What a time to be a Blazer.

On April 23, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard hit the single most jaw-dropping shot in franchise history: a 37-foot, buzzer-beating jumper to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 118-115.

The shot ended the series and the Thunder's season in five games and propelled the Blazers to the second round of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets.

Lillard, 28, milked the moment for all its drama: He stood stone-faced at center court, then waved goodbye to his opponents before being mobbed by his jubilant teammates.

"I didn't know he was going to raise from 40 [feet]," marveled fellow Blazers guard CJ McCollum. "I was like, 'Go! Go!' And then he raised from 40, and I was like, 'That's a bad mother…,'" McCollum trailed off, grinning, as reporters laughed. "You know what I said."

For casual observers, this glee might seem confusing and premature. The Blazers start the second-round playoff series with the Nuggets this week, and few sportswriters think this team has what it takes to make the NBA Finals. The Blazers last reached the Finals in 1992; this is the third time in the past 19 years they've advanced even this far.

Doesn't matter. That shot amounted to redemption.

Redemption: for national embarrassments, for the heartbreak of shattered knees, for years of wondering if our best players would leave for other cities, or if even the entire franchise would skip town.

Now Lillard has provided us a reason to believe better days are ahead. In fact, WW found 37 reasons—one for every foot Dame stood from the basket when he launched his shot.

If you followed the Blazers this year, these are reminders of why we care so much. If you're just tuning in, we hope to give you reasons to fall for this team.

When Lillard shoots at the end of a game, fans call it "Dame Time." Now all of Portland—all of America, really—has set their clocks to watch. Here's why.

1. Because of the Shot.

Lillard defeated the Thunder by sinking a shot almost no one else in professional basketball would take. The NBA's 3-point line is less than 24 feet from the basket. Lillard's shot was from 37 feet. He was much closer to the half-court logo than he was to the rim.

That's part of why he was so wide open: His defender, an elite forward named Paul George, couldn't believe Lillard would fire from that distance. "That's a bad shot," George scoffed in the postgame press conference.

But most observers were awestruck.

"I haven't moved on," Blazers television analyst Lamar Hurd tells WW. "That shot is still the greatest basketball play that I have witnessed. I'm still sometimes dumbfounded thinking about it."

Damian Lillard is surrounded by teammates on the Moda Center court after hitting a long jumper to win a playoff series. (AP Images / Craig Mitchelldyer)
Damian Lillard is surrounded by teammates on the Moda Center court after hitting a long jumper to win a playoff series. (AP Images / Craig Mitchelldyer)

2. Because of how easy Lillard makes shots like that look.

As Lillard explained on CJ McCollum's podcast, the long bomb is a shot he routinely practices.

"I literally work on those shots," Lillard said. "So that's why when I was just standing there, I was like, 'Well, it's probably not good in a lot of people's eyes, but I'm comfortable with this and I'm confident in this.' So to me, it's a solid shot."

Nobody else in the league—with the exception of otherworldly Steph Curry—would call that shot "comfortable." But Lillard has been adding super-long shots to his repertoire all season, and increasingly deploying them during games. (After he hit one in the NBA All-Star Game, fans started calling him "Logo Lillard.")

In fact, when Lillard launched his buzzer-beater, he had already hit eight shots in the playoffs of 29 feet or longer.

Long-distance shots made by Damian Lillard in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. (WW Staff)
Long-distance shots made by Damian Lillard in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. (WW Staff)

3. Because Nurk showed up.

On March 26, in a win that sealed the Blazers a playoff spot, center Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg.

It was horrifying, an audible-on-the-broadcast snap and the visual recoil of seeing a leg displaced from itself. McCollum draped a towel over Nurkic's head so the cameras couldn't see him weep in pain. It was an unnerving scene, the horror compounded by the fact that it was happening to a goofy, fun-loving cartoon bear of a guy.

Cut to a month later. It was Game 5. Nurkic was sitting at his house in West Linn, watching the game on TV. He decided that, even in a cast, he could help. So he took a bunch of painkillers, got a ride to the arena, and plopped into his seat on the bench with three minutes left in the game. The Blazers showed him on the Jumbotron. Everyone went berserk. Blazers win.

