Evanson column: Joke's on you Skip Bayless, Damian Lillard's the one with the respect
Believe it or not, Skip Bayless was a journalist once. For roughly three decades the former Vanderbilt University graduate covered sports in cities across the country. Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago.
Skip Bayless won awards once. He wrote books and, since the early 1990's, has been either a fill-in or regular guest on sports television panel shows across this country's biggest networks.
But what once was, is no longer, for Mr. Bayless' once respected career has become nothing more than a circus act — and he's the traveling production's biggest clown.
The Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard just led his team to the NBA playoffs. Despite a season in which the all-star guard lost three of his team's primary contributors for the bulk of the year, Lillard kept the Blazers afloat in their absence, and upon their return won seven of the team's nine bubble games en route to securing the Western Conference's eighth seed. He averaged 37.3 points, 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 43.6 percent from 3-point distance. He did miss two late free throws in a close loss to the Clippers, but in response scored 51 against the 76ers, 61 more against Dallas, and added 42 in a must-win-game versus the Nets. Oh, and was the unanimous MVP of the league's restart, voted on by the 22 legitimate media members tasked to do so.
Yet, in the wake of his unanimous MVP performance, Skipper had little praise for Dame, and instead questioned his credentials and picked-apart his professional resume by way of analytics that lack the necessary context if interested in the truth.
Truth however is no longer Bayless' game. His back has long been turned to life's realities, since he decided to run wholeheartedly towards the sensationalized version found somewhere between a cable news network du jour and TMZ.
If you're looking to kick a man while he's up, Lillard ain't your guy. The Oakland, California native has done nothing but work since he left for Weber State in 2008. A two-star prospect coming out of high school, the relatively undersized guard spent four years in college, earning three first-team all-conference honors, the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year award, and ultimately the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Since then, he's won the NBA's Rookie of the Year award, garnered five NBA All-Star selections, an All-NBA third team selection, two All-NBA second team selections, and in 2018 an All-NBA first team nod.
In addition, Lillard has been honored for his charitable work off-the-court with the RESPECT program in and around Portland, a program started by Lillard six years ago with a focus on anti-bullying efforts, increasing attendance and positive culture among high school students. In recent months, Lillard was seen peacefully protesting in marches for equality in the streets of downtown.
Lillard is a great basketball player, and by all accounts and equally impressive person.
So what's your beef, Skip?
And why would one choose to risk their reputation in the interests of a war no one else wants to fight?
Simply put, integrity and legitimacy – both of which Bayless sold in exchange for a red rubber nose and a pair of big shoes.
"Hot takes" are where we're at in 2020. Few are interested in getting it right, while most are interested in simply feeling like they're right.
In recent days, Skip has made countless damning and easily refutable comments about Dame, but the most egregious has got to be the following:
"Dame hasn't shown me he can be trusted in the playoffs under the brightest lights."
I could site Lillard's series-ending game-winner against Houston in 2014. Or his iconic series-ender versus the Thunder last season. Or better yet, his overall playoff statistics that include 30 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8 assists per game, a 46.3 percent field goal percentage and 40.1 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line — all of which far exceed his career regular season numbers, and all of which occurred playing for a team which in most cases was undermanned versus their opponent. But, in this case, I'll lean heavily on his and Skip's peers, who've taken up figurative arms for the Portland point guard in the wake of Bayless' comments.
"Dame hits big shots, he misses big shots — but he's always going to take them, he's one of the most clutch players we've seen in the NBA," retired Golden State Warrior Matt Barnes said. "Cut the bulls*** out. Your reply was weak. You were wrong."
"Don't mess with Dame," warned journalist Stephen A. Smith. "Don't mess with Dame D.O.L.L.A. He's not the one. He's not the one. This brother on many, many occasions has stepped up in big moments and he has closed."
Ultimately, haters are going to hate. Time has proven that. But while entertaining to some, more are laughing at Skip on this one.
Respect can be earned and lost. Lillard earned ours. Bayless? He's waving his away, much like Dame did to Oklahoma City a year ago — under the "brightest lights."
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