Jusuf Nurkic says Damian Lillard is ‘the best thing that happened to me in basketball’
Rewinding only three years back and Jusuf Nurkic was an unhappy player looking to showcase his skills and find a place that would want him for it. His wish came true when the Portland Trail Blazers, in dire need of a big man, came calling.
It didn’t take long for Nurkic to meet the franchise star Damian Lillard and soon see his basketball life change forever, something he will be forever thankful for.
“When I came, I was in a really bad place, in basketball and probably my life,” Nurkic told Jason Quick of The Athletic. “Everything was just going the wrong way. I was fighting for my status in the NBA because I know I deserved a chance. And Dame showed up and was like, ‘Do you want this? Then do it this way.’
“It was the best part of my life, basketball-wise, what happened to me. He is by far the best thing to happen to me in basketball.”
Lillard soon saw his role morphing from a mentorship to a real, genuine friendship — going from harsh criticism to becoming a confidant for Nurkic, who prior to that only kept people at arms’ length.
“Once he realized I wasn’t just saying I was on his side, on his team, (but) that I really wanted to help him, our friendship took off,” said Lillard. “Our energy started becoming more of a friendship than us being teammates.
“Once we started interacting and he started coming to the house, then it went beyond … our relationship went to a whole other level on the court. Then I could yell at him, like, ‘Mother ffff … swing the ball … do this … stop throwing them crazy passes!’”
That relationship has also bloomed into what they do on the court for the Blazers, as Lillard looks to set up Nurkic when he’s struggling to get touches and Nurkic looks for an open Lillard when harassed with double teams.
Needless to say, the partnership has been beneficial, but the friendship between these two has been life-changing for both men, saving Nurkic’s career and enhancing Lillard’s.