One of the wonderful things about the game of basketball is that it’s so simple to play. A ball and a hoop, along with a little passion for the sport, is all anyone has ever needed in order to develop a formidable set of skills. No better living proof of this will you find than presumable Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, who taught himself how to shoot at his grandmother’s house in Oakland, California. During last night’s Blazers game I happened to see a promo video in which Lillard described the makeshift conditions. “I learned to shoot on a tree,” he said. At first, I didn’t think much of it. Plenty of kids’ first hoops are attached to trees, garages, or other vertical surfaces. However, as Lillard continued, it became clear that his situation was a little more unusual. In search of some clarification, I entered “Damian Lillard tree” into Google. My query produced some relevant insight. Via CBS Sports…
As a boy, Lillard learned to play basketball at his grandmother’s house. There was a tree that had an awkwardly grown branch which naturally curled into a makeshift rim. Hitting the branch meant missing the shot. So Lillard grew to shoot the ball better — completely accurately. Eventually the tree was cut down. And so a milk crate was nailed to a telephone pole. Continual adaptation.
So there you have it; the NBA’s premier rookie, the 22-year-old who’s professional resume already includes a buzzer-beating game-winner, learned how to shoot on a tree in his grandma’s front yard. According to Lillard’s own story from an interview on a Portland radio station, he had no choice but to be creative as he was prohibited from going to the park by himself due to the dangers of his neighborhood. Clearly, he’s better for it today.
Next time you watch Damian Lillard score his 18.1 points, picture a small kid tossing a ball at a tree, and be inspired. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.