Damian Lillard has spent his career defying NBA trends. In an era defined by star movement, he has played his entire career for the Portland Trail Blazers. In an era in which players are judged more and more based on whether they have won championships, he has made it clear he’s found satisfaction in the pursuit while coming up short. He’s a throwback player in a league no longer designed to accommodate them.And on an appearance on JJ Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast, he lamented that. He’s worried about the state of the basketball discourse and the ways in which fans condense players into simple counts of how many rings they’ve won.
“While I understand we play to win championships, we all want to win the championship, we can’t keep acting like nothing matters, like the rest of the stuff, the journey doesn’t matter,” Lillard said. “We can’t keep doing that. There’s so many ways that the league is different. There’s so many ways. I think about it all the time, like, man, I don’t know if I can just play a long, long time because I don’t enjoy what the NBA as a whole is becoming.”The league and player’s union are currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement, and one of the topics surely being addressed is how to reengage fans across the entire season rather than just the spring. The idea of an in-season tournament has been thrown around for that exact purpose. Others believe that the schedule needs to be shortened, and back-to-backs eliminated entirely, in order to ensure maximum night-to-night participation from star players as load management has become increasingly common.
These are possible fixes on the league’s end, but it’s going to be hard to untangle the league from the rings culture it has created itself. Load management started out of the desire to prioritize the postseason over the regular season. Players prioritized championships in deciding where to play, and that only made it harder for every other player to keep up. Teams frequently trade half-a-decade’s worth of picks for the shot at one championship. The league and its key characters all prioritize championships above all else, so it’d be hard to get fans to stop doing the same.