This article by Jutt Sulit appears in SLAM PH #201
Damian Lillard arrived in Manila, a completely different timezone, fifteen hours ahead of Portland where he plays, and Oakland, which he reps on his chest. Jutt Sulit was there, waiting and ready to welcome him to a land that is all ball, all day, all night. Upon landing however, it was Lillard who checked his clock and once again saw – as he does anywhere, regardless of the hour, of the place – it was Dame Time.
On December 16, 2012, in Portland, Oregon, Dame Time was born.
The tension was high inside the Rose Garden. The Portland Trail Blazers and the New Orleans Hornets were tied at 92 with 4.2 ticks left in the game.
With one last shot at a regulation win, Portland head coach Terry Stotts gave his 21-year-old rookie the biggest responsibility – the inbound.
The kid had a couple of options. He had Nic Batum cutting to the corner. He had Luke Babbit, a decent shooter, floating on the wing to receive the initial pass. But as fate would have it, the ball landed back in the hands of young Damian Lillard.
Lillard took one dribble towards his left, took a Babbit pick as he crossed over to his right, and launched a long bomb over the best defense that Ryan Anderson could throw at him.
Swish. Blazers win.
And there it was. Lillard’s first NBA game-winner.
The birth of Dame Time.
Since then, Dame Time has been seen in and against cities all over the United States. Just ask Cleveland, Detroit, and above all, Houston. I guarantee you all of them still remember the sting of a Damian dagger.
Last June 13, it was our turn to experience Dame Time. Not in the form of a game-winner or a series-sealing three. But by being graced by the presence of the forefather himself – Damian Lillard.
Dame’s stop in Manila was part of the adidas Take On Summer Tour 2016. The same tour that brought in Ricky Rubio last year.
adidas Philippines is always eager to bring in athletes who would have a strong connection with the Filipino fans. With Dame, that correlation is natural. It lies in his background, his beliefs and his climb to the top.
Like us Filipinos, Dame celebrates the struggle. He appreciates the grind. He understands that success is a product of daily hardships and equally, necessarily, daily hardwork.
That connected him to his legion of Filipino fans.
Before heading to the Araneta Coliseum, the former NBA Rookie of the Year spent time with some of Manila’s young and upcoming hoopers. They hung out at the People Power monument along EDSA and celebrated a shared love for the game.
— adidas Philippines (@adidasph) June 14, 2016
“Hinamon kami ni Dame to show our skills,” recalled Brgy. Ginebra rookie Scottie Thompson. “He wanted to see our handles so nag dribbling exhibition kami doon isa isa. Then after namin, siya naman.”
At that moment, Dame wasn’t a global basketball icon among aspirant Filipino players. He wasn’t an NBA star among fans. They were all just ballers. No divide.
“Dame is a genuinely nice person,” shared UP Fighting Maroons guard Diego Dario. “He never made us feel like we were strangers to him. He felt like a friend you’ve known for a long time.”
From there, Lillard made his way to the mecca of Philippine basketball where thousands of followers awaited him.
Dame had already delivered wisdom to the guys he spent the afternoon with. Come evening, it was time to extend that message to his Filipino fans.
The lights dimmed inside The Big Dome and the LEDs lit up. Out came Dame. The place blew up. Everyone went crazy. It was a lot like the Moda Center everytime Dame would deliver a buzzer-beater.
Every soul in attendance was lucky to have seen Lillard in the flesh. But there were even luckier fans who had the privilege of experiencing Dame Time on higher level.
“We welcomed Dame with high fives like they do it in the NBA, when they call out starters,” shared Gian Magno, a Lillard loyalist. “It was a check off of my bucket list.”
Dame put on a show and competed in a three-point exhibition against PBA stars Josh Urbiztondo and Chris Tiu. Unfortunately for Lillard, Tiu got the better of him in this event.
— adidas Philippines (@adidasph) June 14, 2016
Dame got his revenge when the two coached against each other in an exhibition game that featured PBA and collegiate stars. Some standouts from the recently concluded adidas Uprising Summer Invitational were also thrown in the mix.
PBA players Justin Melton, Alex Mallari and Jericho Cruz bannered Dame’s team. On the other side, Chris’ squad featured Kevin Ferrer and Aljon Mariano.
Lillard’s competitiveness spilled all over the game, and to think he didn’t even touch the ball once; he didn’t have to. He had no plans of losing. He kept calling out his guys for cruising and not taking the game seriously.
When he subbed Dario into the game, he told the young buck, “If no one wants to play, you gotta step up and take over.”
And despite being on the opposite end, the guys on Tiu’s team weren’t spared from Dame’s nuggets of wisdom.
Mariano will always remember what Dame personally told him. “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”
You see, we’re easily blinded by Dame’s cold-bloodedness. By his ridiculous skill-set and his ability to take over in the clutch. We tend to think that Dame Time is a mode that he simply switches on when the need arises.
It’s not. What he wants us to understand is that Dame Time is not the last 4.2 seconds of a tied game. It’s not the final two minutes of a tightly contested playoff game.
Dame Time is actually the thousands of hours leading up to that moment when you need that big shot.
Dame Time is the when you put in the work, the sacrifices, the blood-sweat-tears supersize combo number 1 in order to find comfort in the uncomfortable.
And in that definition of Dame Time, it still means coming up big in the clutch because then it’s not just a game on the line. It’s a career. It’s a life.
Damian Lillard ended his Manila tour in an unconventional way. He switched into Dame DOLLA, rap god, and performed. It wasn’t #FourBarFriday on his Instagram account, but I think we’ve determined by now: Time is relative, and it bends and folds according to Lillard’s command.
The performance reminded me of a verse from his very first song Solider In The Game.
“Experience in my life prepared me for the high life. All the times I struggled just prepared me for the highlights.”
That is Dame DOLLA’s rhyme. That is Damian Lillard’s message. That time. All the time. To be all-time.