Posted Dec 22 2010 12:08PM
Shaquille O'Neal is a fan ("Blake Griffin is the truth. All these other [young] guys, I'm not impressed"), comparing him to 1990s man-child Shawn Kemp. LeBron James called Griffin the most explosive player in the league, with "crazy bounce."
The Los Angeles Clippers' brawny, leaping, intimidating rookie power forward also has drawn comparisons to Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, with which the Hall of Famer turned TNT studio star has no problem. "It's going to be fun to watch him grow," Barkley said recently.
Griffin has set tongues wagging and foes ducking throughout the league, and already has been called the best in-game dunker ever -- over the likes of Kemp, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and others -- by Timberwolves broadcast analyst and former NBA big man Jim Petersen. Griffin, at 6-foot-10 and 251 pounds, has thrown down a league-leading 67 dunks this season and,has a streak of 17 consecutive double-double games.
At 20.8 ppg and 12.2 rebounds, he is one of three players averaging at least 20 and 12. [Dwight Howard (21.6, 12.8) and Kevin Love (20.8, 5.5) are the others.] Since 2006-07, only Tim Duncan, James and David Lee have more games of 25 points, 15 rebounds and five assists than Griffin; they each have four, he already has three.
One thing he doesn't already is a suitable nickname, though many have been offered. Back in college, some called him The Terminator for his relentless, emotionless fury. Some have suggested Poster Child, for what he does to the NBA players asked to guard him. (Personally, I'd call him MeTube, for the way he and his highlight slams own YouTube these days.)
Griffin, whose jump shot is developing, had one of the most astounding dunks since Vince Carter scaled New York draft pick Frederic Weis at the 2000 Olympics. The Knicks prospect obliterated this time was Timofey Mozgov -- Griffin rose up over Mozgov, steadied himself with a hand on the New York player's head, then threw the ball through the rim from abut two feet away. Later, same game, he had Danilo Gallinari twisting and cowering in a breakout slam.
Not that's anything wrong with that, apparently. Before the Lakers faced the Clippers earlier this month, Ron Artest said he hoped Griffin dunked on him. "His highlights is stupid," Artest said. As for any poster that resulted? "I'd buy it and tell him to sign it."
Griffin still is a budding legend, not yet a bad memory, to several teams in the league -- he hasn't completed a full lap yet. The Rockets were the 22nd team to see him up close and personal this season. To speed the introductions for the remaining seven (all in the East) and for fans, I talked with Griffin during the Clippers' recent trip through Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago:
NBA.com: As we talk, you're fresh off a bruising spill at Philadelphia -- Elton Brand put you down hard with a flagrant type 1 foul. It sounded afterward like he was afraid of the alternative. Brand said, "Everyone sees his dunks on ESPN highlights every day. So I didn't want him to get a nice dunk on our team and get his team pumped up." How are you feeling, about 18 hours later?
Blake Griffin: I'm all right. I'm all right. You just have to keep going. It's nothing that will slow me down.
NBA.com: There also was the shoving incident, when Portland's Andre Miller responded -- let's say he over-responded -- to some pushing you did on two previous plays by taking a run at you and knocking you across the baseline. That earned Miller a fine and a suspension that snapped his consecutive games streak, but it also made me wonder if a player as solid and strong as you takes more punishment that doesn't get called? We see it with Shaquille O'Neal and we hear about it in the NFL with Ben Roethlisberger, that fouls or illegal hits don't look the same when they're made on big guys.
BG: I've taken my fair share of hits. I don't mind it at all. I like it when the game's physical. You've just got to understand why people are doing it.
NBA.com: Are they called differently?
BG: Maybe. When guys know that, if you don't hit him hard enough, he can still go through and finish, they're more inclined to kind of 'bring it.' They really try to stop you from scoring and they don't want to give up a basket and a free throw by any means. So sometimes, there are hard fouls.
NBA.com: In the first returns on All-Star balloting, you ranked sixth among forwards in the Western Conference. Ahead of a guy like Luis Scola and only 2,000 votes behind Tim Duncan. Surprised?
BG: That's pretty cool. Hopefully I'll be playing in the Rookie Game. We'll see. I understand there are a lot of guys that are All-Star caliber forwards, guys who deserve to be there. It would definitely be an honor to be one, but at the same time hopefully I'll have a lot more years to achieve that.
NBA.com: Tell us, right here and now, that you're going to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest.
BG: That would be cool. If it's something that the league wants me to do, I'll probably try to do it.
NBA.com: Do you already know what dunks you would do?
BG: Not really. I really don't work on them a lot. If it turns out I'm going to do it, I'll try to think of something creative.
NBA.com: Dwight Howard has said he's done with dunk contests, so you won't have a chance to jump over him the way Nate Robinson did. Maybe you could bring Timofey Mozgov with you and re-create your dunk against the Knicks. By the way, you're undefeated in these things, right?
BG: Yes. But I haven't done one at a level as high as this one. I did the McDonald's All-America contest when I was in high school. And I did a couple other small ones in Oklahoma.
NBA.com: When you were in college there, your school had both the best player in college football [2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford] and the best player in college basketball [Griffin won the 2009 Naismith Award]. That's only the second time that has happened -- UCLA quarterback Gary Beban and center Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) did it in 1967-68. So naturally, I'll ask you this: What did you think of the Heisman controversry regarding Auburn quarterback Cam Newton?
