http://www.oregonlive.com/blazers/index.ssf/2015/03/motivated_by_promise_to_mother_trail_blazers_damia.htmlHe did it for his mother. At least that was the original motivation.
In the end, Damian Lillard decided he also wanted to earn a college degree for himself, decided it would be important to make himself a role model for Oakland children with dreams of following in his footsteps.
So by the time he slogged through the final six college credits, diligently completing a couple online courses, wrapping up one last paper and, finally, sitting through a five-hour exam on the campus of Ogden, Utah, it slipped his mind to share his achievement with the origin of his motivation.
Last fall, after passing that long exam, Lillard finally had enough credits to earn a Bachelor's degree in Technical Sales, adding another reason for his mother, Gina, to gush about her youngest son. But that's not exactly what happened.
"She actually got mad at me," Lillard said, when asked his mother's reaction to his good news.
You see, when Lillard learned he had passed that last test, he forgot to share the news. Time passed. The Trail Blazers season began. Then one day, as he was strolling around his Lake Oswego home, Lillard was chatting with his agent on the phone when he mentioned that he probably wouldn't be able to attend his college graduation. The NBA playoffs, it seemed, would create a conflict.
His cousin overheard the conversation, posted a congratulatory message on Instagram, then headed downstairs to the kitchen, where Gina was cooking and Lillard was hanging out. Lillard's cousin congratulated him on his achievement.
"And my mom was like, 'What! You didn't tell me?' Because I forgot to tell her," Lillard said. "I just did it and I was just kind of like, I'm done with it. Whatever. And that was how she found out. She was like, 'How you not going to tell me about that?' I was like, 'My bad.'"
That was Lillard's only blunder during the process. He went to Weber State for four years, but his path to graduating was stalled his junior year. Nine games into that season, he suffered a broken bone in his right foot. As a result, since he would be granted a redshirt season by the NCAA, coaches and guidance counselors spread out his final college credits over two years.
At the time, the NBA seemed a far-fetched reality for Lillard. The extra year would give Lillard plenty of time to rehabilitate and study.
But the next season, Lillard blossomed into a college star and catapulted up NBA draft boards. His NBA dreams were never more achievable. But his chances at earning a college degree -- and fulfilling that pledge to Gina -- were put on the backburner.
But they were never completely extinguished.
The summer after his first NBA season -- after Lillard had won NBA Rookie of the Year honors and bloomed into a household name -- he returned to Weber State and forged a plan to graduate. It would be impossible for him to attend an entire summer term in Ogden. Endorsements, NBA appearances, charitable work and a host of other opportunities were a byproduct of his sudden fame and demanded too much of Lillard's time.
But the school was flexible with one of their most well known former students and the sides worked out a plan. He could take classes online and finish that lengthy test in front of a proctor when he could -- he squeezed it in last September, one week before the start of training camp. Over two years, Lillard completed a sales "spin" class, a business negotiation class and a generic computer class -- three final hurdles toward a degree in Technical Sales.
Why Technical Sales?
"At the time, I really didn't know what I wanted to do," Lillard said. "So I chose something that I felt like I could do different things in. I could go into business with that degree. I think the most important thing is that it taught me how to sell myself. I've been able to do that with the profession that I fell into."
Lillard says the classes he took helped prepare him for multiple aspects of his basketball career away from the court, from public speaking engagements to his participation in contract negotiations with Adidas and other companies that endorse him.
"It helps," Lillard said. "I didn't know that I was going to need it. It's kind of funny how it worked out."
It would have been easy to forgo those final six credits, to avoid the hassles that come with pursuing a college degree on top of an already-busy life. In less than three NBA seasons, he's already made millions off his rookie contract and several lucrative endorsement deals, and, this summer, he'll sign a maximum contract extension with the Blazers that will make him wealthier than he ever imagined.
But earning that degree was about more than money. It was about fulfilling that promise to Gina. And it was about proving to the next Damian Lillard roaming the gritty streets of Oakland that college is within grasp.
"Growing up in Oakland," Lillard said, "you see a rapper, you see a basketball player, a football player, but it was never like, 'I'm going to get a college degree. That was never the talk. So that wasn't something that I said I'm going to go out and do.
"As I've gotten older, it's become something that's important to me. Why go to school for four years and soak up everything that I soaked up in that experience, and then not finish it, not get the ultimate goal and walk across that stage? So it's exciting. I'm happy that I actually went through with it and finished."