The day the Pistons added a superstar – and how owner Tom Gores welcomed Blake Griffin to the family
AUBURN HILLS – If Blake Griffin’s only NBA home had been New York, Miami or Chicago, then Tom Gores probably would have had to settle for a welcoming phone call in the wake of the shocking trade that delivered the five-time All-Star to the Pistons.
But Griffin had grown up a Los Angeles Clipper and Gores, who made his mark as a businessman in Southern California, could offer more than that the night of Jan. 29.
And so, instinctively, he did.
The Pistons owner arranged a meeting for Griffin, agent Sam Goldfeder and brother and business partner Taylor Griffin to come to his Beverly Hills home that night to ease his transition from Clipper to Piston.
“It was important for me to reach out to Blake as soon as we finished the deal,” Gores said. “I figured he’d be a little shocked by everything and I wanted him to know how excited we are to have him in Detroit and to address any questions or concerns he might have.”
Gores could speak to Griffin on more than one level – as Pistons owner but also as someone with roots in Michigan. Gores grew up in Flint and as a Michigan State graduate found his way to California where he launched a nascent business that grew into Platinum Equity, a private-equity industry giant. He embodies the work ethic and passion of the Pistons fans Gores knew Griffin would soon find his greatest supporters.
“I wanted to start building a relationship, to meet him and his brother, introduce them to my family and just spend some time getting to know each other,” Gores said. “I know it’s a big transition, so the more I could do to help put his mind at ease, the more he could just plug in with Stan and the team right away.”
Griffin’s comfort, Gores knew, would be critical for the Pistons to start ticking off everything he wants to achieve – to deliver a championship-caliber team to Pistons fans and use that enhanced platform to help further Detroit and the region’s transformation. It’s an approach Gores doesn’t just apply to star players; it’s a connection he strives for with all players brought into the fold.
“I’ve always made a point to get to know our players, to make a personal connection,” he said. “For me, these relationships are bigger than basketball. That’s part of the culture we’ve established with the Pistons.”
Griffin was admittedly caught off guard by the trade, especially since he’d only last summer signed a five-year contract. But he’d had a chance to talk by phone with Stan Van Gundy before arriving at the Gores home and requested video clips to get a jump start on how he’d fit with his new team.
The Griffin brothers and Goldfeder arrived separately between 7 and 7:30 p.m., a few hours after the teams had formally agreed to the six-player swap.
Gores joined them a few minutes after Blake Griffin arrived, delayed momentarily because he was finishing a phone conversation with Tobias Harris, thanking him for his two years with the Pistons that included the 2016 playoff drive to give Gores his first taste of the postseason since buying the franchise in 2011.
There was a nearly immediate familiarity as Gores welcomed Griffin to the family, he said.
“Going to Tom’s house and sitting down to talk to him was awesome,” Griffin said. “I felt welcome and part of the family right away. He was unbelievable. He talked about his personal story, about him as an owner, and he just put my mind at ease knowing that he was personally invested in this.”
Before the evening was too far along, Gores’ wife, Holly, and their teen son, Charles, joined the gathering. Griffin grew up and attended college in Oklahoma and Holly Gores spoke of the shared Midwestern values Griffin would come to find in Michigan. Then Charles struck a cord – as a teenager for whom moves can be jarring – when he explained his belief Griffin would enjoy the people and communities he’d find in and around Detroit.
“He was great,” Griffin said. “He kind of reminded me that at the end of the day it’s about the people you’re surrounded with. Once I got here, I definitely saw what he was saying. It reminds me a lot of home – the quality of the people that genuinely care, people that are excited about sports. All of that, it’s definitely made this transition much, much easier.”
Toward the end of the four-hour get-together, Tom Gores and Blake Griffin squared off in a pool match against Taylor Griffin and Goldfeder on the patio.
Owner and superstar saw in each other a common trait.
“He’s a competitor,” Griffin smiled. “It was myself and him against my brother and my agent. We took that one. It was a good first win.”
Through their friendly bantering, the courses of food being delivered throughout the evening and in the way Gores observed Griffin going for that “first good win,” the wisdom of the trade was reinforced for him.
“I could tell how competitive he is,” Gores said. “I wanted to know what he was thinking. How did he feel about the move? What are his thoughts? He’s incredibly smart and a real pro. I value his opinion a lot. It was clear right away that Blake is more than a great basketball player – he’s a natural leader. He has great character, believes in hard work and competing to the highest standard.”
“We were very quickly on the same page with the same view of what we want to achieve and the approach to get there,” Gores said. “He’s definitely hit the ground running. It’s been great to see how his teammates, the whole organization and the fans have embraced him.”
As they parted, Taylor Griffin made a joking request of his hosts.
“There was a full spread of food,” Blake Griffin said. “We ate, but we were talking and the food kept coming every 30 minutes. At the end, my brother asked for a carryout box.”
The Griffin brothers and Goldfeder took away something more lasting – the assurance that this next chapter of Blake Griffin’s career would be built on a foundation of family and trust.