On Aug. 8, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard—the MVP of the NBA’s restarted “bubble” season in Orlando—called out Los Angeles Clippers star Paul George on Instagram. “Keep switching teams,” Lillard wrote. “Running from the grind.” In recent years, George has moved from Indiana to Oklahoma City—where he was paired with a second superstar, Russell Westbrook—to Los Angeles, where he and Kawhi Leonard form a so-called “superteam.” LeBron James has engineered several moves throughout his career to join other stars and win championships: Kevin Durant famously signed with the Golden State Warriors, and Stephen Curry, in 2016 and won two titles.
Lillard insists, however, he has nothing against players who join forces to chase titles. (Lillard has spent his entire eight-year career in Portland). On Aug. 8, George and teammate Patrick Beverly taunted Lillard after he missed key free throws in a Portland loss to Los Angeles. “We just had a run in,” Lillard said in a Time100 Talks conversation on Thursday. “I came up short at the end of a game, they said what they said, I said what I said. But it a’int like no personal beef. We’re men. When a man says something, another man is going to say something back, and it’s going to be what it’s going to be. And that’s what it was … they took a jab at me, so I just took one back.”
“My only thing is, that’s not my preference,” says Lillard about joining a superteam. “I don’t have an issue with other people deciding to do it.” Why, then, would winning a title in Portland feel that much sweeter than if he would leave the Pacific Northwest in free agency and triumph somewhere else? “I think for one, because of the time invested,” Lillard tells TIME from his new Orlando hotel room (despite his MVP status, Lillard calls his new playoffs digs “a definite downgrade.”) “The time invested in growing, figuring it out, and having hard experiences, having great experiences. I feel like you have to go through the ups, sometimes you’re going to have high moments, then you’re going to have low moments. But I’ve always been about the journey. Just embracing the journey. The peaks and valleys, having it come back around, knowing you worked hard, you did stuff right, you took the good with the bad, and then you get the reward for all of that. Like Dirk did.”
In 2011, Dirk Nowitzki won a title in Dallas, the place he spent the entirely of his 21-year NBA career. “That’s the example I always think of,” says Lillard. “I’m sure that one ring of his, made his career just perfect. It may not go that way for me. But that’s what i want to see for myself.
“I feel like if I did say, ‘oh, these two guys are in New York, or in LA, or whatever,’ if I did decide I want to go play with some other guys, I feel like its a pretty good chance we’ll win it,” says Lillard. “And I’m sure that’s what a lot of guys feel like. There’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be able to win it all. But I don’t just want to win it all. I want to w