‘I really bleed purple’: Damian Lillard’s full speech at Weber State Hall of Fame induction banquet
Five new people were inducted into the Weber State Hall of Fame last month, a class postponed to due COVID-19 in 2020.
One of them was basketball superstar Damian Lillard (2008-12), who met the eight-year waiting period for selection to the hall after becoming the only men’s basketball player in Big Sky Conference history to be named an All-American.
Lillard joined Rebecca Bennion (track/cross country, 2000-04), Nick Chournos (football, 2001-04), Ron McBride (football coach, 2005-11), and Jody Lake (facilities administrator, 1980-2019) in the 2021 class celebrated with a banquet Sept. 17 at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center.
Below is the full text of Lillard’s induction speech at the banquet, lightly edited for clarity.
First of all, I want to congratulate the other inductees. It’s truly an honor to share this stage with you guys.
God works in mysterious ways. I’ve got a funny story. When I was in the eighth grade, I used to play NCAA March Madness with Raymond Felton on the cover and I would always create a player that was 99 overall, best player on the game, and I would send him to Weber State. And my cousin sitting over here can tell you this is a true story.
I had never even heard of Weber State. Didn’t know where it was, never heard of Ogden. But my whole life, I always was an underdog and it was important to take an unknown from being an unknown to the top.
As I got older, I was still the underdog. Eleventh grade, I’m playing in the gym, no scouts there, we’re in Texas. And I’m looking around like ‘man, none of us are going to get a scholarship. We’ve been working hard all summer, been killing ourselves, nobody’s showing up to see us.’
We win a game, we win another game, win another game, and I remember we get to the 9 a.m. game. Empty gym, nobody there.
We’re warming up and my coach called me over like, ‘hey Dame, you see that little guy over there sitting down?’ I looked over and he was like, ‘that’s Randy Rahe from Weber State.’ And that was all I needed to hear. One person liked me, one school liked me. I had a good game and from that point on, we started to build a relationship.
It’s just funny to me; I’m a young kid, I don’t have any idea about what Weber State is, where it’s at or anything, and this ends up being the first school recruiting me. And I end up having this type of relationship with this city, this program, this coaching staff, and this university. That just blows my mind that that really took place.
When I got on campus, it was funny because I just wanted to do the right thing. I didn’t come in saying I want to be a Hall of Famer, I want to go to the league after one year or two years, I was just like, ‘I’m going to show up.’ Coach Rahe already told me, you don’t go to class, I’m sending you home. You don’t work hard, I’m sending you home. You don’t have character, I’m sending you home. And I accepted that. I wanted to do right by him, I wanted to show him my family raised me the right way. I come from a strong family, a supportive family, and I know how to act. I’m away from home, I wanted to prove that to them. That was my only intention.
Along the lines of that, I met Phil (Beckner), who’s become one of the most important people in my life. We used to bump heads. He was a lot younger when I got here, but he was a huge part of making me a man. Dame, you can’t be late to class, Dame, did you get shots up, what time did you go to sleep, did you get in the cold tub, did you take waters to class — he was just on me about everything and I had so many people on campus play that type of role for me.
And it wasn’t just about sports. The professional sales program with (Steve) Eichmeier, JoEllen (Jonsson), (Carl) Grunander, Tim Border, my favorite class of all, history with Gene Sessions, and rest her soul, Desiree Cooper (Larsen). All these people played a role in my development from being a kid and a young man, to becoming a man.
That’s a huge part of why it’s important for me to come back here and make sure that I remain a part of this community because I’m not the guy was just the big star, went on to the NBA and is just a big shot.
I know that this is what makes me, me. Just like when I go to Oakland, I know my community of people, my family, they make me, me. I see Ogden, I see Weber State, as that same thing, so an honor like this, man, to me, it’s a great feeling.
I almost didn’t make it, so I don’t even have a speech, I don’t know if y’all can tell I’m going off the top of the dome right now. I didn’t even know if was going to make it but it was important for me to be here and to pay my respects to the people who allowed me to become as successful as I am, not just as an athlete but as a person.
Photo supplied, Weber State Athletics Damian Lillard holds his plaque during Weber State Hall of Fame class of 2021 induction proceedings Sept. 17, 2021, at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center.
