We’ve all seen it by now.
I’m not talking about Avengers: Endgame. Unless you’re part of the Marvel-obsessed cult that saw it on Day 1, chances are you haven’t see that one yet.
However, you wouldn’t have needed to skip work or pay two to three hundred pesos to have seen Damian Lillard knock down one of the greatest shots in NBA history.
There are dozens of elements to take in from that moment. The actual shot itself — a 37-foot stepback three-pointer over one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA — would already insane if it stood on its own.
And the surrounding narratives made the shot even sweeter:
– It was a walk-off, series clincher (the second in Lillard’s career)
– The shot gave Lillard a perfect 50-piece, a playoff career-high
– Westbrook’s reckless attack and miss on the prior possession gave us the felicitous ending sequence for this chapter of the Dame vs Russ feud
But the piece of the puzzle that distinctly sticks out for me is the stoic, seemingly calculated reaction Lillard displayed after the fact.
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) April 24, 2019
He got in his jab at the opposition: a goodbye wave towards the OKC Thunder side that will go down as an all-timer for “F You” celebrations.
Then he got the buzzer-beater tradition — a mauling from his teammates that brought him to the ground. The animated bombardment of the Blazers’ star started from the top of the heap with partner-in-crime CJ McCollum, went down to seldom-used Skal Labissiere, and stopped at the base of the pile with happiest-person-on-earth Enes Kanter.
But amidst all the celebration, Dame kept his demeanor locked. No smiling, no cheering, no shouting. Absolutely nothing out of his mouth.
This was the superstar moment of Damian Lillard’s career.
It was his version of LeBron’s 25-point fourth quarter against Detroit in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, or Steph Curry’s 38-foot pull-up vs OKC in 2016, or Westbrook’s Game Winner of the Year in 2017 against the Nuggets (Hilariously, Kanter is also a main character in the celebration of this one).
Yet, as his teammates and coaches hounded him as if he were the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Lillard stared directly into the camera towards all of us, the millions witnessing his iconic moment. The millions who have continuously doubted him.
He nodded three times, as if to acknowledge us.
As if to tell us to never doubt him again.
We doubted him when he came out of the unheralded Weber State, so he won unanimous Rookie of the Year in 2012. We doubted him when we thought the Blazers would fall apart after Lillard’s four other co-stars bailed in 2015, so he carried Portland to the second round.
And we definitely did it when he got worked by Jrue Holiday in an embarrassing sweep by the Pelicans in last year’s playoffs. We said he wasn’t a playoff performer. We called for an end to the Lillard-McCollum era.
Then he came out of the woodwork to lead Portland to a 53-29 record to secure the three-seed for the second year in a row, and was widely praised by pundits as a top-five MVP candidate.
But with 10 games left in the season, Jusuf Nurkic went down with a devastating left leg injury. Then the basketball gods slotted them against the Paul George and Russell Westbrook-led Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
“OKC in 5… Maybe 6,” we doubted, again.
Bad move, guys and gals.
Lillard showed up as arguably the best player in the league in the first round and averaged 33.0 points, 6.0 assists and 2.4 steals while hitting a mind-boggling 5.2 threes a game on 48% from downtown (including going 9 for 13 on shots from 30+ feet).
So as he lay on the ground after hitting the shot of a lifetime, and as he was showered with praises from a fan base that has so desperately coveted his presence amidst irreparable sports misery, he stayed unmoved.
He knew this moment was coming.
Despite all of the adversity, and all of the criticism that he’s faced throughout his entire basketball career, Damian Lillard not once ever doubted himself.
And now, we won’t either.
Photos from Getty Images