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Guest commentary: Damian Lillard proves he’s a star on and off the court (part II)

Published: Wednesday, May 14 2014 2:15 p.m. MDT

Former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard, currently with the Portland Trail Blazers, greets fans and personnel prior to the Purple and White scrimmage game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Deseret News archive) Former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard, currently with the Portland Trail Blazers, greets fans and personnel prior to the Purple and White scrimmage game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Deseret News archive)

Editor's note: This is part two in a two-part series about Damian Lillard's star qualities. View part one here.

One of reasons why Damian Lillard has been able to connect with fans around the league and across the globe is not just because of his sharp shooting and play-making skills, but his team-first approach and easygoing mentality.

This was evident by the fact that Lillard was awarded one of the biggest shoe contracts in NBA history last month. The deal is valued at over $100 million when adding in all the incentives — like signature shoes and apparel. The deal makes Lillard one of the highest-earning endorsers in the NBA.

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates with fans, his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win.  (Greg Wahl-Stephens, Associated Press) Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates with fans, his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win. (Greg Wahl-Stephens, Associated Press)

In an interview with USA Today, Lawrence Norman, vice president of Adidas, explained in great detail what separates Lillard apart from other NBA athletes as well as the key decision-making factors that go into a major shoe contract.

According to Norman, most of it comes down to a player’s character and personality, as well as the position that he plays. While watching Lillard play during his time at Weber State, Norman noticed that he would often point to the front of his jersey (the team name) instead of the back (his name). Also, because Lillard is a score-first point guard, he gets a lot of camera time. This increases his exposure as well as the constant highlight reels that he provides. Winning also takes priority and Lillard certainly has delivered. The Trail Blazers went from winning only 33 games last season to winning 54 this year.

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, April 13, 2014.  (STEVE DYKES, AP) Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) drives to the basket on Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Portland, Ore., Sunday, April 13, 2014. (STEVE DYKES, AP)

“We know what Damian Lillard is about. We know the value that he puts on family and friendship and the relationship we have. It was not risky at all, knowing that we had the right character, integrity and personality. There was no risk,” Norman said.

He continued by saying that while there are always risks associated with such long-term contracts (8-12 years), the risks simply were not there with Lillard. “Very few players are Rookie of the Year and then All-Star in their second year — that's rarely seen."

Respect

“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” ― Albert Einstein

It doesn’t matter how wealthy or good looking you may be, respect is earned, not given. In only his second year in the NBA, Lillard earned the respect from some of the biggest stars in the game. Last year, LeBron James endorsed Lillard for Rookie of the Year saying that he has exceeded all expectations and more. “Not only will he become great, he's one of the good point guards we have in our league today.”

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win.  (Greg Wahl-Stephens, Associated Press) Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard, center, celebrates his winning shot against the Houston Rockets during the last .9 of a second of game six of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series game in Portland, Ore., Friday May 2, 2014. The Trail Blazers won the series in a 99-98 win. (Greg Wahl-Stephens, Associated Press)

This year, Kobe Bryant endorsed Lillard saying that while he won’t likely be healthy for the All-Star game, fans should instead vote for the "Damian Lillards of the world, because they're more than deserving to be out there and playing that weekend." For being in the league for less than two years, Lillard has already made quite an impact in the NBA.

Silencing the critics

Last week, during a segment last week on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talked about Damian Lillard, his game-winning basket against the Rockets and whether or not he’s an NBA star.

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 28:  Damian Lillard (R) of Weber State greets NBA Commissioner David Stern (L) after he was selected number six overall by the Portland Trail Blazers during the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft at Prudential Center on June 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa, Getty Images) NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 28: Damian Lillard (R) of Weber State greets NBA Commissioner David Stern (L) after he was selected number six overall by the Portland Trail Blazers during the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft at Prudential Center on June 28, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) (Elsa, Getty Images)

During the discussion, Kornheiser said that Lillard isn’t a star in the NBA because of two reasons: First, because he played at Weber State, which is not Duke, Kansas, etc. Second, because Lillard plays in a smaller market (Portland) and that he hasn’t really done anything in the league.

These comments were nothing new to the All-Star point guard as he has battled and silenced critics throughout his entire basketball career. Almost every scout and coach overlooked him during his high school career — except for one. Randy Rahe, head coach of the Weber State Wildcats, saw something in Lillard that warranted him a scholarship. Little did anyone know at that time Lillard would go on to become a household name in the NBA.

In an interview with SLAM, Lillard talked about his rise from being overlooked in high school all the way to becoming a starting point guard in the NBA.

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) as the Utah Jazz play the Portland Trailblazers in NBA basketball Monday, April 1, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard (0) as the Utah Jazz play the Portland Trailblazers in NBA basketball Monday, April 1, 2013, in Salt Lake City. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

“I had been overlooked in high school and I got overlooked even in college at Weber State. My main thing was to outwork everybody because I knew that that would be my way to get people’s attention by constantly getting better and putting that work in. Not only that, just being a high character person on and off the court. I think I gained a lot of fans because of who I was off the court. People respected me as a person before they did as an athlete.”

So how did Lillard respond to the comments made by Kornheiser? Instead of stooping down to that level, Lillard took the high road when he tweeted out:

Team Hill's Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, right, moves the ball against Team Webber's Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz during the Rising Star NBA All Star Challenge Basketball game, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert, AP) Team Hill's Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, right, moves the ball against Team Webber's Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz during the Rising Star NBA All Star Challenge Basketball game, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert) (Gerald Herbert, AP)

Lillard has always been composed, confident and mature beyond his years. Most of it is in part to being molded by his coaches, teammates and family. With so many great point guards (Jason Kidd, Gary Payton and Brian Shaw) coming out of Oakland, California, Lillard plans to carry the tradition and live up to the high expectations that he not only has for himself, but for the entire city of Oakland.

A true star off the court

While Lillard has won numerous awards on the basketball court, it’s his awards off the court that makes him the great person that he is. Last March, Lillard earned the NBA’s Kia Community Assist Award in recognition of his outstanding efforts in the community, ongoing advocacy and charitable work. Lillard became only the fourth rookie to receive the award.

“It’s an honor to receive this award and I hope that it will bring even more attention to the Respect campaign,” Lillard said. “I’ve seen too many of the negative effects that bullying has on people, especially kids. Now that I’ve learned how many people look up to us as NBA players, I want to make the most of it by getting behind positive initiatives like anti-bullying.”

Former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard, currently with the Portland Trailblazers, talks with media members prior to the Purple and White scrimmage game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News) Former Weber State basketball star Damian Lillard, currently with the Portland Trailblazers, talks with media members prior to the Purple and White scrimmage game at the Dee Events Center in Ogden Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2012. (Brian Nicholson, Deseret News)

Most people don’t realize that Lillard was also an active global ambassador for the Special Olympics last year, participating in events all across the country. In fact, Lillard helped coach the Special Olympics Unified Sports Game during the 2013 NBA All-Star Weekend in Houston, Texas. On top of all that, Lillard also supports the Boys & Girls Clubs as well as the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

So what hasn’t he done? Not only does he break basketball records, but he is a true role model for children throughout the world as an active member of the community.

If Lillard isn’t a star both on and off the court, then I don’t know who is.

Justin Giles holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with an emphasis in Journalism. Justin recently completed an internship with the Deseret News. Follow him on Twitter @Justingiles22 Email: justingiles22@gmail.com

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