Jusuf Nurkic arrived on the Blazers’ bench with minutes left in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. (Bruce Ely / Courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers)
Jusuf Nurkic arrived on the Blazers’ bench with minutes left in Game 5 against Oklahoma City. (Bruce Ely / Courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers)

"It's what turned the whole situation into a movie," says Hurd, the Blazers TV analyst. "In the movies, the good guys show up, somebody comes back from the dead. That was a movie."

The Blazers are a beloved franchise not because they have a storied history of victories, but because they have bootleg energy, the sense of a team and a city and a fan base creating a myth out of strange, incomplete moments. In Nurk's moment, he didn't do anything more than smile and clap. He didn't need to. CORBIN SMITH.

Damian Lillard in Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)
Damian Lillard in Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)

4.  Because the national press is finally paying its respects.

"After three first-round exits in four postseasons and consecutive sweeps that threatened to break him and his Blazers, five years after the moment that made him, Lillard now has another. And holy shit, is it a great one."

—Dan Devine, The Ringer

"Everything about the shot made you question your own eyes. This included the sight of Lillard, normally so taciturn, turning around to wave goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The sight of his wave might endure as a more iconic image than the one of the shot itself. The whole arena is on its feet in a frenzy, and Portland players are rushing toward him, but, like a surfer with the wave closing around him, he is still in his own space, and he makes that hand gesture."

—Thomas Beller, The New Yorker
"Damian Lillard is a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad baaaaaaaaaaaaaaadddddd man."

—Zach Lowe, ESPN

5. Because of the empty chair.

On Oct. 13, three days before the Blazers' season began, team owner Paul Allen, 65, died from complications of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. At every game, his courtside seat has sat empty.

"Sometimes I look over and I expect him to be in his seat," Lillard told website the Athletic this month, "because I'm used to him being there in the front row, and I'm reminded that he is gone. As a group, we play with that."

(Sam Gehrke)
(Sam Gehrke)

6. Because the owner spends money on players.

Before Allen's death, his willingness to spend on player salaries was unusual among owners. Billionaires can be stingy; Allen wasn't. The Blazers had the fourth-highest payroll in the NBA this year: $128 million.

And to everyone's surprise, the team kept spending after Allen died. His sister, Jody Allen, took control of his estate. Despite showing little prior interest in basketball, she opened her wallet for the Blazers.

League rules try to keep teams from buying a championship by imposing financial penalties on big spenders—called the "luxury tax." Even winning teams will jettison salaries via trades to keep from paying the tax.

But this year, the Blazers were buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. They picked up center Enes Kanter and forward Rodney Hood for lineup depth.

"For every dollar they spend on those two guys, they have to spend another $1.75 in luxury tax," says Eric Griffith, who covers the team for website Blazers Edge. "The fact they're willing to sign those guys is saying they're very serious about winning this season."

When Lillard hit his shot, Jody Allen was watching from the front row, next to her brother's empty chair.

Moda Center popcorn. (Sam Gehrke)
Moda Center popcorn. (Sam Gehrke)

7. Because the popcorn is so good.

Moda Center has the fourth-best popcorn of any NBA arena in the country, according to a true authority on the subject: Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry.

This month, the slightly more famous brother of the Trail Blazers' Seth Curry was outed as a popcorn fiend by The New York Times, which asked the superstar to spend the season analyzing and ranking the offerings at all 28 basketball arenas he visits throughout the year.

What's the secret to Moda Center's success? According to representatives, they've actually put some effort (and money) into improving the offerings. "Over the past three years, we've invested about $75,000 in new equipment which has improved the taste and quality of our popcorn," says Moda Center spokesman Michael Lewellen.

I can personally attest to this: A friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, kept the bag they serve the popcorn in and brought it to every game so he could get free refills for like three whole seasons, until the butter eventually ate a hole in the bottom. MATTHEW SINGER.

