COMMENTARY | Second-year Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard is by a natural enemy of the Los Angeles Lakers and their fans, but the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year is giving everyone in purple and gold a good reason to respect him.
That's because the budding star is as humble as NBA players come -- a rare breed of youngster who respects those who came before him.
That includes Lakers veteran point guard Steve Nash.
Lillard and the two-time league MVP have a brief but storied history with one another, one that played a significant role in the disastrous 2012-13 season that left the Lakers virtually in shambles and with nothing to show for their participation in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.
On Halloween night of 2012, a freak play that resulted in a collision between the rookie and the veteran resulted in Nash suffering a non-displaced feature of his left leg. He went on to miss seven weeks of the season and lost a priceless amount of preparation time with his new teammates.
Though it's hard to blame the Lakers' first-round playoff exit solely on the injury, the fractured leg acted as a catalyst to the chain of injuries, chemistry issues and underachievement that marred the season.
Nash is still suffering as a result of the bump with Lillard, though he can attribute some of those issues to being 39 years old, it's clear the leg injury is one of the more restrictive injuries among the many and preventing him from staying on the floor long enough to make a difference.
Lillard regrets it ever happened and feels bad about it, though it was an obvious accident.
"I wish it didn't happen," Lillard told CSNNW.com. "It wasn't intentional. We were playing and we bumped each other. It's unfortunate that it has carried on for this long. It wasn't intentional. When we play this game, we sacrifice our bodies a lot and that just happened to happen in the course of that game. I'm just sorry for the whole incident."
It's an upstanding statement from a player who's done nothing but exhibit class from the moment he stepped off the campus of Weber State and onto the Moda Center floor. He didn't have to apologize. It was a play that could've happened to anyone in any arena across the league. It just so happened that an aging Nash who couldn't afford any more ailments was the victim in this case.
Lillard's apology wasn't just for show, and the point guard has created plenty of goodwill in his own community, including making one young fan's day by reaching out to him personally via Twitter. He's humble, gifted, fearless on the court and already turning out to be one of the best young players in the NBA.
An apology was the last thing he needed to give, but because he did, even Lakers fans will have trouble rooting for him to fail -- unless it's against the Lakers, of course.
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Michael C. Jones is a Southern California-based journalist and was Yahoo's 2012 Contributor of the Year. He is the founding editor of Sports Out West and also contributes to SB Nation.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Damian Lillard
- Steve Nash
- Portland Trail Blazers