Damian Lillard Talks Risk Of Playing In NBA Restart, Racial Injustice During SportsCenter Special

Jun 16, 2020, 10:31 AM | Updated: 5:03 pm
Damian Lillard - Portland Trail Blazers...
Damian Lillard #0 of the Portland Trail Blazers is introduced before the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on December 06, 2019 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Former Weber State and current Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard discussed his comfort level in playing in the NBA’s restart and racial injustice during ESPN’s SportsCenter special “The Return of Sports.”

Lillard appeared alongside NBA commissioner Adam Silver during “The Return of Sports” on Monday, June 15.

During the special broadcast Lillard and Silver, as well as five other major league commissioners, an MLB manager, and a handful of additional professional athletes, spoke about “the decisions they’ve made and the challenges they’ve faced throughout this unprecedented time, and what the resumption of sports will look like over the coming weeks and months.”

The NBA All-Star guard said that he is willing to participate in the league’s proposed restart of the 2019-20 season but also said “it’s a risk.”

“I don’t feel 100 percent but it’s a risk that I’m willing to take,” Lillard said during the broadcast. “This is what we do. This is our job. This is how we take care of our families. It’s also my way of providing for communities.”

Restarting the NBA season & Racial Injustice

The former Weber State star has been one of the league’s most vocal players on issues of racial injustice and police brutality since the death of George Floyd. On May 25, Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. Since his death, protests against racism, inequality, and police brutality have occurred worldwide.

In early June, Lillard participated in one of those protests by marching with thousands of fellow protesters in Portland, Oregon.

Many NBA players, including Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard, have questioned whether returning to play this season would detract from the efforts being put forth against racism, inequality, and police brutality.

“I think a lot of guys in the league have a point,” the Blazers guard said. “I think Kyrie and Dwight have a point. So I understand it all.”

During “The Return of Sports,” Lillard discussed his point of view on playing while being able to continue supporting black communities.

“I think that’s where a lot of the struggle is for a lot of athletes. I think our league is made up of so many African American players. And a lot of our hearts are with our people; our minds are with our people. And we feel like we should be a part of that fight. And that’s where the struggle is; I think that’s where you’re hearing a lot of guys kinda coming out, saying maybe we should be focused on that instead of worrying about going back in and jumping into the season,” Lillard said. “I can only speak for myself — but I think it goes for other guys as well — we are the financial support for our families and for a lot of our community. We bring a lot of that financial responsibility to support black businesses in black communities. So it makes a lot of sense for us (to return), from that standpoint.”

“It’s something that none of us have experienced in our lifetime. I mean, the world literally shut down — I don’t know if that’s ever happened or when was the last time it did if it has happened but I think it’ll be difficult, to say the least, because a lot of our hearts are with our people,” Lillard continued. “So that’s hard to go out there and be your best self, or the best version of yourself as an athlete when something isn’t sitting right with you personally. That’s something that’s not just going to go away. So we’re not sure how it’s gonna go but we’re gonna see when we get there.”

About Damian Lillard

The former Weber State guard has played his entire NBA career with Portland.

After starring for the Wildcats in Ogden from 2009-12, Lillard was selected by the Blazers with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award after his debut season.

Since he joined the NBA, the guard has been named an All-Star five times. He was a member of the All-NBA First Team in 2018.

NBA’s Restart Plan

Currently, the NBA and the league’s Players Association are negotiating the details of a plan to restart the 2019-20 season in late July.

The season would reportedly begin again on July 30 at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.

22 teams, including Lillard’s Trail Blazers, would be involved in playing eight regular season games to finish out the season before 16 teams would advance to the NBA Playoffs.

The Trail Blazers played 66 games and owned a 29-37 record before the season was halted because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Portland currently sits in ninth place in the Western Conference standings and is 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West.

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