Start at the house on Ann Arbor Terrace. Wind through the neighborhood where modest brick homes line quiet streets named St. Mary's Place and Libby Avenue. Then swing onto the chaos of Northwest Expressway.
Pass fast-food restaurants and big-box stores and strip malls and endless commerce that becomes a blur. Where the flashing signs and the digital billboards begin to thin, turn into another neighborhood. The brick homes are a wee bit bigger here, but the streets are still quiet.
Hang a slight right, and arrive at the house on Harvest Hills Road.
The journey is only 4.6 miles.
The drive is less than 15 minutes even with bad traffic.
That's how close Blake Griffin and Sam Bradford lived growing up on the northwest side of Oklahoma City.
Unbelievable, isn't it?
For a little while longer, these two are the reigning rookies of the year in America's biggest pro sports. Bradford will give up his title next weekend when the NFL names the 2011 Rookie of the Year. Griffin, whose Clippers face the Thunder on Monday, will remain Rookie of the Year until the NBA crowns a new top newbie this summer.
These are two of best young athletes in professional sports. Their paths intersected along the way — they played summer basketball together for Athletes First and starred at the same time at Oklahoma — but for as close as they lived, their crossroads are few.
Their paths were parallel.
Both had parents who were educators and former athletes. Both grew up in households that saw value in being active and in learning the life lessons taught by sports. Both were afforded every opportunity but taught the value of discipline.
That upbringing helped both reach jaw-dropping heights while handling heart-wrenching disappointment. Unlike the thoroughfare that connects their boyhood homes, their paths haven't always been straight.
The Northwest Expressway Boys have had quite a journey.
* * *
The house on Ann Arbor Terrace is brick. Double garage. Basketball goal in the driveway just like lots of other houses in the neighborhood.
But this is where Blake Griffin learned to play.
What the Los Angeles Clippers big man learned there made him the player he is today. That fundamentally sound game that makes him one of two NBA players averaging more than 20 points and 10 rebounds a game? That unbelievably gritty attitude that you see in the abuse he takes and delivers?
You can trace it back to the driveway.
Fundamentals came first because his dad would have it no other way. Tommy Griffin is one of the state's most successful high school basketball coaches, and the do-it-again, get-it-right philosophy he uses was the same way he taught his sons, Taylor and Blake.
They had to learn the fundamentals before he would allow either of them to play organized basketball.
But while Tommy was teaching fundamentals to his sons, Taylor was teaching toughness to his younger brother. The brothers waged many one-on-one battles in the driveway, some that even had to be broken up by Tommy or his wife, Gail.
All of that created an insatiable work ethic in Griffin.
“It's very professional-like ... even before he got into the pros,” his dad, Tommy, said. “Of course, he had a great leader; Taylor was the same way.
“No matter what ... Blake's going to work hard. That's his instinct.”
That drive helped him through one of the toughest years of his life, a preseason injury in 2009 that cost him an entire season. It delayed his rookie year in the NBA. It sidelined him when he was supposed to be saving the woeful Clippers.
Of course, all he did was pour himself into the rehab. He went a hundred miles an hour, arriving at the training facility early, working when no one else was around, leaving no doubt that he'd be back.
And he was — with a vengeance.
Last season, he was the runaway winner of the rookie-of-the-year honors. He won the slam dunk contest. He made the highlights more than LeBron James. He took the league by storm.
Now with the Clippers' acquisition of Chris Paul, Griffin is supposed to do even more. There's even been talk of a championship.
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