Posted Feb 16 2011 8:26AM
Before he leaped over Timofey Mozgov, began scraping his head on the ceilings, made rims from coast-to-coast his personal chin-up bars and became The Blake Show, he had to learn the rules.
Not just the basic ones found in any rulebook. The special ones that apply when your father is the head coach.
Blake Griffin had to work harder and longer than anyone else. He had to chase every errant pass that was going out of bounds, had to dive onto the floor and come up with every loose ball.
Those traits grew into the instincts that have made him a bombastic NBA rookie. Back then, they were, quite simply, the only way Griffin was going to get into games at Oklahoma Christian School.
"When you're the coach's son, everybody's looking at you all of the time, trying to pick apart everything you do anyway," said Tommy Griffin. "And I already had one son on the team. His brother Taylor is two years older and so when Blake came along as a freshman, I explained to him how it had to be.
"I told Blake I knew it wasn't fair. I knew that I was asking him to do more and be more than anybody else. But I told him, 'You can't just be good. You have to be the best player on the team for me to put you out there on the floor.' "
So maybe that's how the engine that always seems to be at full roar came to be. Or maybe it was racing up and down stairs, trying to be the first one to get to the front door or competing head-to-head in finishing chores that drove him.
"You know what they say about sibling rivalry -- nothing tougher or more intense," said the father.
Nothing full of more respect and love, says the younger brother.
"Taylor is the best big brother that anybody could ever have," said Blake Griffin. "I wouldn't be here without him. I wouldn't be having any of this experience."
It's an experience that not only has made the Clippers' forward the first rookie to play in an All-Star Game since Yao Ming did it in 2003, but it's one that will put him smack in the middle of a celebrity swirl.
Let's face it, Bieber Fever can't compare with The Blake Show. Griffin will be Hollywood's leading man and hometown favorite as part of the four-man field in the 2011 Sprite Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night in Los Angeles.
He's a YouTube sensation with another slam-dunking, rim-bending, mind-twisting highlight in every game. In addition to Mozgov, he's posterized Ben Wallace, Amar'e Stoudemire, Jeff Green and Danilo Gallinari -- to name just a few -- and has been so splendid that Ron Artest mentioned he'd like to get dunked on by Griffin, just for the experience.
"He's Evander Holyfield -- the Real Deal," said Shane Battier of the Rockets. "If I could buy stock in Blake Griffin, I would put a fair amount of money into it. He plays fearlessly. No matter how hard he gets hit, he keeps coming back strong. He's so athletic and explosive and he's got a good feel for the game. He's one of the few players I'd pay to watch in the league. That's saying a lot for someone who's essentially a rookie."
Maybe Griffin has exploded like a Roman candle over his belated rookie season because his launch was aborted in the eighth exhibition game of 2009 when a stress fracture in his left kneecap forced him to delay his debut with the Clippers for a year.
"You don't know how hard that was for me to sit the entire season," Griffin said. "I was three days away from playing in my first regular-season game. That was rough. I knew what I had to do with my rehab. I understood that it was a long process that required patience. But it was just chewing me up inside because I wanted to play, compete. Anybody who's ever seen me knows I don't like to sit still."
Anybody who'd ever seen seen him play on the high school team for his father or rumble through the Big 12 Conference at Oklahoma knew that his high-energy winds were going to do damage in the NBA.
This is the point where Griffin, as a rookie, is supposed to say that everything he's accomplished is a huge surprise, that he never imagined he could do all of this at the top level. Except he did.
"I was prepared," Griffin said. "I'd been getting ready for this since I played with my brother and played for my dad and then had success in college. My brother got me ready for a lot of this."
It is not a lack of humility. He is polite, respectful and constantly willing to listen and learn. It is merely confidence.
"I know what I can do," Griffin said.
Brother Taylor was selected in the same Draft as his younger brother, but went 48th overall to Phoenix and only lasted a year in the NBA before being waived by the Suns last summer. He now plays for Belgacom Liege in Belgium and follows Blake on computer. His parents sit at home taking it all on TV, sometimes marveling that it's their kid who's become a sensation throughout the basketball world.
"I won't tell you I didn't expect him to be very good in the NBA," said Tommy Griffin. "Because he's been growing into this for years and he's been ready. He can handle the ball like a point guard. He can shoot from the outside. He can drive to the basket and finish. But the part where everybody's keeping track of his dunks and he's the highlight every night on TV ... yeah, that's something."
Griffin says he hasn't yet planned anything special for the slam dunk contest. Maybe he'll consult on the Internet with Taylor. Maybe he'll take suggestions from his Clipper teammates. Maybe he'll just go with what feels right at the moment.
"I'm really not good at coming up with and planning out all of those fancy trick shots that a lot of guys do in those contests," Griffin said. "That's really not my game."
Aren't the best jazz riffs spontaneous?
"He's been in three or four contests and he's never lost," said Tommy Griffin. "But I'll tell you what. If the contest could somehow be held in the flow of a game, nobody would ever beat him. He'll outwork you, outhustle you, out-compete you."
Those were, after all, the rules that got Blake Griffin into the game in the first place.
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