The direct message from @Dame_Lillard hit my Twitter account Thursday night and included one simple sentence, "Heard you have some questions for me." Yes, I did have some questions for Damian Lillard, the immensely talented guard for the Portland Trailblazers. Mostly, I wanted to ask him about Aaron Judge and Derek Jeter.
Lillard isn't the first person to compare Judge to Jeter, but he is the most recent person to do so. And, if there was ever a way to make Judge blush, it's by having an athlete of Lillard's stature tell Judge that he reminds Lillard of a Yankee icon of Jeter's stature.
"I be feeling like you're the new Derek Jeter," Lillard told Judge, in "The Huddle," an Instagram Live conversation. "I don't think you're trying to fill his shoes or nothing. But you see what I'm saying? I feel like you got that type of presence, the Derek Jeter vibes."
Judge laughed, shook his head and handled Lillard's compliment with humility, which is what he has done ever since those prodigious comparisons sprouted in 2017. Because Judge has so much respect and reverence for what Jeter accomplished in a Hall of Fame career, I've never heard him sprint to embrace the comparisons. Mostly, Judge is deferential about being linked with Jeter and maintained that approach while speaking with Lillard.
"He paved the way for sure," Judge said. "That's the thing that I've been fortunate enough to be with the Yankees, just the legends we have coming in and out of that building during Spring Training, during the season, just checking in. The Jeters, the Mariano Riveras, Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, all those guys. Reggie Jackson. It's no joke. You feel that presence. And, as a player, I want to be that same presence. I want to set that path for the guys coming up behind me that are in Rookie Ball, that are in low-A. 'Hey, this is how we do things here, man. If you want to win, you want to be champions, you put the team first, you play hard every day and you do it for the team.'"
As usual and as expected, Judge gave Lillard a very Jeter-esque answer by stressing the importance of the team. While I wasn't shocked by Lillard's comparison because Judge does carry himself in a quiet, confident way like Jeter -- he does smile and give measured, team-first responses like Jeter and he is the most popular Yankee like Jeter -- I wondered what had precisely prompted Lillard to say that to Judge. So I contacted Lillard through an intermediary, and he respond to my questions via direct message.
"As far as the comparison, he just has that presence as a Yankee, like Jeter," Lillard said. "He has that clean look, well-known, capable. And he's the young star that, when I think 'Yankees,' his face comes to mind."
Three years ago, Jeter joked that he was more physically imposing than Judge, who, at 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, is four inches taller and 87 pounds heavier than Jeter. When a retired Jeter once addressed a group of Minor Leaguers at a Yankee function, he noticed how intently Judge listened, tried to learn and didn't behave like a know-it-all Minor Leaguer.
"I'm a fan of his," Jeter said.
Let's be blunt: I am not trying to claim Judge, who has only played 396 Major League games and has yet to play in a World Series, is a clone of Jeter, which wouldn't be remotely fair to Judge. Jeter has five World Series rings, the sixth-most hits in Major League history (3,465 hits) and will soon have a plaque in Cooperstown. I am saying there are some interesting similarities between Judge and Jeter, and those are obvious to anyone who has spent time around both players. But, even Lillard, the Judge super fan, admitted that Judge's promising path needs to keep progressing for many years for him to remain connected with Jeter.
"Obviously, he has to match Jeter on the field to be HIM in that way," said Lillard, as he capitalized the pronoun referring to Jeter.
"But he has that vibe about him, in my opinion."