On Friday, Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Blazers had decided on Chauncey Billups to be their new head coach and were working to finalize a deal over the weekend. What followed was a social media mess of epic proportions, with a section of the fanbase blasting the organization for hiring someone with a sexual assault allegation stemming from an alleged incident in 1997. While most of the outrage was directed towards Blazers’ general manager Neil Olshey, some fans turned on Damian Lillard, questioning his morals and character for supporting the hiring of a candidate with an allegation as serious as Billups’. This led to Lillard tweeting out that he had no knowledge of the allegation when he recommended Billups, and culminated in a Chris Haynes tweet stating that the backlash and concerns over whether a championship contender can be built in Portland are factors that could “force Damian Lillard to request out”.
On the outside looking in, it seems like an apocalyptical scenario for the organization. For Blazers fans, the feeling is similar, especially on a day where temperatures were obliterating all-time records in the Portland-metro area. Lillard has been labeled as the most loyal superstar in the NBA, spurring off suggestions that he’d want out of Portland to go form a “superteam”. Lillard’s destiny has always seemed to be someone that would go down as the best Blazer ever, and hopefully win a championship while doing it. Now, reports suggest he’s on the brink of demanding a trade, and it’s hard to blame him.
First, lets address the allegations towards Chauncey Billups. I’m not going to get into the details of the incident (if you want them, they’re one Google search away). Here’s my takeaways from the situation: I don’t know. I don’t know whether the allegations are true or false. I’m not going to argue one or the other. My only takeaways from this is that a settlement isn’t an admission of guilt for numerous reasons, and nothing was ever proven. Since this alleged incident, Billups has been an upstanding citizen, a family man, and a great leader by all accounts, who has been vetted by multiple organizations that have looked into this incident and know more about it than the general public.
In a country where “innocent until proven guilty” is more of an idea than modus operandi, I’m not going to take a 24-year-old allegation that may or may not be true and hold it over Billups’ head. If that’s what you want to do because you think the allegation is true, I don’t blame you. I’m not judging people who have an issue with this hire, I completely understand why someone would. The court of public opinion is going to have a variety of opinions on how to judge a complicated situation from so long ago, and a difference of opinions isn’t inherently wrong. However, for most people with an opinion on this matter, opposing views are wrong, immoral, and horrible. The fact that some have extended that line of thinking towards Damian Lillard is ridiculous.
The following is my own speculation, but I think it’s the most likely way the coaching search played out. I whole-heartedly believe that the front office involved Lillard in the coaching search in regards to how candidates would go about coaching the team and approaching the game of basketball. Getting Lillard’s insight on these things is extremely important. I also believe that the organization vetted and dug deep into the allegations regarding Billups outside of whatever interview Lillard sat in on, which would lead to Lillard having no idea about the allegations. While some people who spend hours a day on Twitter are shocked that he didn’t hear about it through the social media platform or elsewhere, I trust Dame when he says he hadn’t.
Regardless, Lillard has proven his character time and time again. A finalist for the NBA Cares Community Assist Award, Lillard has been a staple in the community, creating his RESPECT program to mentor Portland-area high school students, has been a vocal supporter and donor for Special Olympics Oregon, has been an ambassador for the Moda Assist Program helping to build an all-abilities playground in Astoria, and has shown widespread support for women breaking NBA barriers and for the WNBA.
Lillard is a guy who cares. He cares about his family and the people around him, and cares about our community as well. This is unquestionable to anyone who’s paid attention to his career as a Portland Trail Blazer… or so I thought. Somehow, after all that Dame has done for the city of Portland, a two-decades-old allegation that may or may not be true and who Dame himself said he didn’t know about has turned into a section Blazer fans questioning his morality and character.
Putting myself in his shoes, I would feel stabbed in the back. After everything that Lillard has done for this community and how loyal he’s been to the Blazers organization and their fans, for everything he’s done to get thrown out the window by a section of that fanbase and for his character to be questioned over this situation is shameful.
Now, we have to remember that the majority of Blazer fans are pushing back and feel the way I do about this. A lot of the outrage towards Lillard is also coming from opposing NBA fanbases who want to see him leave Portland, so to act like the majority of Blazer fans are questioning Lillard’s character over this hiring would be a lie. Unfortunately, there seems to be enough of them to have caught Lillard’s attention. Hopefully it won’t result in Lillard ending his career as a Trail Blazer and requesting a trade, but if it did, it’d be hard to blame him.