By Dennis J. Freeman
Los Angeles-Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin has left quite an impression on the NBA this season. Griffin’s dazzling display of twirling, aerial dunks and power moves in the paint has left both opponents and fans alike with their jaws dropped to the floor.
After sitting out all of last season due to a knee injury before the start of his rookie campaign, Griffin has become the talk of the league with one highlight-reel, dominating performance after another.
In just the halfway point of the season, the 21-year-old Griffin has already developed a legion of fans that even Michael Jordan would envy.
And he looks like he’s having a blast showcasing the mad skills that was hidden from the world last season. This season, Griffin has taken the NBA by storm, averaging 22.6 points and 12. 8 rebounds a game. Los Angeles is still Kobe Bryant’s town. But the Los Angeles Lakers superstar may have to sign off on a co-lease deal soon with the high-rising, athletic Griffin.
Making an appearance recently at the 42nd Street Elementary School in South Los Angeles as part of the 2011 NBA All-Star Jam Session promotion, Griffin’s play this season has in part been fueled by what happened to him last year. After about an hour and half of shooting basketballs with the students, Griffin, part of the NBA Fit team, Griffin said there may be some extra motivation in his play this season.
“I think it definitely helped, just sitting out and being able to watch the games up close made me comfortable,” Griffin said. “I knew exactly what to expect coming in, so it kind of gave me a little bit of an advantage. I went through everything; I went through training camp. I traveled a little bit. I went to all the home games, went to all the practices. I was just more prepared.”
Griffin knows he’s the hottest commodity in the NBA at the moment. He doesn’t act like it though, exuding a quiet confidence about himself when asked about his newfound popularity.
“I don’t think about it like that,” Griffin said. “It’s one of those things that all of those people talking about me right now are the ones who weren’t talking so nicely last year when I was sitting out. You have to keep these things in mind and take that with a grain of salt, and realize all of this can be gone in an instant. I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to play this year.”
The Clippers are certainly thankful that the 6-foot-10, 251-pound Griffin has made his way back on the court this season. The team never fully recovered from losing Griffin to that knee injury he suffered last year, winning just 29 games. That kind of futility appears to be a blip now in the Clippers’ rearview mirror, thanks to the energetic play of Griffin this season.
Griffin has brought a lot of buzz to Staples Center this year as talk of the Clippers securing a playoff berth gather steam. He also brought plenty of wows, wide-eyes and smiling faces at the 42nd Street Elementary School as parents and staff snapped up photos and students quizzed him about his age and how much money he made. To the delight of the students, Griffin participated in layup drills with them and even shot hoops left-handed in a condensed version of a shoot-off with students. Of course, that made their day. That also gave Griffin an opportunity to reflect on who were the basketball legends he admired when he was in elementary school
“[There were] guys like Michael Jordan, Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal), David Robinson, and Vince Carter as I got older…I can go and make a list of all the guys I looked up to,” Griffin said. “It’s funny, [but] when you’re that age you never think you’re going to get to that level. To get here makes you realize how blessed you are. I’m having fun. These kids are more interested in you interacting with them and talking with them than what you do out on the court every night.”
What Griffin does on the court every night is a treat to everyone paying to see him. He’ll be providing more of those thrills during the 2011 NBA All-Star Weekend, bringing his spectacular arsenal of dunks to the Dunk Contest. But he’s not giving out secrets to anyone about what he plans to do.
“I have a few ideas,” Griffin said. “I’m just going to get out there and let it fly.”