Lillard Creates Opportunities For Others With Skills Challenge Victory
By caseyholdahl Posted in: damianlillard
Basketball, to state the obvious, has been a very important part of Damian Lillard's life. It helped keep him off the streets of Oakland, streets that have claimed far too many young men who are not all that different from Lillard, if at all. Then it took him to Weber State, where his performance earned him a chance to play the game for a living in the NBA, a chance which he's taken full advantage of in his first few months as a professional.
But now, Lillard's abilities are creating opportunities for others, as the world saw Saturday night at the Taco Bell Skills Challenge in at All-Star weekend in Houston. By virtue of winning the event with the fastest cumulative time of 1 minute, 50.9 seconds, Lillard not only won the Skills Challenge trophy, but also a $25,000 scholarship for a member of the Boys & Girls Club of Houston, Poppie Simmons.
"I'm honored to win this competition," said Lillard. "I think the bigger thing for me was the fact I was able to get the scholarship money for (Simmons) because I come from a tough situation and if it wasn't for sports, I probably wouldn't have been able to attend college. It means a lot to me to be able to do that for him."
Which is apropos, considering creating opportunities for others is the hallmark of any great point guard.
Lillard didn't have much opportunity to prepare for the event, which requires competitors to navigate a myriad of obstacles requiring deft ball-handling, passing and shooting, but he used the time he did have wisely knowing any bit of repetition could literally change the life of a boy he had never met until Saturday night's festivities.
"When we got in today I just went right to the bounce pass, did it about 50 times in a row," said Lillard. "They gave us about 10 minutes to go through and do whatever we wanted to. And then five minutes before we left they just timed all of us, we got to go through it one time. And the first time I went through it I knew I would be able to get through it pretty smooth if I could get the passes to go through."
Which he did. After making it through to the second round with the fastest time, Lillard beat Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday to joining the likes of Tony Parker, Steve Nash, Derek Rose and Jason Kidd as Skills Challenge winners while picking up a cool 25k for Simmons' education. The chance to give a young man a real opportunity at a brighter future, along with the nerves that come with being the only player on the court while thousands in attendance and millions at home watch your every move, had to be somewhat nerve-wrecking for the rookie, but Lillard's unflappable demeanor, which has served him and the Trail Blazers so well this season, might have tilted the scales in the rookie's favor.
"The most important thing was for me to stay in that moment and try not to get too excited," said Lillard, "Not worry about going the wrong direction or anything like that."
Because Lillard went the right direction, a boy from Houston now has a much better chance of doing the same thing for himself. When asked if he would consider following in Lillard's footsteps by using his $25,000 scholarship to attend Weber State, Simmons said the school in Ogden, UT was "too far" away for him to attend. But if we've learned anything from Lillard's meteoric rise from small college performer to odd's on Rookie of the Year favorite, it's that where you go to school isn't nearly as important as simply making the most out of the opportunity.
And now, thanks again to basketball and Damian Lillard, another young man from a rough neighborhood is going to get to find that out for himself.