Portland’s animosity with Thunder guard Russell Westbrook increased during the playoff series. (Sam Gehrke)
Portland’s animosity with Thunder guard Russell Westbrook increased during the playoff series. (Sam Gehrke)

8. Because it's fun to punch the bully in the mouth.

The Blazers' first-round playoff triumph was extra satisfying because it came against a Thunder team that went out of its way to taunt and sneer at Portland players.

At every made shot, point guard Russell Westbrook—a longtime rival of Lillard's—crowed. He called Dame a "bitch" (the one word most likely to start a fistfight in the NBA) and gestured like he was rocking a baby to sleep. "He's so small!" Westbrook yelled. Another Thunder guard, Dennis Schroeder, mocked Lillard's signature wrist-tapping move. Paul George dunked after the clock ran out, at the end of the fourth quarter of Game 3 just to show off.

Then Lillard let his shot do the talking. One commentator compared it to Ralphie, the pint-sized hero of A Christmas Story, socking his childhood bully in the teeth.

"The NBA has become a soap opera," says Griffith. "There's like a pro-wrestling storyline, where Dame is the good guy and Russell Westbrook is the guy you just love to hate. He's a bully to the media, he has an intentionally bad attitude, he just goes out of his way to look like a villain. And the Blazers just smashed them."

Damian Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder after his buzzer-beater, inspiring art and memes. (@maggietaylor)
Damian Lillard waved goodbye to the Thunder after his buzzer-beater, inspiring art and memes. (@maggietaylor)

9. Because of all the bad words.

One clue to how bitter the feud between the Blazers and Thunder became: all the championship-level cussing. If you take any pleasure from a well-deployed expletive, these playoffs are for you. At least four of the f-bombs dropped by Blazers this postseason are candidates to become part of the local lexicon for years.

"I'm getting rid of these motherfuckers tomorrow."

—Damian Lillard, eating dinner the night before he eliminated the Thunder in Game 5, according to Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes

"By the end of the third quarter, I was like, 'Yo, man, fuck it,' pardon my French. 'I'm just gonna go out there and show up."

—Jusuf Nurkic, on a NBCSportsNW live television broadcast, explaining why he arrived in the  arena for the fourth quarter of Game 5

"The way I see it, it's basketball. I know I ain't no bitch-ass motherfucker, so it doesn't bother me."

—Lillard to Haynes, again, describing the insults flung at him by Westbrook

"That's my motherfucking brother!"

—Lillard's sister, La'Nae Lillard, rushing the court after the Shot. She posted the video as an Instagram Story.

Al-Farouq Aminu (8) and his teammates in Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)
Al-Farouq Aminu (8) and his teammates in Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)

10. Because Al-Farouq Aminu does all the small things.

Al-Farouq Aminu is the Blazers' best defensive player. He has been elite on that end for his entire career, long and canny and determined, playing a role and not really demanding anything outside of it. It's a heroic thing for a player to be, totally focused on providing wins at the edges of his team's stat sheet. CORBIN SMITH.

11. Because Aminu is bringing African art to Portland.

Aminu, who is descended from Nigerian royalty, opened an appointment-only pop-up gallery this year on Northwest Lovejoy Street with his wife to display their seven-year collection of modern African art. "We wanted to use our influence to shine a light on the incredible beauty, elegance and grace of Africa," Helena Aminu writes on Instagram.

12. Because CJ McCollum is a podcaster—just like you.

Every Portlander has a podcast. Not all of those podcasts attract guests like Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo and hip-hop artist Common. McCollum's weekly show—called Pull Up—is co-hosted by ESPN analyst Jordan Schultz, son of Starbucks mogul and presidential hopeful Howard Schultz. McCollum, a Lehigh University journalism major, is learning the art of the combative interview: His spat with Warriors forward Kevin Durant last July ended with the best hooper in the world whining: "I just did your fuckin' podcast." This alone makes CJ immortal.

Meyers Leonard in Game 2 against the Thunder. (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)
Meyers Leonard in Game 2 against the Thunder. (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)

13. Because Meyers Leonard deserves this.

For years, Leonard—a 7-foot center with relatively short arms and a recurring case of butterfingers—has been the scapegoat for Portland fans' frustrations.

