PORTLAND — A few days prior to Saturday night’s 101-86 victory versus the Utah Jazz at the Moda Center, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard saw a photo of one of the best point guards in franchise history, a photo which gave him an idea.
“I saw a picture of Terry Porter and that whole group on Instagram and they all had black on with white socks and dark shoes,” said Lillard. “I was like ‘That look pretty cool.’”
Which got Lillard wondering why the Trail Blazers had never worn black uniforms at home during his nearly five season in Portland. Teams typically wear lighter jerseys at home, with darker jerseys usually reserved for the road team, though it is not at all uncommon to see teams derivate from that standard, for any number of reasons.
So Lillard, who, as team captain, has the honor of deciding what jerseys the team wears, asked the team equipment manager, Eric Hallman, earlier in the week if they could wear black jerseys for Saturday night’s game. The Jazz agreed to wear their white jerseys and the NBA league office signed off on the change, allowing Lillard and the rest of the Trail Blazers to wear black uniforms at home, something at least this iteration of the team had never done before.
And Lillard, adorned in black uniform, white sneakers and black adidas Dame 3 sneakers, responded by doing something no Trail Blazer had ever done before, scoring a franchise-record 59 points to lead the Trail Blazers to the 15-point victory and one step closer to their fourth-consecutive playoff berth.
“I’ve felt like this a few times, but even when I do, I take a step back instead of just kind of pressing for the whole game,” said Lillard. “Tonight, I pressed for the whole game and that’s why I ended up with the most points I ever had.”
And it came at just the right time, as the win pushed Portland’s magic number (Trail Blazers wins plus Denver losses) to one with two games to play. The 6-3 guard out of Weber State had struggled shooting in the three previous games, going a combined 19-of-62 from the field, which made Saturday night’s game the perfect time to change up.
“It was Dame’s idea,” said CJ McCollum of wearing black uniforms Saturday night. “Once he did that I was like ‘Ah, he’s ready.’ He’s going to be ready to play because he made this switch so he’s got to back it up. And he did.”
While Saturday’s game was the first time anyone could remember the Trail Blazers wearing black at home, it wasn’t the first time this team has looked to a uniform change for inspiration. The Trail Blazers petitioned the league to wear their sleeved “Rip City” jerseys during home games during the 2016 postseason, as teams are typically only allowed to wearing specific jerseys (in this case, what the NBA refers to as “pride” jerseys) a set number of times. The NBA allowed the jersey waiver and the Trail Blazers responded by advancing to the second round of the playoffs for just the second time in 15 seasons.
Given that past success in wearing non-traditional jerseys in April, one might assume Portland will at least look to wear black jerseys for their last two games this season at the Moda Center. But head coach Terry Stotts, who didn’t know the team was wearing black uniforms Saturday until a few hours before the game, said he preferred the white sleeved jerseys and seemed to indicate that he’d prefer the team finished out the regular season in their standard home kits. Though after Lillard’s historic performance wearing black at home, Stotts might not have the option of overruling his starting point guard.
Said Lillard: “If we play the way we played in the black ones, maybe (Stotts) won’t have a choice.”