Feb 1, 2024 - Sports

Damian Lillard receives hero's welcome at Moda Center

A photo of a person walking and dribbling a basketball next to a Portland Trail Blazers logo.

The one that got away. Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Damian Lillard received a hero's welcome Wednesday when he walked back on the court at Moda Center for the first time since leaving the Trail Blazers for the Milwaukee Bucks.

  • Fans gave him a 90-second standing ovation at the start of the game — proving the point guard still has a hold on Portland's heartstrings even though he no longer dons the red and black jersey he wore for over a decade.

What's happening: The Blazers won 119-116 against the Bucks, but fans were roaring every time Lillard scored (he racked up 25 points).

  • "Giannis [Antetokounmpo] is the star in Milwaukee," Emily Chan said. "Dame has never been the MVP there, but he definitely is here."

The intrigue: Beloved players returning to franchises they left — like LeBron James in Cleveland or Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City — were subjected to booing. But not Dame.

  • "He's too much of a hometown hero to give us a reason to boo," Sean Vermilya, wearing a Blazers Lillard jersey, said.
  • "A lot of people bond over Dame," Delaney Galvin told Axios. "He was such a big part of building the community here."

What he's saying: "I'd never been in the visitor's locker room until today," Lillard said in a press conference before the game. "Walking in there, it just felt weird to be in Portland, to be in this building, and not be going to the home locker room."

💭 My thought bubble: I lost count of how many Lillard jerseys I saw, but what struck me was seeing Portland fans decked out in Dame's Bucks swag.

  • Trey, a 9-year-old in head-to-toe "Good Land Green" said, "When he left for the Bucks, I learned every name of every player on the team."

What we're watching: One sign shown on the jumbotron during the game read "Get your ring and come home" — and believe me, we'll be waiting.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Portland.

More Portland stories