"Blazers fans do this thing where they pick one player to love irrationally," says Dane Delgado, analyst for NBCSportsNW, "then they pick one player to hate irrationally." Leonard's bumbling and outsized contract made him an easy target for cruelty—both online and in the arena. Fans didn't just boo his every appearance on the court. Worse: They audibly groaned, as if bored by the inevitable failure.

But Leonard never stopped cheering for his teammates from the bench. His defense and court vision improved this year—he's turned into an on-the-floor mentor for the backups. And with Nurkic injured, Leonard has played crucial playoff minutes for the Blazers.

For stretches of Game 2 against the Thunder, he was dominant. He set crushing picks for Lillard and locked down OKC players on defense. And fans did something they should have done a while ago: They gave Leonard a standing ovation.

14. Because Terry Stotts is a hiker.

The Blazers' good-natured, innovative head coach loves hiking up Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. (So far, only Leonard is known to have joined him.) He typically hits the trail in May, when the wildflowers bloom. That could be tougher this year—his team might still be playing.

(WW Staff)
(WW Staff)

15. Because basketball subsidizes soccer.

OK, so you're more of a soccer person. Consider this: The Timbers and Thorns' stadium, Providence Park, is in the midst of an $85 million expansion. While the stadium is closed for construction, Portland City Hall uses revenue generated by events in the Rose Quarter—like Blazer games—to pay for operating costs and debt service at the soccer stadium across town. You're welcome, Timbers Army.

Providence Park expansion.
Providence Park expansion.

16. Because Lillard has a shoe that's a tribute to his childhood bicycle…

You probably know Lillard has his own line of Adidas sneakers. You may not know that the color schemes for each shoe are based on places and events in Lillard's life. Among the inspirations for the latest iteration, the Dame 5: his orange-and-red Mongoose bike, nearly stolen. "We went around the neighborhood and found it," Lillard recalls of his youth in Oakland.

17. …And roller skating…

The red-and-white shoe is called the "All Skate," and Lillard has a pair with wheels attached. He loves roller skating, and will show up on random Friday nights at the Oaks Park rink.

(Casey Holdahl)
(Casey Holdahl)

18.  …And Black Panther.

Portland designer Stephen Perona made Lillard a custom pair of purple-and-black kicks in March of 2018, based on the Marvel superhero. Adidas just debuted a retail pair. (Lillard has another version Perona made him: a gold shoe paying tribute to the movie's socially radical villain Eric Killmonger, who—like Lillard—is from Oakland.)

19. Because of a $100 million rebuke to Nike.

Lillard's shoe contract with Adidas is estimated at $100 million over 10 years. That figure matters for two reasons: First, it means a player can ink a massive endorsement deal even while living in a remote Pacific Northwest market. Second, it makes Lillard a rebel against the Nike empire. The Beaverton sportswear giant wields huge business and political clout in Oregon—but it doesn't have the state's most beloved star. That's got to sting Phil Knight.

Enes Kanter (sleveless) watches from the bench as the Trail Blazers face the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 7, 2019 at the Moda Center. (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)
Enes Kanter (sleveless) watches from the bench as the Trail Blazers face the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 7, 2019 at the Moda Center. (Bruce Ely / Trail Blazers)

20. Because of a worldwide rebuke to Erdogan.

The newest Portland Trail Blazer is center Enes Kanter. He's a prolific scorer and playing the Nuggets through a separated shoulder. He's also an outspoken critic of the strongman president of his native Turkey, Recep Erdogan.

Kanter, whom the Blazers picked up this spring from the New York Knicks, supports the opposition to Erdogan, who, after surviving a 2016 coup attempt, has cracked down hard on his critics, tossing them from government jobs and jailing thousands. His government also canceled Kanter's passport, Kanter has said, and issued a warrant for his arrest.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has taken up Kanter's cause on the floor of Congress. "Thanks," Kanter replied on Twitter, "for being the voice of all those innocent people." NIGEL JAQUISS.

Moda Center crowd at Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)
Moda Center crowd at Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)

21.  Because the whole world is watching.

Lillard's shot was broadcast live in China, Thailand, Mexico, Portugal and South Korea.

