Lillard's miracle shot took us higher than any drug.
There was bound to be a hangover.
In 1998, my friend Elliott Smith played his gorgeous Academy Award nominated song "Miss Misery" live on the Oscars. Donning a stark white suit and a soulful expression, he walked out alone onto the giant stage, like a ghost, and began to sing with only his acoustic guitar as accompaniment. His fragility and eloquence were particularly startling in that garish setting. The audience seemed like they were holding their breath.
The world saw one man and his guitar. But for friends watching and rooting back home, it was as if our entire community was up there with him. We felt proud. He was a product of our flourishing, tight knit and supportive scene. We went to each othersâ shows, collaborated on music, listened to records together, hung out in bars talking into the wee hours. We knew Elliott was special, but he was one of us.
In the span of two minutes, his extraordinary performance catapulted him from underground hero to national treasure. In an instant, Elliott was a star.
Damian Lillardâs now infamous three-point dagger to win game six and advance the Blazers to the second round was life affirming. A shot of undeniable confidence and breathtaking precision, the swoosh of the net brought the entire city of Portland, rapt in euphoric joy, to our feet. We recounted it over and over to friendsâwe couldnât retell it enough! We watched videos and Vines of it, fan reactions to it, listened to radio broadcasts of it, read how players described itâthis was the happiest Blazer moment in decades, and we savored it.
People everywhere were talking about Damian Lillard. And similar to Elliott Smith back in â98, Lillard went from talented underdog to household name in a heartbeat.
But sudden fame is disorienting. For athletes, distractions are like poison. Lillard spent years honing his skills within a group framework under the radar. How could ravenous attention heaped on him, in the midst of the NBA playoffs, not be disruptive? And with current NBA players spending more and more time on Twitter and Instagram, it is getting harder and harder for them to stay ânormalâ after something as universally affecting as Fridayâs game finale.
For a team like the Blazers that thrives on camaraderie, Lillard being singled out amidst preparations for the tough San Antonio second round series, caused Portland to lose focus. The seasoned Spurs, playing excellent, focused basketball wire to wire in the first game of a new series, trounced the Blazers 116-92. In the words of Marv Albert, âIt was not the Blazersâ night.â In front of a national TV audience, we watched our team coming down. And although we wouldnât trade the exhilaration of game six for anything in the world, itâs time we forget about it for a whileâmaybe just until the playoffs are over, hopefully sometime in late June.