Feb 13 2014, 3:03am CST | by Forbes
To those to whom much is given, much is expected but few NBA stars got theirs as fast as Blake Griffin, an All-Star for the fourth time in his four seasons, a starter in the last three… and, finally, no longer “overrated.”
What does it take to get “rated” these days? In the high-wire world of Blake Griffin, a lot.
Despite his highlight reel exploits, over-the-top effort and 20-point, 10-rebound career average at 24, the consensus going into this season was that he was never as good as his hype and wasn’t getting better.
Charles Barkley, called him “a little overrated” and a Vince Carter-caliber flopper. Clipper teammate Chauncey Billups said Blake wasn’t really soft, just “too nice of a guy.” Opposing teams bristled at the Lob City antics, centering around Griffin. Laker fans, reeling from the local teams’ reversal of fortunes, went past sneering into rage at the notion that Blake was anything more than a dunker.
(For his part, Kobe Bryant acknowledged his fascination, marveling, “Blake has like a 60-inch vertical.” Actually, Griffin’s vertical leap was only 35 1/2 inches at the 2009 pre-draft camp, impressive as that was for someone 6-8 1/2 in stocking feet, who weighed 248.)
If it was no surprise that Griffin was special when the Clippers drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2009, the reality dwarfed expectations. If the ensuing hype didn’t match that of LeBron James, Bron’s had built steadily from his junior year in high school.
Griffin’s hype dated from the moment three weeks into his rookie season when he windmilled his dunk over Knick seven-footer Timofey Mozgov without touching the rim. Four years later, one Youtube video of it is approaching 6.5 million views.
Griffin was an All-Star in his first season, played in the rookie game, too, and won the dunk contest, taking Clipper teammate Baron Davis’ lob through the sun roof of a car, vaulting the hood and jamming. Of course, the car was schtick, launching Griffin’s hookup with Kia hookup, which put him in brash TV spots aimed at the youth demographic, emphasizing racy, if down-market, elements like paddle shifters and (who thought this up?) white driving gloves.
As far as creating myths, Spike Lee’s Nike spots making Michael Jordan look like a young god just down from Mt. Olympus were one extreme. Kia’s ads are off in the other direction.
Pushing back on nervy kids is a hallowed NBA instinct. As a 21-year-old rookie in 1984, Jordan opened the age of commercial opportunities for all players, signing a stunning $500,000-a-year deal with Nike. Unfortunately, he then ticked off veterans at All-Star weekend, dressing head to foot in gear from his personal line before anyone else had a personal line, and was frozen out by East teammates in his first All-Star Game.
If Griffin isn’t MJ, Blake’s third season was not the hoped-for quantum leap at a mere 18 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. With everything else working against him, he chafed at the notion that the Clippers were Chris Paul’s team, which would make him CP3′s high-jumping sidekick. Opponents mauled Griffin nightly, knowing as Doc Rivers, the new Clipper coach, would put it, “They have to, he’s too quick for them to guard”–also realizing that if they didn’t get Blake before he got them, they could be on Youtube next to Mozgov. With Griffin’s glares at the referees came a reputation as a whiner. The young man who arrived with the good manners of a Boy Scout, closed down with the press, fulfilling his obligations without joy or personality.
Happily for Griffin, with youth, a prodigious work ethic and Rivers playing him farther out on the floor so he can out-quick defenders, he’s taking that next step, averaging 24-10, shooting 54% and a career-high 70% at the line.
“It’s definitely been a roller coaster,” Griffin says. “I wasn’t really prepared for what happened that first season, how everything just kind of blew up. Then on top of that I wasn’t prepared for what was coming next. It was almost like an immediate 180, from all these people saying I can do this, this, this and that. And then, seemingly everybody saying I can’t do this, this and that. And to this day it seems to me like all I hear about is what I can’t do.”
That’s fame in the 21st Century, a set-up. At 29, Bron has been from golden child to faint-hearted mercenary and back. On the other hand, as long as Griffin becomes one of the all-time greats—which should happen, barring injury–he’ll never have to hear the O-word again.
Source: Forbes Business
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