BG: I think he should have won it. He's been ruled eligible. They've done the investigation. And in my mind, he's clearly the best college football player. I don't think they can not give it to him just because of ... whatever it was. If he had been ruled eligible, I think that might have been a different story. Whether it changes down the line, we don't know. But I definitely think he deserves it.
NBA.com: People talk about the Clippers' losing culture and how, no matter how many high Draft picks they get or how many talented players they employ, things never really work out there. What is it like from the inside there? What have you found, in terms of the "losing culture?"
BG: Uh, just keep working. Keep learning and keep encouraging. Try to keep being a good teammate. That's really all you can do. It will come around eventually. The big thing is, we're improving every day. I like the direction that we're heading, even though we haven't quite gotten over that hump.
NBA.com: You were supposed to be doing this a year ago, if not for the knee injury and surgery that wiped out 2009-10 for you. What was life like 12 months ago compared to now?
BG: It was tough. I was frustrated to have to sit out like that. But y'know, in the long run, it was worth it. I learned a lot. I got to study the game, of course, for a year and kind of go through some of the things -- how they did practice every day, things like that. I went through training camp and went on the road some, played in preseason games, so it gave me a little understanding for what to expect this year.
NBA.com: So as a redshirt rookie now, do you still get the "rookie treatment" from Clippers veterans?
BG: I haven't had to do much. We have two [true] rookies this year [Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Bledsoe], so they take most of the load. I kind of got my rookie 'work' done last year.
NBA.com: What are people who don't know you surprised to learn?
BG: A lot of people are surprised at how laid-back I am. More soft-spoken off the court. Out on the court, they see somebody who's intense and all that. But I like to hang out, have fun and make jokes and laugh.
NBA.com: Your father Tommy is a successful high school coach in Oklahoma. How has it helped you in this league, being a coach's son?
BG: It's helped a lot, just always being around the game and learning the game through a coach's eyes. I always watched basketball with my dad and he taught me the right way to play. I kind of picked up the game through him.
NBA.com: Many NBA players identify with the other players in their Draft class. But you came out of high school with one group, got drafted with another and now you're a rookie with still another group. Who are your guys?
BG: Most of the guys I know are the ones who are my age. A lot of them were drafted the year before [in 2008]: [Michael] Beasley and [Derrick] Rose, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon. But we were all the same high school class. I definitely keep an eye out for those guys.
NBA.com: Greg Oden. You. Now John Wall is having injury issues. Is there some sort of jinx on No. 1 Draft picks that we should be concerned about?
BG: Nah. I think it's just one of those things. Derrick Rose didn't have any problems with that. I don't really know John Wall's situation, but I don't think it's serious. I'm sure he'll be fine. He was doing a great job.
NBA.com: Who is the most famous person you've been heckled by?
BG: What? Heckled? Aw, I haven't really been teased by anybody from the stands. I haven't been heckled yet.
NBA.com: We ask, of course, because of the reports that Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, has heckled your team's point guard, Baron Davis, from his front-row seat. What is your impression of Sterling?
BG: I don't really know him or know much about that whole situation. He hasn't done anything like that to me personally.
NBA.com: I've always thought that, for the Clippers, sharing Staples Center with the Lakers must be like having a roommate who has a much more interesting and fun life. How does it feel being with L.A.'s "other" NBA team?
BG: The way I see it, the Clippers are my team, the Lakers are the other team. I'm not really worried about what they do. They're not my concern. My biggest concern is trying to win games and keep learning throughout the season.
NBA.com: What do you like most about living in Los Angeles? You're not going to say the weather, are you?
BG: Definitely the weather. And being close to the beach. There's always plenty to do.
NBA.com: So far, who has been your toughest opponent to face?
BG: A team like the Spurs is tough, because they have so many guys. They rotate their guys and they all know their jobs. And San Antonio is always physical. They have good rotations and they play great team defense.
NBA.com: What is the weirdest or funniest thing about L.A.?
BG: The thing I hate the most is the traffic. It's unbelievable out there. You can't ever try to get on the freeway at 5 o'clock, 4 o'clock. It takes way too long to get anywhere.
NBA.com: When you're stuck in traffic, do you ever get recognized by someone who looks over from the next vehicle?
BG: Aw, nah, I keep my windows tinted and don't really drive with them down.
NBA.com: Give us an update on your brother Taylor. [Taylor Griffin, three years older, also played at Oklahoma and was drafted in 2009 by Phoenix. He is playing with Belgacom Liege in Belgium this season.]
BG: It's going well for him overseas. I talk to him as much as I can. He'll be back in the states [this] week for about a week, so I'll get to talk to him a lot then.
NBA.com: Do you think he can play in the NBA?
BG: Definitely. He's a very tough player and he's a lot more athletic than people give him credit for -- he's every bit as athletic as me. But he's just got to find that right spot. He's got to keep working, and he'll find a spot somewhere.
NBA.com: Before we go, give us your five-man MVP ballot for the first third or so of the season.
BG: You've got to go with Kobe. Dirk Nowitzki. Let's see here ... I guess you've got to put Dwight Howard on there. Probably by the end of the season you'll say LeBron, just because of the way he plays and the kind of numbers he'll put up. Maybe a guy like Kevin Durant. He's one of those guys who can always get it done, no matter what.
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