The Damian Lillard vs. Russell Westbrook in-your-face rivalry made the Thunder/Trail Blazer series the most entertaining of the first round. It was everything you could want in a mano-a-mano showdown. Lillard won the matchup with a TKO in the fifth game.
The NBA thrives on rivalries. The league needs them. And now two of its best point guards have an intense one…
“Now that the series is over, it was funny to me that people wanted to make it like such a negative thing between us. Me and Russ are really cool off of the court. But when we get on the court, I don’t expect anything else from him and he doesn’t expect anything else from me. There’s no dislike….
“I’m just telling you what the truth is. On the court, I’ll talk trash to him and he’ll talk trash to me. He rocked the baby and Dennis Schroder tapped his wrist [imitating Dame Time] and all of that stuff [but] that’s all trash talk; that’s not dislike. Everyone was trying to turn it into us not liking each other and all of that stuff when we’re actually cool. Now that the series is over, I’m just making that clear.”
Welcome to the modern NBA.
Some guys dislike each other here and there, but mostly these players feel like they’re in a rare fraternity, and there is a bond with other players. Especially elite players. There’s respect. They played each other on the AAU circuit and at the Nike Peach Jam or Adidas Nations, then in college, and now in the pros. They know this is a business and the guy you’re going hard at today could be your teammate tomorrow.
As Dan Patrick says, that’s not the illusion we want as fans. Portland fans want Lillard to hate Westbrook the way they hate Westbrook. The reality is the players don’t view it that way. Players go hard at each other on the court — the way you went harder at your brother/friends in pick-up games than you did strangers — but it all stays between the lines.
The one thing the players and fans agree on? They hate the referees.