I am a diehard Portland Trail Blazer fan. I see Rip City logos and I get excited. I see clips of Damian Lillard hitting the buzzer-beater 3-pointer to beat the Houston Rockets in game seven and advance to the second round, and my heart races a bit faster. I follow and admire them similar to the way my 12-year-old self followed and admired Justin Bieber.
The athletes are more than just basketball players doing their job — to many fans, myself included, they have been manifested into something of a Hollywood star. If I were to see any Blazer out in public I would be just as stupidly excited and flustered as I would be if I were to see an actor in Hollywood.
Sitting on the sidelines of the Idaho women’s basketball game against Weber State, I noticed something on the court that caught my eye and mentally took me out of the game for a few minutes. The vast majority of the Weber State players were wearing Dames on their feet.
Why do the shoes the opposing team wore have the power to mentally derail me from my job? They shouldn’t, they are shoes. But the shoes led me to connect dots that I hadn’t connected before.
Weber State wore the Dames in tribute (and through adidas sponsorship) to former player and current Portland Trail Blazer all-star forward Damian Lillard.
I knew Lillard played for Weber State, but it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that he hails from the conference that I follow and write for. If I was only born a couple years earlier I could have watched him play on that same court and wrote about him before he went on to be the All-Star he is today.
During his time in the Big Sky, Lillard put up impressive numbers. Over his four years with Weber State, he averaged 18.6 points per game with a 22-point average in conference play. His talent was recognized by the conference in both 2010 and 2012 when he was named Big Sky Conference Player of the Year.
He was drafted in 2012 as a first-round pick, after his last year with Weber State pick, to Portland where he has stayed since 2012.
The conference has sent several players into the NBA. Weber State sent Joel Bolomboy in the 2016 draft to the Utah Jazz.
The Jazz also has former Eastern Washington point guard Rodney Stuckey. Stuckey was with Eastern Washington for two years before heading into the NBA in the first round at number 15 pick.
On a more local level, Idaho has seen athletes head into the big time. While there have been no Vandals in the NBA, in 2011 Idaho guard Jeff Ledbetter continued on to play in the D-League after two seasons.
It is exciting to see a big time player come from a league that is not known for producing powerhouse players. I watch Lillard develop and advance with the Trail Blazers and know he got his roots in the same conference I am devoting the next four years of my life to.
Every game on the Big Sky courts has the potential to host the next NBA All-Star. If that’s not reason enough to be a wild fan, then I don’t know what is.
Meredith Spelbring can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org