Portland Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey stepped onto the court with Damian Lillard before Thursday night’s tip-off and the crowd, a crowd that hasn’t had much to celebrate the last few years, let itself be heard.
The moment was meant to present the point guard with Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors, but the meaning behind the quick, intense burst of applause was as much about the future as it was about November.
During a 16-game stretch to open the season, which announced his arrival in a league already bursting with dominant point guards, Lillard averaged 18.4 points, 5.9 assists and 1.38 steals per game. And now, with their latest potential savior being honored before playing the Denver Nuggets, the crowd grew surprisingly intense.
Lillard, a highly touted question mark when he was taken with the No. 6 pick in the 2012 NBA draft, has turned his short NBA career into a burst of positivity for a franchise largely defined by serious busts, bad knees and terrible choices.
At least so far, the best rookie in the league is a sign that maybe, just maybe, all that hollow hope could be behind the Trail Blazers and their fans.