On monday, a segment of Pardon The Interruption, heard hosts Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon take up the topic of Damian Lillard, clinching game-winner Friday against the Rockets and his status as a potential national star. You can listen to the audio here, though there’s a transcription of the interview below. Afterwards, I’ll let the tweets tell the story of how you might want to take these opinions with a grain of salt.
Tony Kornheiser: Let’s go backwards now to the most exciting single play of the weekend. Damian Lillard’s buzzer-beater in Game 6 to send your over-hyped Houston Rockets home.
Michael Wilbon: My Rockets?
Kornheiser: Chandler Parsons had just hit what seemed to be the game-winner but Lillard came back with .9 seconds to win. Wilbon, is Damian Lillard now a national star?
Wilbon: Not quite, not quite. A game can do that, a shot can do that. We saw that at a different level with Austin Rivers. Austin Rivers people probably knew more than Damian Lillard because he’s the son of a famous coach.
Kornheiser: That was a college game but that was the number one college game of the year.
Wilbon: But that makes you a star, right?
Kornheiser: That’s right. Right.
Wilbon: This shot, which is being called — and you and I have been to Portland, we’ve seen great Portland teams and games in Portland — it is being called the biggest shot, the most important shot, in the history of that franchise. Not yet, Tony.
Kornheiser: That’s ridiculous.
Wilbon: I’m telling you what it’s being called in Portland.
Kornheiser: That’s ridiculous! Because they won a championship with Bill Walton.
Wilbon: But maybe there was no one shot associated with that team.
Kornheiser: I can’t listen.
Wilbon: I know that’s one of your favorite teams. But hold on for a second. Lillard can get to stardom from where he is now. Bill Walton has been a star in Portland. Clyde Drexler, lesser star, but a star. You can be a star in Portland. If Kevin Durant can be a star in OKC, Portland is a bigger place than Oklahoma City.
Kornheiser: Damian Lillard is not now a star for two specific reasons. One, he went to Weber State, which is not Duke and not Kansas, not Texas if you want to mention Durant. He doesn’t come into the league with anything.
Wilbon: He had no hype coming in.
Kornheiser: And now he’s in Portland, which is an outpost. And they play their games at 11 o’clock at night Eastern. Now, you go down the coast, the Lakers have stars and the Clippers have stars, but in Portland, not a place with a lot of stars in the background other than Bill Walton, it’s harder.
Wilbon: It’s harder.
Kornheiser: Adidas has just given him about a trillion dollars.
Wilbon: Adidas, like Nike, they’re right there.
Kornheiser: And maybe because they’re afraid that Derrick Rose is never really going to play again, so they got somebody with the same color scheme and they want to make him into a star. But for Damian Lillard, now in Portland, to be a national star, they’ve got to get to the Finals. Got to get to the Finals.
Wilbon: But if they beat the Spurs …
Kornheiser: LaMarcus Aldridge is better known than Damian Lillard!
Wilbon: You would think he’d be higher up the totem pole.
Kornheiser: And he’s (Aldridge) not a star. He’s not a star!
Wilbon: But there’s something about Lillard. The commercial, by the way, is very good, you admit, right?
Wilbon: They got THOSE people to be in that commercial. Pretty impressive.
Kornheiser: Yes, but he’s not, no, not yet, not a star yet.
Wilbon: Population theory or just northeast bias?
Kornheiser: No, no, no. Outpost! Do you think it’s northeast bias when I say that the Lakers and the Clippers have stars?
Wilbon: It was hard for you. The Lakers …
Kornheiser: The Clippers have stars.
Wilbon: You’re like all the other northeast writer, just annex the Lakers in like they’re yours.
Kornheiser: Yeah, pretty much.
Wilbon: Because you see some east coast people sitting on the front row.
Kornheiser: I tell you what, go to Portland, live.
Wilbon: Portland is a beautiful place.
Kornheiser: Yeah, except when it rains 300 days a year. I love you Portland! Love you!
National Star status notwithstanding, the commentary isn’t exactly easily quantified. Count the names on your hand, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul…that’s about it. So it might not have much to do with region. Can you call Paul George’s credentials into question since he played for Indianapolis, a market smaller than Portland? How about Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving? They even make the point themselves about Kevin Durant in (smaller than portland) Oklahoma City! It’s tough to say, as regional rules might disqualify Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and/or Tim Duncan, who’s apparently being given a run for his money.
LaMarcus Aldridge is 1st NBA player with 30+ points, 13+ rebounds, 100% FT (min. 10 FT) in playoff game since Tim Duncan (5/28/05 vs. PHO).
— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) May 3, 2014
The fact of the matter is that Kornheiser’s days where regional clout equated to or was proportional to potential national stardom are just over. Weber State, Duke, Kansas, Texas, a star can come from anywhere. Basically, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, as Lillard can attest to…
As for Aldridge, his reputation precedes him with three straight All-star appearances, maybe he isn’t quite a household name YET, but that should count for something right? You couldn’t tell it from his attitude, a gentleman, and professional athlete through and through.
So is Lillard’s Beater in game six the top shot in franchise history? I suppose you could argue there are better, if you wanted to pick knits. The fact remains, Lillard made an incredible play, at the last possible moment, and propelled the Trailblazers into a first Western Conference semifinals in 14 years, saving them from an almost certain loss on Houston’s home court. Once again, that ain’t bad.
Damian Lillard is the only Trail Blazer with a buzzer-beater to win a playoff series in franchise history (Elias). — Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) May 3, 2014
I get it, it’s their job to be critical, but they may be stretching a bit here. The fact stands, Portland is a force to be reckoned with, and we will make ourselves known. Kornheiser, you love us? You love us? You live in D.C. sir, you can’t “Blame it on the Rain” when you choose to live in D.C., the PNW is a tropical paradise in comparison. I will concede on this point, “…they’ve got to get to the Finals. Got to get to the Finals.”
Although they have a hard road ahead, the atmosphere in Portland is UNDENIABLE, Rip city is ready to burst. Finally, there is definitely one thing that gives me hope. The numbers don’t lie.
LaMarcus Aldridge has shot 55.7% from the field in his career vs. San Antonio (25 games), his best mark against any team in the NBA.
— Trail Blazers PR (@TrailBlazersPR) May 6, 2014
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