David Griffin emphasizes long-term vision, goal of sustained success in New Orleans
One of the most memorable experiences of David Griffin’s career as an NBA executive occurred during the summer of 2016, after he helped lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to the franchise’s first championship. Griffin remembers emotional Ohio natives approaching him to express their gratitude for the Cavs bringing a pro sports championship to Cleveland, which hadn’t happened since the 1964 Browns. That drought had become so lengthy, some locals wondered if they’d live long enough to ever witness a title.
“Generations of people came up to me, literally in tears, (to say thank you) for delivering a championship for their grandparents to see,” Griffin recalled Wednesday. “It was powerful.”
During his first day as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for New Orleans, the Arizona native periodically compared Cleveland to his new NBA city, while discussing how meaningful it would be locally to turn the Pelicans into a championship contender. Like his previous home in Northeast Ohio, residents of Southeast Louisiana are well-known for having enormous local pride and love for being from a unique place. Though there may be some similarities between the two cities, one stark difference is that the Cavaliers were in short-term, title-capturing mode during Griffin’s tenure due to LeBron James’ presence. The Pelicans plan to have a bigger-picture approach to building a roster and organization under Griffin.
“It’s not easy to just flip a switch and win a championship tomorrow, but if you start building to the ethos of the city, you can build something that attracts the right people,” Griffin said of his vision for New Orleans. “We want to build something that lasts, and this city gives us a chance to do that. Cleveland’s the same way – everyone’s there because they love it. Everyone’s there because they have incredible passion for it. That’s what everybody is here for.”
After addressing a larger audience in his introductory press conference, Griffin spoke to a collection of media members, responding quickly when asked if he believes market size is a major factor that determines success in the NBA (New Orleans is the smallest city and TV market in the league).
“So this came up in the interview process,” Griffin said, his voice gaining intensity. “The notion that small markets can’t win is nonsense. We won in Cleveland – we had a parade, there were 1.6 million people there, so I can prove that you can win in smaller markets. But we won in a very inorganic way – it was all about winning this championship today (instead of a long-term plan). This is a situation (in New Orleans) where we need to be playing the long game and mindful of sustaining success. So it’s a different thing.”
Griffin added that no NBA franchise in a smaller city should tamp down its expectations or goals, citing San Antonio, which has won five championships since 1999. One reason Griffin was interested in being part of New Orleans’ future was the ability to develop and execute a long-term vision and plan, with a goal of making the Pelicans a perennial winner.
“It’s not just that you can win a championship in a small market; it’s that you should want to win championships in a market, like this, because it means more,” he said. “Anybody can play the game if you cheat and are way ahead (by taking advantage of being in a certain city). Let’s start this together in a way that means something. That was a big attraction to me.”