Blake Griffin has never wanted for the opinions of outsiders.
Folks have been offering not-so-flattering assessments of him and his basketball skills as far back as his high school days at Oklahoma Christian School. He remembers playing in some small towns around the state and hearing lots of talk.
“Aw, he's never going to make it in the Big 12,” people would say. “He's just a big body.”
The talk continued at Oklahoma.
“He isn't a basketball player,” people would argue. “He just tries to bully people.”
Now, after a rookie season filled with highlights and awards and a sophomore season in which Griffin not only made the All-Star Game but also will lead the Clippers to playoffs, you'd think all the detractors would have decided to give it a rest. Instead, there is a new opinion of Griffin.
He's a villain.
Yep, the same guy who was the darling of the NBA last season is apparently becoming the league's new bad guy.
I didn't see him wearing his black cape or twisting his mustache when he talked to the media after Clippers' practice Tuesday afternoon at The Peake. I don't suspect he'll be rubbing his hands together and laughing manically during Wednesday night's game against the Thunder, either. But there's a sense around the league that Griffin has become a lot less lovable than he was a year ago.
At the suggestion that Griffin had turned to the dark side, Clippers point guard Chris Paul nearly choked on his post-practice energy bar.
“What's not to like about him?” he said. “He's fun. He's funny. He laughs, jokes, smiles. He's a great guy off the court.”
Hard to argue that.
Griffin is one of the sharpest, wittiest guys around. He doesn't always show it to the masses, but he has this dry humor that is fantastic.
It was on display just the other day when he responded to recent criticism from DeMarcus Cousins. The Sacramento big man called Griffin an “actor.”
“I first heard about it from my acting coach; he sent me an email,” he said. “He was obviously thrilled.”
But really, that's some funny stuff. And in situations like these, you're way more likely to see testosterone talking instead of humor.
Now, I will admit that some of Griffin's on-court antics can grate on you. He glares at opponents. He stares down defenders. He stalks around the court like he owns the place. And this season, he definitely complains about calls and no-calls more than he did a year ago.
But really, aren't there a lot of guys around the NBA who you can say those things about?
What makes Griffin any different?
It's the way he plays the game.
No one else in the league has a skill set quite like Griffin. He is so powerful and explosive yet so controlled and agile. I know that he hasn't developed into a complete player — his mid-range game is lacking as is his consistency at the free-throw line — but what he can do is machine-like and almost impossible to defend.
Add in his cool, steely demeanor, and it's no wonder he was once dubbed “The Terminator.”
Not exactly a good-guy nickname, is it?
But none of that makes Griffin a villain.
I mean, there are plenty of sports figures that deserve that tag. Even recent headlines abound with possibilities. Dwight Howard. Gregg Williams. Bobby Petrino. Ozzie Guillen.
But putting Blake Griffin in that group?
(I seem to remember him enduring a full-speed takedown a few weeks back in New Orleans and walking away from the assault instead of escalating the situation. That doesn't seem very bad-boy-like to me.)
“Shoot, everybody loves him,” Paul said, getting fired up as he talked. “Shoot, don't nobody love him more than my son.
“I don't know nobody that don't like Blake.”
“Except for the guys he dunks on.”
Paul might've gotten a little feisty at the idea of Griffin as a villain, but for Big Blake, it's just the latest in a long line of opinions from outsiders that have been off base.
“I never think, ‘Oh, everybody loves me' or ‘Everybody hates me,'” he said. “You just keep hearing it your whole career.
“It's not something I'm worried about.”
Nor should he be.