Blake Griffin exudes enthusiasm as his Pistons journey gets set to launch
AUBURN HILLS – If Blake Griffin is harboring crushing disappointment over being traded to the Pistons, then he must have found one of the best acting coaches Hollywood has to offer during his nine years in Los Angeles.
“I’m excited about a new opportunity. Just being able to sit with everybody in the organization so far – their excitement – is re-energizing. Everybody so far has been unbelievable – unbelievably supportive, unbelievably helpful.”
He’ll admit to shock when news came to him Monday morning that the only franchise he’d known since being picked No. 1 overall in 2009 – the franchise that less than seven months ago signed him to a five-year, $173 million super max contract – was trading him more than halfway across the country.
But it’s not like he’s known nothing but L.A. glitz and glamour. Griffin grew up in Oklahoma City long before the NBA gave it big-city status by installing the Thunder there as the town’s first and only major professional sports franchise. He’s looking forward to living in a place where fans live and die with their teams. The cameras and bright lights are just fluff.
“I’ve just always been about going out and playing. That stuff is is never in my mind – not even the back of my mind,” he said. “Basketball is basketball. At the end of the day, it’s a game I’ve played my whole life. I’m happiest when I’m playing basketball. I love the fact that this town embraces their athletes and embraces their sports teams. They have a great fan base for all sports. That’s very, very exciting for me, coming from a place like L.A. where there’s a lot going on and sports isn’t necessarily the biggest thing.”
Though Pistons owner Tom Gores now makes Los Angeles his home base, the first time Griffin met him was Monday night after the Pistons and Clippers came to an agreement. Gores, an admirer of Griffin’s from his occasional courtside view at Staples Center, saw the same competitive streak in Griffin as they teamed up in a pool match.
“He wants to win. You can see it in the way he plays,” Gores said via telephone. “We’re really getting more than just a great basketball player. Spending some time with him, he’s a natural leader. His character of hard work and competitiveness is at the highest, highest standard. I was pretty excited when this came along just getting a person the caliber of Blake.”
“The thing I took away was his excitement and his energy and how much he really cares about this team and the city of Detroit,” Griffin said of their time together. “We had a great talk about the culture moving forward and everything we want to do here. It’s exciting to have an owner who has that much passion and is invested the way he’s invested.”
You hear words like “professionalism” and “character” thrown around and sometimes it’s hard to find tangible examples. But Reggie Bullock began his career with the Clippers and extolled Griffin as a teammate who cares about making others better players, grinning that he knew he was in for some ribbing from him for his new hairstyle. While still digesting the impact of the trade Monday night, Griffin went on Synergy – the analytics-heavy subscription basketball website – to acquaint himself with his new teammates and Stan Van Gundy’s system.
“I went on Synergy that night and looked at some clips and familiarized myself with this team a little bit better,” he said. “Now I want to hit the ground running and be a part of this team and be a part of this franchise.”
Griffin spoke of the history of the franchise, the championships, and when it was pointed out to him that Pistons fans have always gravitated toward blue-collar teams and players and asked his fit, his self-descriptive analogy should immediately endear him to the fan base.
“Somewhere in between Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman,” he grinned. “Being a coach’s son and growing up playing for my dad and him always demanding I play hard and be a hard worker – both my parents are two of the hardest-working people I know. Hard work is something that’s been instilled in me from a young age. With the Clippers, I was always changing my game and adding things here and there, but the base of my game has always been physical, playing hard and trying to get it done that way.”
Pistons fans get a chance to start sizing him up Thursday when it’s expected he’ll line up alongside Andre Drummond when the Pistons host the Memphis Grizzlies. The suspicion is that they’ll see in Griffin one of their own, a worthy heir to the Rodman-Wallace lineage of hard hats and blue collars.
What Griffin brings with him from Los Angeles is immense crossover appeal, a star who transcends the sports bubble. For a philanthropic owner whose mission has always been the pursuit of championships in concert with using the platform of ownership as an agent for community betterment, the possibilities are, well, dizzying.
“It’s shocking,” Gores said, “that we even have him right now.”