There’s a lot of things I learned here that I still apply to my life every day. I realize, working with so many professional athletes and celebrities and entertainers, that they didn’t get that. They didn’t get the people that really cared about them and wanted to show them the way and challenge them to become better people, aside from whatever their talent is. And I got that here. It was a huge part of my growth, a huge part of my development. And I’m extremely thankful.
I feel like, the same way I have to get back to Oakland, the same way I have to get back here, Oregon, regardless of where it is — I feel like that’s what I have to do because I took so much from these places, and these places play such a major role in who I’ve become.
I’m honored to be up here. I’m thankful. I want to thank my family. My wife here, I met my wife at Weber State. Man, that’s crazy. I met my wife at Weber State. It was just such a great experience. I would do it all over again.
I remember going through my last season and it was picking up: ‘Dame might get drafted, it might happen.’ And in my head, I was like ‘this can’t be real. They’re not coming for me.’ In my mind, I was like I should be in the NBA but it just seemed so far from reality.
And I’ll never forget one night, me and Phil was working out and we walked through the tunnel and like, he just busted out crying. He just busted out crying and I’m looking at him like, ‘what you crying for? What happened?’ I was worried.
And he was like, ‘you’re going to be a first-round pick.’ And I was like, ‘how do you know that?’ I’m in denial still, like how do you know that?
He was, ‘I’ve got relationships. This person shared this with me, this person shared this with me.’ And I was like OK, but I still didn’t really fully believe it. I was like, ‘Alright, that sounds like I’m in a good place, because Phil wouldn’t ever give me no credit.’ I can’t get no credit from Phil to this day.
What confirmed it with me was maybe a few weeks later I went into coach Rahe’s office. And I’m not an emotional person, I’m just not. I feel things, but I’m not a crier. I don’t cry about stuff, I just kind of work my way through it.
Photo supplied, Portland Trail Blazers Lillard
I get in the office and coach Rahe is like, ‘Dame, you’ve got another year of eligibility, I can’t let you come back to school.’ And for me, I was just loving it here so much, this was my family. I became a man with these people, I had so many great experiences. I had become attached to Weber State. I was all about this. This was a major part of me. And he started crying, and if y’all know him, he don’t cry either.
And we sat in his office and we cried because we both had to come to grips with the fact that this is not a regular opportunity, you have to go. You have to leave. We made that decision together, like this is what’s going to be best. You’ve got to leave.
When I was looking at my dream right in front of me to play in the NBA, take care of my family, do what I put so much time into doing, and I was still sitting there thinking, ‘but I could come back for one more year.’ That’s when I really knew I really bleed purple. I’m looking at my dream and I’m still trying to convince myself of why I should stay.
That was the moment I knew, and that’s what leads to times like now where I’m going to find a way to be here. In the summer, I could go train anywhere, but I’m going to find a way to make it back to the Dee and train at the Dee, because it’s a part of me and it’s important to me.
And one other thing before I get off, because I’ll be up here talking forever. Dr. (Jeff) Harrison, I’ll never forget — I broke my foot my junior year. Once again, I was in denial, I was like ‘I’m fine, I’m good.’ I show up at the hospital and everybody’s like ‘Dame don’t believe his foot is broke.’
He sits down, he starts messing around, squeezed my foot, he bends it, I start screaming and tears start coming out of my eye. It wasn’t from crying, it just came out! Sometimes it just comes out!
He was like, ‘it’s broken. You’re going to be OK.’ He just made me calm about it because I was panicked, my family was going through a lot, my mom was struggling at work, they were trying to let her go, and the only thing I was focused on was I’ve got to put myself in position to make things right for my family.
And that was the moment where everybody could’ve just been like ‘oh, it’s over, he broke his foot.’ But this community doubled down. Everybody kind of stepped up and made me feel important, encouraged me to keep working, rehabbing. Joel Bass, John Henderson, Joel Noland, I had so many people that when things went bad for me, that stepped up and continued to push me in the direction I needed to go in to make things happen.
I couldn’t express how thankful I am to receive this honor and to be in such great company. It means a lot to me. It’s so great to see so many familiar faces and to hear all the stories and just be a part of this history. I take a lot of pride in being part of this history.
I want to thank my teammates that I played with, the staff at the Dee, rest in peace Big Earl (Bullock). My guy Rick (Walker). Like Nick (Chournos) said, I don’t want to start missing names, but I’m just shouting out names off the top of my head. But I’m thankful for everybody who played a part in my success here and everybody that has the same pride and passion about Weber State University that I do.
We are Weber, baby.