What does loyalty actually mean?

In a sport where max deals no longer guarantee full commitments from the best players, whose pledges of devotion to a city and its fans often ring hollow, it’s a question perfectly suited to perhaps the NBA’s most loyal superstar.

It’s a hot summer afternoon in late July on the leafy, sleepy campus of tiny Multnomah University, a private non-denominational Christian school east of downtown Portland. Inside the appropriately named Lytle Gymnasium, sitting on the kind of weathered wood bleachers you only find at the smallest and oldest facilities, is Damian Lillard. Wearing a black T-shirt with his personal logo slapped over the left breast, black shorts, and a pair of his new signature Adidas sneakers, which are months away from hitting shelves, the 29-year-old is every bit the calm, cool, and collected guy who barely showed any emotion after hitting one of the most absurd series-clinching shots in NBA history this past April (except for, you know, waving the Oklahoma City Thunder bye-bye). Rarely do you catch Logo Lillard smiling on the court or in front of a camera or when he’s being peppered with questions about the changing landscape of the NBA and where he fits into all of it. In the right setting, around the right people, he’ll flash it. Lillard will even bust the balls of one of his boys, subtly flipping off his pal sitting off to the side when the friend glances up from his phone for a few seconds. But when you’re there to ask the All-NBA guard straight-up questions, he’s going to look you sternly in the eye and give you straight-up answers.  

“I'll just tell you the truth,” he says.

About, for example, how he can’t imagine doing what so many fellow stars are doing these days: abandoning communities and organizations that have bent over backwards to build around them only to watch their star ask out to chase a championship elsewhere. In the wake of guys like Anthony Davis, Paul George, and Russell Westbrook requesting and receiving trades this off-season, Lillard’s proclamation that he’s serious about wanting to spend his entire career with the Trail Blazers, preferring to be a shepherd in the Pacific Northwest instead of a sheep in a city he doesn’t want to relocate to, isn’t revelatory. But after surveying the new NBA, especially the revamped Western Conference, devotees of the old school will find it refreshing that he’s doubling down on his commitment, on his loyalty—with one important caveat. 

“It’s not so much about an organization,” says Lillard. “It’s to the city.”

As happy as he is to be a Blazer, and as much as he desires to one day be considered the franchise’s greatest player ever, what Lillard loves, and where his true loyalty lies, is to the city of Portland. Because basketball is a business, he knows things can change and the Blazers may eventually no longer need his services. But how he goes about his business today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future will almost assuredly be different than any other top 10 player in the game. The East Oakland native is home in Portland, with zero desire to pack up and play elsewhere.