Here's the English translation of the Korean broadcast: "Lillard is taking his time. It's a long shot! Goal! It's a goal! Whoa, what an extraordinary…. You know what time it is? It's Lillard Time! Dame Time! Amazing! Dame Time! The first team selected for the second round in the Western Conference is the Portland Trail Blazers!"

22.   Because Harry Glickman was watching.

Harry Glickman turns 95 this month. A reporter-cum-promoter, he helped lure the NBA to Portland in 1970. Last year, he told Portland Monthly that he had to beg for a franchise from the owner of the New York Knicks, who asked, "How am I going to put the name 'Portland' on the marquee at Madison Square Garden?" Last week, replays of Lillard's dagger caught a white-haired man in a red sweater, sitting in the front row and staring as the shot dropped. Happy birthday, Harry.

23-28. Because of everything that's gone wrong.

Look, we don't really want to go over all this again. You're welcome to skip past it if it's upsetting. But the sweetness of this victory only makes sense if you're familiar with all the suffering. So much suffering. Really, you should skip ahead.

Bill Walton
Bill Walton

1978: The year after the Blazers won the NBA championship, they were even better—and led by Bill Walton, the gigantic redheaded hippie. Then he broke his foot. Then he left town.

1984: The Blazers drafted a gangly 7-foot center named Sam Bowie. He was often injured. The next pick in the draft? Michael Jordan. He was not often injured.

2000: The Blazers held a 15-point lead on Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers, with one quarter to play. They lost.

2004: The entire era known as the "Jail Blazers" is regrettable. One low point: Oregonian columnist John Canzano showed up at Damon Stoudamire's locker to have him take a drug test—because of a cannabis arrest.

2009: The Blazers drafted another center, Greg Oden. (The next pick in the draft? Kevin Durant.) Oden went up for a rebound, and when he landed, his kneecap shattered into pieces. It was a home game.

2015: The year after Lillard hit a buzzer-beater to give the Blazers a playoff series win, they were even better. Then Wesley Matthews, a tough-as-nails guard, tore his Achilles' tendon. His teammate—the face of the franchise, LaMarcus Aldridge—then left town.

Moda Center crowd at Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)
Moda Center crowd at Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)

29.   Because Portland is happier.

Last Tuesday night, a man bounced an inflated ball a few times, and then he threw that ball a great distance through a small metal ring. The 20,000 humans gathered in a riverside bunker made of concrete and steel—a massive structure that was specifically designed to house ball-bouncing and ball-throwing—exploded into cheers, jumped up and down, hugged strangers, screamed profanities. Open weeping, even. The ball-throwing man, who had performed this act many times in the past, became an instant legend of ball-throwing because of the timing involved with this particular heave.

Basketball, like life, is meaningless. Damian Lillard's series-winning shot didn't teach us a valuable lesson.

But basketball, like life, takes on whatever meaning you assign to it. That shot seemed to change the spirits of this whole city in a tangible way. Left us elated, even elevated. Changed the way we felt about ourselves and the place we live. It was a perfect moment, for those of us who wanted it—or maybe needed it.

I was there, again, up in the rafters. In the final seconds, before Dame let it fly, I ran down the stairs of my section and held on to a railing and squatted down like a little kid peeking over a fence. I knew it was going in. We all knew it was going in. We all knew it didn't really mean anything. We all knew it meant everything. We all knew we'd talk about it for the rest of our lives.

A fan at the Moda Center for Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)
A fan at the Moda Center for Game 5. (Sam Gehrke)

Sometimes I'm not sure whether I'm a basketball fan or just a basketball addict.

First, it was the flow of the game: hypnotic and beautiful, sort of spiritual. I liked that it was a space wherein young black men—America's favorite foils and most frequent victims—expressed themselves and literally held court. I liked the intangible element of chemistry. And then moments began to make patterns. Now I've been watching for 20 years. There are patterns in career arcs: the way the lovable rookie becomes the hubristic superstar, and then—if our hearts make room for it and his knees hold up—the humble veteran.

We assign these roles to players, of course, the same way we assign meaning to a game of moments. As a Blazer fan, I've decided the game teaches lessons involving patience. Celebrate the small victories as large ones. Never take your health for granted. And when you find someone you really love, trust them.

