Lillard Shares Struggles Leading to NBA Rookie of the Year Award
By sarahhecht Posted in: damianlillard
“I can’t stop smiling.”
The first words from Damian Lillard as he took the podium to accept the 2013 Rookie of the Year Award were candidly uttered with a light laugh, shining bright eyes and a massive grin. An uncommon break in the stoic and serious facade usually displayed by the 22-year-old point guard.
This day was different. Years of tireless work, dedication and struggle all leading to a culminating moment for Damian and those he holds close. And in that moment a softer side was revealed, an unheard story told.
“I want people to know. Everybody says they came from this point and they worked so hard, they want to glamorize or make their story seem like it was really tough. And I wanted people to know what happened. I want them to know a little bit about my story and why something like this is important and how it means a lot to more than just me,” Lillard said of the cathartic speech he gave in acceptance of the Eddie Gottlieb Trophy.
Here’s the story he told...
“I just want to tell everybody a little bit about myself because I kinda started from an unfortunate situation. I grew up in Oakland, California and there’s a lot that goes on there. I grew up with a lot of people that decided they wanted to do things that I knew, from the gate, was out.
I started playing football then and I was kinda soft, I admit I was scared. My family, they constantly picked at me about it like, ‘Oh you scared to get back out there, you don’t want no part of that contact.’ And I can just remember that relatives, my cousin John, they pulled me to the front yard and they made get in the grass. They was hitting me as hard as any kid could ever hit me and I came back two years later and I got defensive player of the year. So the fact that they was able to put that confidence in me, that let me know how to win.
I kinda fell in love with basketball after that. I believed I could do anything. There was even a point where I wanted to be a professional wrestler and God knows I ..... and I really thought I could be it. I think the biggest thing that my family they taught me is to put my head into whatever I want to be and really try to pursue it. When I started to fall in love with basketball I started to learn how to work hard and then I started to really want it and I started to learn all the different things about the game and I saw everything that came along with it.
And little did I know, I got a scholarship to Weber State from it. So it was a smaller school and I always felt like I could make it to the NBA. I went there and I had really big success and my coach there, he would always be on me, ‘You gotta know how to respond to a person and you come from Oakland so you know what it is to be up against this wall, to be up against a challenge.’
I got there, I had my success, I was Freshman of the Year, I came back the next year and I was MVP of the league as a sophomore and then the next year I had my mind made up, I’m gonna come out here and have a good year and then I’m taking my family to the NBA. My mom is struggling right now and I’m gonna have the chance of a lifetime to take care of her, make it the the league next year and it’s gonna be all, all the problems gonna be solved and then, I broke my foot.
At that point I thought all this stuff was comin’ to me right now, now my foot is broken. I was down about it and then I got motivated all over again just because I knew what was on my back. I knew that I had my family take care of, I knew that I had all these people that believe in me that I didn’t want to let down so I really got after it. I did everything I needed to do to put myself in position and I really think I had a good year.
Then I had decided I was gonna enter the draft and then the critics came saying, ‘Oh, he’s from Weber State, he’s only 6-2, he’s not very athletic, he didn’t play against competition, he’s 22 years old,’ anything they could think of to put and end to me, that’s what they was saying. That wasn’t nothing new. I had been up against it my whole life, so I came out and I proved it up. I’m not afraid to say I went into it and I didn’t care what they thought about me. I went into workouts, I showed what I knew I could do. I went to the combine, I played both days because I wanted to show that I wasn’t scared, I’m not running from nobody.
I got picked sixth. To a lot of people that’s a huge accomplishment. I was excited about it but I knew what I wanted from myself and at a press conference back in school I told the crowd then I wanted to be Rookie of the Year. Some people might say I be crazy and now here I am getting this award. And I’m not surprised about it. And that’s not meant to be a cocky statement at all, but I’m not surprised about it because I know that I put the work and put myself in this position, so I’m happy.
Everything that’s happened this season, I just expect more from myself. And I want everybody here to know that I expect more next season because winning this award is just letting me know that everything that I did leading up to this point, it paid off. It’s not about collecting some hardware and the acknowledgement and the attention, it just reminded me of everything I did to put myself in this position is paying off. So I just felt like everybody needed to know a little bit about me, know my story and what it took for me to get to this point. I couldn’t tell you how much I appreciate it.”
Lillard’s speech was an unexpected foray behind the veil, and one of the truest aspects was his timing—Damian hadn’t thought about sharing this part of his life before, it just felt right.
“I never really thought about it,” he said. “I think now was a good time because of everything that’s happened since I was in high school, so it seemed like all this stuff it came together and this is what it turned into. My first year in the NBA I get named Rookie of the year and all this stuff is what led up to it, like all the emotions and everything that I ended up putting into it, it turned into this.
“I think it was good to get it out,” he continued. “It was one of those things where you got a lot of stuff in your head and you keep it to yourself because it’s no reason for you to just come out and express yourself all the time. And I felt like now was a time for me to let people know.”