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Damian Lillard on Fan Criticism: People Don't Consider That We Have Lives Too

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 3, 2021

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) during an NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard lamented the inability of some fans to consider the concerns that might be weighing on an athlete outside of their given sport.

"It's been a hard year and a half for my family, man. People have no idea," Lillard told The Athletic's Jason Quick.

The six-time All-Star added, "I think there's a lot of people who don't take into consideration that we have lives, too."

On the court, Lillard is putting together another impressive season. He's averaging 29.6 points and a career-high 8.1 assists while shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point territory. Even though Portland is sixth in the Western Conference (19-14), the 30-year-old guard is inserting himself into the MVP conversation.

However, Quick explained the backdrop of off-court tragedies that inevitably affect Lillard's mental health:

"His emotions had been worn thin because, in the past 18 months, it seemed like he had lived a lifetime. In 2020, he was the first to discover the dead body of his cousin and personal chef. An aunt died from cancer. A family friend died of COVID-19. And in the early months of 2021, a cousin was killed in West Oakland.

"And then last Thursday, the day before the Lakers game, Lillard learned of the shooting deaths of two people in his inner circle. One was a cousin close enough to Lillard to be at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner in Portland in November. The other was like family — the best friend of perhaps his closest cousin, who was among the first family members to move to Portland when Lillard was drafted by the Trail Blazers in 2012."

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Especially in the NBA, players are feeling more empowered to be open about their mental health.

DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love participated in a 2018 public service announcement for the league that focused on mental wellness.

Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving took a break earlier this season, telling reporters in January he had "a lot of family and personal stuff going on."

Minnesota Timberwolves star Karl-Anthony Towns said in December he had "seen a lot of coffins in the last seven months," alluding to the deaths of his mother, Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, and six other family members from COVID-19.

Then in February, he opened up about how difficult it was to reveal his positive COVID-19 diagnosis to close family given what they had already been through. He shared a statement on Twitter telling his niece and nephew he wouldn't "end up in a box next to grandma and I will beat this."

Karl-Anthony Towns @KarlTowns

🙏🏽 https://t.co/bk0tzC6jiV

Especially with the growth of social media, fans have more access to their favorite athletes than ever before. But athletes aren't obligated to open the door into their personal lives.

Lillard's comments echo a point Love made in his 2018 piece for the Players' Tribune: "Everyone is going through something that we can't see."

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