So I spent last Tuesday night in a concrete bunker packed with 20,000 other humans. We cheered like idiots. I cried a little. I made sure to take a long look around to let it soak in—because you just don't get to experience pure joy on that scale very often. When I judge myself for spending so much time on something so meaningless, I just try and think about basketball like it's abstract art. Only I've never seen 20,000 people screaming and crying in an art gallery before. Go Blazers. CASEY JARMAN.

(Sam Gehrke)
(Sam Gehrke)

30.   Because they sing karaoke—just like you.

Lillard, of course, is a rapper, spitting bars under the name Dame DOLLA. But the other Blazers sing, too—at least according to a questionnaire compiled by the team this year for game day programs. Here are the players' go-to karaoke songs:

Lillard: "Pony" by Ginuwine

McCollum: "Hot in Herre" by Nelly

Nurkic: Beyoncé (he did not specify a song)

Aminu: "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston

Moe Harkless: "Contagious" by the Isley Brothers

Evan Turner: "Wonderwall" by Oasis

Zach Collins: "Come Thru (Nothing Was the Same)" by Drake

Enes Kanter (left) watches Evan Turner drive to the basket. (Sam Gehrke)
Enes Kanter (left) watches Evan Turner drive to the basket. (Sam Gehrke)

31. Because they have the most Muslims in the NBA.

Sports website the Undefeated counted 18 Muslims in the NBA in 2017. This year, three of them play in Portland: Kanter, Nurkic and Aminu. "That representation is powerful because on most teams you're hard-pressed to find any Muslim players," says Zakir Khan, board chairman of the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "Growing up, I was a fan of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, and seeing him find success in the NBA inspired me to chase my passions. If a Muslim could play ball in the highest league in the world, I could accomplish something at the highest level too."

32. Because Lillard collects tattoos—just like you.

Even by the ornate standards of the NBA, Lillard's tattoos stand out—his most recent national TV commercial, for Hulu, revolves around him getting inked. Lillard's chest and arms are a tapestry of his roots and inspirations, expanding each summer. Here are five of the most prominent.

Lillard’s tattoos include Psalms 37:1-3 on his left shoulder. (Sam Gehrke)
Lillard’s tattoos include Psalms 37:1-3 on his left shoulder. (Sam Gehrke)

Left shoulder and arm: The first three verses of the biblical Psalm 37. "Do not fret because of evildoers. Be not envious toward wrongdoers. For they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb. Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in him, and he will do it. He will bring forth your righteousness at the light as your judgment at the noon day."

Chest: The Jack London Oak, the iconic downtown tree in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. "Oakland," the script adds, "Heart of the city."

Back of neck: An electrocardiogram pulse that turns into a heart.

Right arm: The Oakland Raiders football team logo.

Right arm: "Fly Guy," the nickname Lillard and his friends—both in Oakland and at Weber State University—would call each other.

A fan and his beer. (Sam Gehrke)
A fan and his beer. (Sam Gehrke)

33. Because of Maui's.

The best place to watch Blazers games, with the possible exception of Moda Center, is a dive bar along the condo canyon of North Williams Avenue.

Everything is too dark and lit by a faint, sinister neon glow. A porch outside feels as if it were thrown together that afternoon. Several screens play the game, piping in the home feed through the speakers. People cheer like they're watching bin Laden die after every made basket. One guy, somewhere in the darkness, blitzed out of his mind, screams, "Go Lakers!" Shit, they don't even care if you bring in outside food. Its dark, smelly essence is so out of control it mutates into something strange and perfect. Highly recommended. CORBIN SMITH.

4. Because the Blazers love brunch—just like you.

Ask Blazer players where they like to eat, and the typical reply is the Babica Hen—an unpretentious family restaurant in Lake Oswego where the menu is heavy on omelets. This is a breakfast team, not a nightlife team. (But sources tell WW players can most often be spotted partying at Division Heights, a rooftop nightclub at the SolTerra building in Southeast Portland, above Cuban cocktail bar Palomar.)

