explosion on any given night. Paul George is currently doing similar work for the Indiana Pacers, and while Lillard is no George (yet), the small-market similarities between Indiana and Portland can’t be ignored.
Finally, I hope that Lillard’s decision will set a precedent for other big name stars. On the whole, it feels like many of the more famous superstars have shied away from participating in some of the weekend’s side events. It could certainly be due to legitimate fatigue issues, but often it seems like they are reluctant to do so because they don’t want deal with the fallout of potentially losing. This just robs fans of the opportunity to see their favorite players in action.
While it may be a stretch, if Lillard’s actions this year can influence other stars down the line, his participation will only look better and better.