ANOTHER SUMMER OF WORK FOR GRIFFIN
The normally crowded parking lot at the Clippers’ training center was more than half empty. It was an early weekday morning, especially early for an NBA offseason, when superstar Blake Griffin pulled into the lot, backing his vehicle into a spot near the front entrance.
He wouldn’t leave for hours.
That has been a customary scene for the duration of the summer, Griffin arriving early, working out, pushing himself through drills and closing out each session with nearly two hours of pickup basketball.
He takes hundreds of free throws, an area he improved nearly 14 percent from two years ago. He initiates offense from the elbow, a place he says new Head Coach Doc Rivers envisions the three-time All-Star playing more this season. He shoots from the perimeter, puts himself through agility drills, and teams with fellow big men DeAndre Jordan, Ryan Hollins, Byron Mullens, Brandon Davies or whichever members of the Clippers roster are in town or in the gym at that time.
“That’s what a superstar is all about,” said Hollins, who re-signed with the Clippers in July and has also been a regular at the team’s facility this offseason. “A superstar, a mega star, that’s what he is. He’s working to get better. He could easily come in and say, ‘I’m good. I was an All-Star last year’ and kind of do his own thing.”
Griffin’s “thing” is an ungodly work ethic. It was obvious when he was a rookie in 2009, running steep hills in beach sand with weight bags strapped to his shoulders. And it hasn’t stopped despite all of the accolades and endorsements, a five-year contract extension and rise to superstardom.
“I had to force myself to take a week off,” Griffin said prior to the start of the 2012-13 season when recounting his summer activities.
This year has been no different. Griffin was at the facility receiving treatment on his badly sprained right ankle in the days following the Clippers’ elimination from the postseason. Even then he was taking set shots. After a momentary respite that included a Jordan Brand promotional trip to China alongside Chris Paul and a vacation, he was fully healthy and back to work.
“He’s here utilizing the facility and working and playing and stepping into all of the activities, trusting in the coaching,” Hollins said. “It’s a big step to show the new coaching staff and get that experience because we know how vital that time is.”
Nobody recognizes that more than Griffin. For all of the Darryl Drain spots and genuinely funny deadpan answers and comedic timing he provides, basketball, and winning, has remained intently serious. He’s experienced the jump from 32-win team to second-round playoff team to potential top-flight contender. In three seasons he’s gone from targeting the winners to the targeted. But ultimately he understands that’s not enough.
“I think it’s one of those things where winning in college and winning in high school is completely different than winning in the NBA,” Griffin said. “This is obviously the toughest league to do it in.”
Griffin learned that last season when the Clippers, despite setting enough regular-season franchise records to practically require additional binding in the team’s media guide, lost in six games to the Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs. He said it’s about establishing a mentality, an edge.
“It’s like that thing you see late in games when guys kind of just turn it on,” Griffin added. “It’s not to say that you’re not playing hard the first three quarters, but it’s like another level mentally, knowing you have to step up. That’s kind of the winning thing, the winning idea.”
Asked if he’s still learning how to win, he quickly responded, “absolutely.”
That’s something easy to forget about Griffin. He is entering his fourth full NBA season, fifth removed from college. He is 24 years old. According to Basketball Reference, he is only the second player in NBA history to compile 4,500 points, 2,000 rebounds, 800 assists and shoot 50 percent or better in his first three seasons combined, duplicating all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s mark.
While his numbers dwarf most of his predecessors, Griffin’s still learning on the fly, which could partially explain his exhaustive hours underneath the white florescent lights at the training center. It’s that and his unrelenting drive.
But as the Clippers are seeking their third consecutive winning season for the first time in franchise history in 2013-14, Griffin is noticing he is not alone. Nearly everyone on the roster has been in the gym with him at times.
“And that’s kind of what happens when guys become fully involved in the idea that winning is most important,” he said. “That’s a much harder concept to get through to guys than people would think because this is a business and guys are trying to take care of themselves and guys are making sure they’re secure. At the same time, I’ve said for a long, long time that winning kind of solves all of those problems.”