(Abby Gordon)
(Abby Gordon)

35. Because this is a family affair.

When athletes move to Portland, they don't arrive alone.

Lillard and McCollum both lived with their mothers—who became friends. They aren't the only guys close to their moms. Moe Harkless, the Blazers' small forward, was raised by a single mother in Queens, N.Y. Every Father's Day, he calls her up. "He says 'Ma, happy Father's Day,''' Rosa Harkless told NBCSportsNW in 2016. "He doesn't say anything more. Doesn't have to.''

Lillard, Seth Curry and Rodney Hood are all parents of young children. (Hood has 1-year-old twins.) Lillard is honing his dad jokes. For Valentine's Day, he wrote a poem to his girlfriend on Instagram: "Roses are red and violets are blue/There'd be no Dame Jr. if I didn't do you."

Maurice Harkless celebrates. (Justin Tucker / Trail Blazers)
Maurice Harkless celebrates. (Justin Tucker / Trail Blazers)

36. Because they're coming back.

A first-round playoff victory—especially one without Nurkic at center—does more than give Blazer fans another round of basketball. It offers the chance to see them again next year.

Nobody knows what Jody Allen and general manager Neil Olshey will decide, of course. But multiple reporters covering the team tell WW that the first-round win has provided the front office with evidence that a team featuring two undersized guards—Lillard and McCollum—can triumph in the meat grinder of the NBA postseason.

"The way they outclassed a team that everybody thought was better than them solidified the idea that this roster can work," says NBCSportsNW's Delgado. "That's no longer in question. All the guys Damian Lillard likes are going to stick around."

Al-Farouq Aminu (seated) greets Lillard in the Blazers locker room after they defeated the Thunder. (Bruce Ely / courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers)
Al-Farouq Aminu (seated) greets Lillard in the Blazers locker room after they defeated the Thunder. (Bruce Ely / courtesy of Portland Trail Blazers)

37. Because Damian Lillard loves the Blazers.

Well, duh. Of course Lillard loves his own team. It sounds too obvious to mention.

But this loyalty isn't something Blazers fans are used to. The best Trail Blazers rarely stick around.

Totemic center Bill Walton had an ugly, public breakup with the franchise after team doctors couldn't fix his broken foot. Clyde Drexler, chief among the team's elite talents of the 1990s, just wanted to go back to Texas. LaMarcus Aldridge? He said he wanted to be the greatest Blazer ever—then he left, too.

Portlanders got used to being told this white, remote city in the forest just wasn't a place pro basketball players wanted to be.

Plus, the NBA is now a league defined by fickle affections. Players saw how franchises discard them after injuries or age, and they responded by scheming to form "super-teams" of All-Star-caliber talent. Just months after the New Orleans Pelicans swept the Blazers out of last year's playoffs, their best player, Anthony Davis, declared he wanted out.

(Sam Gehrke)
(Sam Gehrke)

Then, this February, Damian Lillard sat down with Yahoo's Chris Haynes and said he wouldn't ask for a trade. "It could affect too many people," he said. "I compete to win a championship, but I've learned that it's about so many other things. The relationships, the impact that you have on other people and their lives, and the impact that you can have on their careers. So, for me, I enjoy that."

This is unusual. The best athletes in the world don't talk about friendship. They don't make decisions based on how their choices will affect people less talented than they are. They don't pull their teammates aside during a close game to say they love them. But Lillard does.

"Damian Lillard," Nurkic told reporter Jason Quick last season, "is the best thing that has happened to me in my life.''

And when a person behaves in this unlikely way, with such uncommon decency—when everyone who works with him basically says he changed their lives—well, you start to worry for the guy a little. He's doing so much. And so much is out of his control.

So that's what you have to understand about last week's shot. With seconds left in a basketball game, Lillard had more than the ball in his hands. He had the opportunity to keep his team together. He held the future. He stopped, 37 feet away from the basket, and rose up.

A man makes the greatest shot of his life for his friends.

That's love.

(Sam Gehrke)
(Sam Gehrke)

Correction: The print edition of this story misstated Damian Lillard's age. He is 28, not 29.