Ogden-made: Damian Lillard first 3-point contest win fittingly comes in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY — To do something he had never done before, Damian Lillard went back to where it all began.

Donning a custom-made purple-and-black Weber State uniform, the seven-time All-Star drained his final four shots to clinch his first 3-point contest shooting title during Saturday night's All-Star skills competition at Vivint Arena.

The 32-year-old Weber State graduate made a promise in the locker room that he was coming for the title. But rather than pull a Larry Bird — "Which one of you is taking second?" — he simply threw it back to the past with his personalized reference to Ogden just 31 miles from the campus he still visits every summer workouts or an alumni game.

"I feel like everything just lined up," Lillard said. "Being back here, I went to school here. I was here four years. A lot of family. A lot of friends here. People that I'm still in touch with. You know, when I touch down here in the summer, whether I'm going back for an alumni game or just going to train, or this time, I feel the love. I know that I'm welcome here. It's a second home for me.

"Sometimes that's what it takes for an experience to be what it's supposed to be. I feel like this is how it was supposed to happen. I'm happy that it happened here."

Lillard scored 26 points in the final round, holding off Indiana Pacers guards Buddy Hield (25) and Tyrese Haliburton (17) to win a title he joked with Hield (or was it a joke?) he was serious about winning well before the two suited up in the locker room underneath Vivint Arena.

"I was like, I'm gonna win," Lillard said. "I told them. When they started laughed, I told them, I'm serious. I sure feel happy that I was able to win."

That it came down to the final round, needing 26 points to overtake Hield, was only more fitting. Lillard, it turns out, has quite the penchant for taking the final shot.

Dame Time is all the time, but especially in Salt Lake City, where an arena full of basketball fans erupted as he canned the final "money ball."

Before the competition, Lillard thought that if he won the 3-point contest, he'd probably retire from the event. Now that he's won it? Well, he's not so sure.

"I think as a shooter, any time you come into a competition like this, you want to win it," he said. "But before this, I feel like I just didn't take it seriously enough; I wanted to just shoot my way to a win. I wasn't shooting the ball disciplined; I was lazy.

"I took this one a little more seriously, and it just happened that way."

Lillard has stayed close to Weber State, and particularly his old coach in recently retired Randy Rahe, through the years. He returned to headline a graduating class years after he left his final season of collegiate eligibility on the table, and even helped organize an alumni game each year in Ogden that brings together some of the top players from the school in the modern era.

In 2017, the Wildcats retired his jersey number, ensuring that there will never be another player quite like Lillard in Weber State history.

Damian Lillard, of the Portland Trail Blazers, participates in the 3-point contest on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City.
Damian Lillard, of the Portland Trail Blazers, participates in the 3-point contest on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (Photo: Rob Gray, Associated Press)

So when his people told him he should do something special for his first All-Star Game in Utah (and the first in Salt Lake City in 30 years), the former two-time Big Sky player of the year knew exactly what to do.

"They were like, 'It would be pretty cool if you shot in your Weber State uniform.' And I took over from there," he explained. "So let's design something different, and that was how we came up with 'Dame Dolla' on the back of it. They kept my college number on the jersey, and every year that I made All-Star added a star.

"We just got creative with it. I feel like it was an opportunity to pay homage to Weber, my old stoppage grounds, and just show love. It turned out to be perfect, especially when I won it, giving that love and exposure to this type of audience to Weber State."

So what will Lillard do with the custom-made jersey now? He's not sure.

"I was thinking about that earlier, and I don't really have any plans. I'm not sure," he said, before quickly adding, "I'm going to keep it, though. I'm not giving it away."


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