SALT LAKE CITY — Numerous gifts were waiting for 8-month-old Damian Lillard Jr. from his parents when he popped up Christmas morning in Utah.
One of them was a height tracker to chart his growth, plus an assortment of other toys and presents from Santa Claus, as he celebrated his first-ever Christmas, before his father, Damian Lillard, had to take off for work.
“I got up this morning with him and we was up for about two hours just messing around with high energy,” Lillard described during the Blazers' shootaround. “He don’t know what today is, so he kind of just got up, he was playing with all his toys and that was it. It was like any other morning.
“He got a lot of toys,” he added. “He’s at that stage now where he’s grabbing at everything, and he’s interested in everything. With those toys he was all over.”
While the family moment was priceless, Lillard will also experience another milestone of his professional career with his first-ever Christmas game against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Arena tonight.
The Portland Trail Blazers are playing in their first Christmas game since 2010 while the Jazz are hosting their first in 21 years.
“It’s pretty cool. My whole career, I’ve been wanting to play on Christmas,” said Lillard, a product of Weber State University. “I’ve been telling the league like, ‘Man, let us get a Christmas game.’ I was hoping it would’ve been in Portland but obviously this is an exclusive thing, it’s an honor to be able to play on Christmas.”
Although Lillard and his teammates are more than ready to face the Jazz, especially after suffering a 30-point loss to them on their home court last week, he understands that it comes with a sacrifice. However, the 28-year-old point guard sees it as part of the job that many other NBA stars before him have also had to experience on the road to greatness.
“You’re definitely giving something up, but there’s a lot of things we do as athletes throughout our lives to get to this position that we constantly sacrifice, and this is another thing,” Lillard said. “You’ve got to sacrifice to be in this position and to be able to do the things we do, so it’s kind of bittersweet that you get to play on Christmas, it’s on the road away from your family, but obviously I’ve spent many Christmases with them.”
Most of Lillard’s family still resides in his hometown of Oakland, California, so he’ll actually get a chance to catch up with everyone after the holiday as the Blazers are set to face the defending champion Golden State Warriors on Thursday. Everyone will still be celebrating just as they did in his household during his younger years where he remembers family traveling from as far as Rochester, New York, to enjoy the holiday season together while watching the much-anticipated Christmas Day NBA games.
“I just remember when I was much younger, as a young kid, I had a lot of family in New York and around Christmas time they would come to Oakland,” Lillard recalled. “And it would be all my family from Rochester and the 585 and they would be in Oakland and the Knicks would be playing and it would be like the Knicks and Bulls or something, but the Knicks would always be playing."Comment on this story
Now in his seventh season, Lillard will finally get a chance to entertain basketball fans throughout the world on Christmas, just 33 miles away from Ogden where he spent four seasons at Weber State.
Some kid, somewhere, will likely experience that same feeling while watching the Jazz and Blazers as he did in the Bay Area viewing the Knicks. Also, Damian Jr. will have a cool story about his first Christmas once he’s old enough to understand.
“I just remember how loud the house was with them going for the Knicks and everybody on the West Coast going against whoever they was playing against, so that’s kind of like my main memories from NBA games on Christmas,” Lillard said.