If you were paying attention during the announcement of the Western Conference All-Star reserves, the player pool for the Rising Stars Challenge, and the participants in the Slam Dunk Contest, the Skills Challenge and the Three-Point Contest, you probably noticed that one name popped up in all of them — Damian Lillard, point guard of the Portland Trail Blazers. That wasn't a coincidence or an error, but it is a bit of NBA history.
In addition to making his first appearance in the Sunday night main event and his second trip to the Rising Stars Challenge, Lillard will defend his 2013 Taco Bell Skills Challenge title and aim to become the first Trail Blazer ever to win the Three-Point or Slam Dunk Contest, succeeding where the likes of Kiki Vandeweghe, Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter, Cliff Robinson, Jerome Kersey, James Robinson and Rudy Fernandez have fallen short in the past. He's officially the first player ever to participate in five events during All-Star Weekend, which will take place next Friday through Sunday at the newly re-christened Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
Taking on three different Saturday events and two games will make Lillard a busy man in New Orleans, but the way he sees it, according to Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports, he might as well take advantage of every chance he gets to do something special:
"A lot of people don't get the opportunity," Lillard told USA TODAY Sports by phone. "So I just felt like it was something that had never been done, and I'm capable of doing all the things that need to be done in all the competitions, so I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?" [...]
As Lillard knows, though, there will be some who question his decision to take on so many tasks during this time that serves as a much-needed breather for most of his colleagues. And as is typically the case when it comes to Lillard, he's not concerned with the critics.
"The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and three-point shooting is about two minutes," said Lillard, whose Blazers (35-14) are the surprise team in the NBA this season. "And it's not like the rookie-sophomore game is a real regular season game, so I mean I'm look at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things. People think there's more energy being exerted than there actually is. It's really not that much when you think about the time that you actually spend doing it."
Well, there's a ringing endorsement for the All-Star Weekend festivities!
Lillard's comments echo those made earlier Thursday by his agent, Aaron Goodwin, in an interview with Jason Quick of the Oregonian, who downplayed the exertion concerns by saying, "I’m surprised more super athletes like LeBron haven’t tried it before." (Zing!)
While neither Lillard nor Goodwin seem concerned about fatigue, the agent did note the long-range value of presenting the versatility of the second-year guard's game to basketball fans the world over:
"Initially, this doesn’t do anything," Goodwin said. "He is branding and marketing himself by being a legitimate player and by helping Portland become a legitimate team. But what this does do is raise awareness. Many will see him on this stage for the first time, and they will see a fantastic leaper, a phenomenal shooter, a great player. Very rarely do you get a player who is the complete package. Why not showcase it?"
Goodwin's biting of Russell Westbrook's bit aside, the point makes sense. Lillard's an ace ball-handler who's shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point land this year and has plenty of bounce for a relative shorty. All-Star Weekend's all about fun exhibitions of talents and moments of aspirational achievement; why shouldn't Lillard's approach to being a man in demand be to say, "Sure, I'll give that a shot?"
While the odds are against him sweeping his events and turning in star-making performances in both the Rising Stars and All-Star games, it's certainly possible, and it'd make a heck of a statement about not only how far Lillard has come since being largely overlooked at Weber State, but also how high he might rise among the ranks of the NBA's elite. If Lillard shows up and shows out like Kyrie Irving last year, his ascent could go from "impressively quick" to "downright meteoric."
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