PORTLAND, Ore. — As Damian Lillard walked into Portland’s Moda Center on Wednesday evening for the first time as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks, he instinctively headed toward the home locker room.
That was the same route he’d taken for 11 years as a member of the Trail Blazers, and he said later that he still doesn’t feel like a visitor returning to this city.
“I really didn’t know where to go,” Lillard said during a pregame news conference. “I’d never been in the visitors locker room until today.”
Wednesday marked Lillard’s first game in Portland since he was traded to Milwaukee in October. He was greeted with a one-minute standing ovation when his name was announced during pregame introductions. The Blazers did their part to spoil the homecoming, however, hanging on for a 119-116 win over the Bucks, as Lillard finished with 25 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists.
While Lillard emphasized his commitment to the Bucks, he also left the door open to a potential return to the franchise that drafted him before his career is over.
“Because of how I feel about Portland,” Lillard said. “How I feel about the organization here and my time that I spent here, in my mind I’ve always felt like that’s how my career would end.
“Right now, I’m just in a space of like, this is where I am now. I’m in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to contend, and our team has an opportunity to contend for this year and years to come, and I’m just living in that. But I definitely, when I was traded, I see a day where I’ll be in a Trail Blazer uniform again before I’m done.”
Lillard arrived in Portland ahead of the Bucks after Monday’s game. He still has family here and said he was eager to sleep in his own bed and host a birthday party for his twins, Kali and Kalii.
The Blazers, who drafted Lillard with the No. 6 pick in 2012, welcomed him back with two tribute videos in the first quarter — one highlighting his on-court accomplishments and iconic moments, the other his impact off the court and in the Portland community. A kid in the crowd held up a sign that read: “Get your ring then come back home!
“You just feel the appreciation and the love,” Lillard said after the game. “I just kind of stood in it. It was like, man, this is a big deal. Just take that moment and to have everybody in the building just show me that type of love, acknowledgement of a lot of things during my time here. So, I appreciated it.”
Lillard got a call from Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, another former Blazer, on the way to shootaround Wednesday morning, telling him to embrace the emotions of the night.
“My feelings about playing here, my feelings about putting my best foot forward for the organization while I was here, it was genuine,” Lillard said before the game. “It weighed on me heavy, so I’m sure it’ll be a lot of emotions. Just being back out there and seeing the familiar faces. A lot of people in the crowd, I’m going to recognize those faces because I’ve seen them many times, so many years.
“So I’ll let it be what it is. I’m not going to cry, nothing like that. I’m not a big crier, but I’m not going to hide the emotions that I feel from it. I think it’s a moment that means a lot to me and a lot of other people.”
“Right now I’m just in a space of like, this is where I am now. I’m in Milwaukee. I wanted the opportunity to contend and our team has an opportunity to contend for this year and years to come and I’m just living in that. But I definitely, when I was traded, I see a day where I’ll be in a Trail Blazer uniform again before I’m done.”
Lillard did request a trade from Portland at the start of the summer, which he acknowledges led to contention between him and the organization before his exit. He said he still has not spoken to Blazers general manager Joe Cronin since the trade.
But Lillard said he still keeps tabs on the Blazers, mainly checking in on guard Anfernee Simons, whom he considers like a brother.
However, Lillard did not look to this game for any kind of closure or catharsis.
“A lot of the things that I experienced here, I know that is going to always be a part of me,” Lillard said. “It’ll always be a part of me because everything that I’ve said, how I felt about my time, I meant it.”