Here’s an excerpt from Kevin Arnovitz’s excellent piece over at ESPNLA.com:
Before he made Mozgov a verb and before the nightly media scrum around his locker swelled to a pyramidal mass, Blake Griffin was contemplating what it would mean to be another in a procession of draft busts. He was killing time at movie theaters on Los Angeles’ Westside between rehab sessions on his left knee, cursing the snarl of traffic in his new hometown and basically managing his misery.
Over the spring and summer of 2010, Griffin’s patellar tendon became stronger and he gradually regained the range of motion in his knee. He endured that trial — the lost season, the solitude of the recovery process and the anxiety of having zero control over whether that little piece of broken kneecap would render him nothing more than a footnote. And that autumn, Griffin descended from the basketball heavens like an avatar.
From there, Griffin’s legend grew. His dunks sent grown men into delirium. He leaped over a Korean sedan, a Russian center and our wildest expectations. Griffin was the unanimous choice for rookie of the year. When owners locked out the players, Griffin worked on his extracurricular game as an intern at Funny or Die and honed his persona as a snarky, but imminently marketable, NBA star.
Everyone took notice of the full package, including a diminutive point guard in New Orleans who was a talent as transcendent and unimpeachable as Griffin. For the downtrodden Los Angeles Clippers fans desperate for a hero incarnate — not just some abstract hope the team was heading in the right direction — Griffin was a savior. Best of all, he renounced the idea that their team was predestined for failure. And they believed him, not because of anything he said, but because they could see the manifestation of that promise every time he soared through the lane.
Griffin’s first season was one of pure affection, but the only thing we enjoy more than falling in love with a star is falling out of love with him. Last season, fans wallpapered the Internet with his highlights, but lately Griffin is being seen through a different lens. We still get breathless whenever he gets loose above the rim, but that anticipation brings with it the growing feeling that what was deemed basketball perfection less than a year ago has evolved into something else.
The qualities we use to distinguish a proud warrior from a prima donna are quite subtle. You can almost hear the spirit of John Wooden utter, “Be bold, but don’t preen.” We beg to be thrilled, but reject any direct salesmanship of those thrills (Unless they occur during a certain athletic showcase on a Saturday in February). We’re drawn to charisma, but arrogance repels us — that’s true of rabid dunkers, prom kings or presidential candidates. We’re not always good at delineating between those two poles, but we’re pretty sure that border is there, even if we can’t see it.