Blake Griffin couldn’t understand why the store clerk was struggling to see his dad. Then a youngster, he realized his father, Tommy, was standing a little ways away, but still, he was pointing right at him. "Where?” the clerk asked again. "Right there,” Griffin said, pointing still. "The big guy with the bald head?” "Yeah, the black guy.” On the eve of Oklahoma’s NCAA Tournament opener, the Griffin brothers are the undisputed faces of Sooner basketball, Blake as everyone’s player of the year and older brother, Taylor, as the well-spoken senior captain. Theirs are also the faces of change in America. Blake and Taylor are the children of an interracial marriage. Tommy is black while mother, Gail, is white. In the last census, almost 7 million Americans identified themselves as multiracial, a staggering number considering interracial unions were still illegal in some states less than 50 years ago. Now, children of those unions are seen in every walk of life. Tiger Woods. Beyonce Knowles. Halle Berry. Even president Barack Obama. "I am and always have been extremely proud of who we are,” Taylor said. "I really wouldn’t trade places with anyGail Griffin taught their sons. "When you look back at all the things that they’ve done, it makes me want to be the kind of people that they are,” Blake said. "There’s no way I’d not want to be like my parents.”
Teaching life lessonsTo think, interracial marriages like Tommy and Gail Griffin’s were finally made legal in all states only four decades ago. Truth be told, when the two met while teaching at Classen High School in the early 80s — Tommy was the basketball coach, Gail the cheerleading sponsor — interracial relationships were often still frowned on. A 1967 Supreme Court ruling might’ve made them legal, but it didn’t mean they were always accepted. Yet when Tommy and Gail started dating, they had few problems. They credit Classen, an Oklahoma City public school that was diverse in every way. Ethnic. Religious. Socio-economic. "Classen was like an international school,” Gail remembered. "We had the first Vietnamese (students) in Oklahoma City. We had Hispanic. We had Indian.” There were occasional stares and comments. "But really, there were no issues,” Gail said. "We weren’t confronted ever, which is amazing at that point in time in Oklahoma City especially.” Tommy said, "You just shut people out. It’s only important to the person who’s listening, and if you’re not listening, you don’t have to worry about it.” Tommy and Gail told their boys similar things as they got older. They knew, after all, that everyone might not like them. Then again, doesn’t every parent tell their children that? Tommy and Gail Griffin taught their sons universal lessons. Hard work. Kindness. Generosity. They were part of Gail’s homeschool teaching. They were part of Tommy’s basketball coaching. But they were also their way of life. Tommy ran a trophy business out of the family’s garage, and after a long day at school, he worked into the wee hours of the morning. Gail tutored boys who played for Tommy during the glory days at John Marshall if they needed a little extra help on their school work. The Griffins didn’t have a lot of money to give, but they helped where they could. If someone needed a ride home, they would tell them to hop in. If someone lived in a single-parent home, they would drop off leftovers from team meals. "It’s stuff that nobody would ever see besides us,” Blake said. The impression was lasting.
Learning from the bestEarlier this season as Tommy and Gail Griffin sat in their usual Lloyd Noble Center seats a few rows behind the Sooner bench, one stranger after another approached. All of them told the Griffins how great their sons were, not as basketball players but as people. They had stories about Taylor and Blake signing autographs, taking pictures and taking time with their fans, especially the young ones. That makes Tommy and Gail proudest. Then again, they taught Taylor and Blake about that, about being inclusive, about treating everyone the way you’d want to be treated. Sure, being bi-racial hasn’t always been easy. Not for Tommy and Gail. Not for Taylor and Blake. The Griffin brothers realized that they were different than most kids, that not everybody’s parents were different races. But it was never was an issue for them, though it has made for some interesting conversations. "Is it true,” someone once asked Blake, "your dad adopted you guys when you were kids?” "What?” he said. "Somebody was telling me that.” Blake laughed. "That couldn’t be further from the truth.” Some folks aren’t even that subtle. "Man,” Blake once overheard someone say, "those guys can get up for white dudes.” The Griffin brothers chuckle and smile about those stories. They aren’t uncomfortable about it because their parents aren’t uncomfortable about it. Just another lesson learned growing up Griffin. Taylor and Blake believe their upbringing made them not only the players but also the people that they are today. That isn’t because of what their parents are as an interracial couple, but rather who they are as human beings. "It’s the best of both worlds, I guess,” Blake said.