(Editor's note: Periodically, we'll pass the mic to a super-fan to drop some knowledge. Today, Dustin Harris tells us why we've been understimating Blake Griffin.)
The Clips. Many would say the culture change for this destitute franchise started with Chris Paul. Not Really though. Look a little closer.
It’s cool. You may have been just a little distracted and consumed by the aftermath of the “Decision” in the fall of 2010. It’s not your fault that I have to hip you to something real quick. But while the media devoted all expenses to 24/7 Lebron coverage; while Amar’e was bustin’ 40 a night resurrecting MSG fengshui; and while Pooh was personally taking every game personal on his way to an MVP campaign that had us temporarily overlooking the legend that is Chris Paul (still with the Hornets), something beautiful was taking center stage in Hollywood not named Scarlett Johansson, Eva Mendes, or Mila Kunis. Now do you remember 2010?
Complacency, irrelevance, mediocrity…with certain franchises those descriptions can become a cancer. This man turned it around. We tend to criticize Blake Griffin’s ineptitude and faults – most times overly so. With all his commercials, highlight yams, and general overexposure, he’s an easy target with no identifiable accomplishments or dominance at his position. But retrospectively consider this: Does Blake get enough credit for what he did? How many athletes have turned a multi-decade organizational culture around? Especially one so entrenched in suckiness.
Blake’s rookie campaign (well, his “true” rookie campaign after busting up his knee) had a different energy than anything we’ve ever seen really. Those nightly highlights inspired a different awe than we got from LeBron in 2003 or Vince Carter in 1999. By the time Blake rolled around, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube were in full effect and his yams nearly imploded the web. Therefore the casual fan and the NBA faithful tuned in. This had a ripple effect on the franchise and especially the players. Blake came into the league with this solemn bravado of power. Unafraid; he anti-Clipper in that way. He had a “you can’t stop me” demeanor. He had a highlight reel to prove it. All of a sudden, the Clippers stock and cache was leaping like Blake.
America was getting hip. Even though the Clips weren’t winning a lot, they had a newfound disposition and purpose. Baron Davis (when he played) was a leader again, a mentor, playing like his old self. When Mo Williams arrived in L.A., it was as if he was reunited with LeBron, because he started to smile again. We saw just how special Eric Gordon and DeAndre Jordan were. The players were invested. They honed in on accountability, execution, attention to detail, and discipline. You know…basketball
Trust me. After David Stern rescinded the Chris Paul Lakers trade, there’s no way an irate CP3 would have agreed to be a Clipper if there was no Blake Griffin. Blake made them matter. Chris and Chauncey Billups absolutely cover over a multitude of faults with their cerebral approach to leadership and the guard position. But since the franchise’s awakening, Blake has always been both the fuel and the motor. If Chris is the brain, Blake is the heart.
This whole Blake-epiphany came to me on a Sunday afternoon during a Lakers/Clipper game. The franchises in the same city couldn’t be more opposite in terms of success. The Lakers mental dominance over their little brother franchise goes without saying. The Clips know their role in that conversation. It’s almost as if the Clippers are tenants in the arena, paying rent to the Buss family. Anyway, on January 16th 2011, hell froze over. It wasn’t just that Gordon and Griffin dominated the then world champs. But with 5.7 seconds left and the Clippers up 99-90, Odom took exception to Griffin physically boxing him out for a rebound. That wasn’t Clipper basketball. A Clipper alum, Lamar must have thought, “know your role young dude.” There’s an old saying “Never let ‘em see you sweat.” But it was too late. After the dust settled and the pushing ceased between the Staples roommates, big brother not only lost their mental edge; they visibly showed it. “Even a God King can bleed.” Oops, wrong movie!
Hollywood is tricky. Cosmetics, cliques, fronts, and faking are status quo. There’s a certain casual synthetic nobody questions. And image is absolutely everything. Taking that into account, Blake had a lion’s share in reinventing the Clippers in image-conscious, fickle Los Angeles. But, despite the superficial culture in that area, the fan base is highly sophisticated when it comes to basketball and expectations. Angelinos don’t just sip the kool-aid overnight like a small market passionate fan base would. They acknowledge executed basketball. They acknowledge championships; period.
A title is a stretch this year, but winning is becoming an expectation for Blake and the Clips. Yeah, we snicker at his Kia commercials, free throw percentage, and that whack dunk over the car that gets overblown. But, like Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart, Blake’s presence inspired a movement that demanded your respect despite a history of subservience and jest.
So yeah, summer 2010 was an epic time for the NBA. It reshaped franchises’ title chances for the decades to come. I choose to look back on it as the debut of Braveheart Blake. He defied the odds and did what many thought was the impossible. Not only do the Clippers matter now, they inherited the “ShowTime” legacy from Magic, which should make the Lakers even more salty because they own that birthright. The chips will eventually come, and CP3 will no doubt get the credit for the culture makeover. But I know what I saw. I saw a warrior. I saw Braveheart. I guess that’s Hollywood for ya.