I love New Orleans. I’ve been three or four times, but haven’t been back since the storm. Not that Katrina is the reason I’ve stayed away. I live in California, New Orleans is far, life is busy, tickets are expensive. You know, the usual reasons. But needless to say, when fellow Clipperblogger Charlie Widdoes proposed meeting up in the Big Easy for his birthday I had a ticket faster than you could type “Mom, do you still have that Southwest voucher?”
Of course, we had an amazing time. I mean, of course we did. If you can’t enjoy yourself in New Orleans, you probably can’t enjoy yourself anywhere (I’m looking at you, Demote DeAndre).
But the highlight of the weekend was the Hornets-Clips game. The place was electric for Chris Paul’s return. Judging from the intensity of the crowd you would have thought they were cheering on a playoff team, not a last place squad featuring 30 minutes a night of Marco Belinelli. (One other measurement of the intensity of New Orleans sports passion: our game tipped just over 24 hours after Roger Goddell annoucned the suspenion of Saints coach Sean Payton. Maybe half of the crowd had already sought out, found, bought, and sported to the Hive, black and gold FREE PAYTON T-shirts. The backs read F*!% GODDELL. Some T-shirt maker in New Orleans is on his game.)
That enthusiasm extended — within the boundaries of competitive spirit — even for the prodigal son. Our usher exhorted everyone in our section to boo CP3 each time he touched the ball… and then demanded we rise and cheer during the tribute video the Hornets played in Chris’ honor on the Jumbotron during halftime. “Get up for Chris, baby! Give it up for Chris”
But there was one person to whom all this good feeling, all this positive energy did not extend.
Blake Griffin was an enemy.
People called for hard fouls and cheered when they came. They jeered him when he complained to refs, booed if he stayed on the floor after a foul a moment too long.
I’ve heard Bill Simmons say that he believes that without the rabid Boston Garden crowd egging him on during the ‘85 finals, there’s no way Kevin McHale throws his famous clothesline on Kurt Rambis. Now I believe it. For one moment, Jason Smith channeled the collective id of a bloodthirsty arena, flattening Blake with the open-field tackle that earned him a two game suspension. (Check out Smith’s bewildered post-game comments. He had the dazed expression of a man who takes two Ambien and wakes up behind the wheel of his car).
Of course, they still loved it when Blake dunked — they loved it more when he fell. I can’t imagine a more succinct way to summarize how the average non-Clipper NBA fan feels about Blake Griffin two-thirds of the way through his second year. Last year, Blake was first on the youtubes and first in our hearts; now he’s a villain. How did that happen?
Of course, we all know this season has seen a Blake backlash. It’s taken many forms. His game has been picked apart. His flaws, particularly the free shows and his herky jumper, have been not just highlighted but overemphasised. How else can we explain a player who is Top 10 in PER showing up on several Most Disappointing or Most Overrated lists this season? Has his improvement always been smooth? Of course not. But the second year power forwards in recent NBA history who have put up 21 and 11 is still a pretty select squad — especially when you consider Blake hasn’t missed a game since the start of last season.
But Blakelash has also had another dimension, one less concerned about his game than his style. You’ve heard a million variations of it. Why does he whine so much? All he can do is dunk. What a baby.
Beckley Mason, writing for Truehoop, captures the tenor of these complaints in his article Boo the Clippers:
It starts with you, Blake Griffin.
Here’s a modest request: Give the scowl a rest, YOU GOT THE CALL!
There’s something menacing and unwelcoming in Griffin’s on-court demeanor that I didn’t detect last season. The way he jogs back down court after finishing an open layup seems self-congratulatory. The tedious way he alternates between shoving his head straight into his defender’s gut and throwing his head backward as though he was just tased on an attempted prison break. The way he takes just under 15 minutes to release a spot up 18-footer. It’s become apparent that Griffin has only four charmless facial expressions: rage, smug, aggrieved and vacant stare.
After watching what happened in New Orleans last Thursday, when Jason Smith did his best impression of a WWE heel then continued to urge on the frenzied crowd as he was escorted to the locker room; after watching a season in which Blake, in fact, gets hammered ALL the time, and, in fact, often doesn’t get the call (particularly on and-1 situations) because it’s very difficult to officiate something that big moving that fast; after listening to Blake’s game get picked apart relentlessly, on everything from the amount of dribbles he takes before free throws to (I’m not making this up) whether he was wrong at last year’s Dunk Content not to publicly credit the fan who claims to have given him the suggestion for the Kia-Hop … well can you blame the guy for being a little sour?
Can I prove he’s having less fun? Of course not. But almost without exception most of us would prefer to be loved than to be hated. No matter how much athletes talk about being revved up by opposing crowds, it’s the rare baller (Kobe, MJ, and Bird come to mind) who actually has the ability to channel anger into focus. And I don’t think Blake is in that category. Kobe spent the summer getting experimental medical work done in Germany. Blake hung out with Will Farrell and perfected his deadpan.
It must be tough. He clearly saw this coming, and did everything he could do to avoid it – why do you think he was so quick to distance himself from Lob City? Because he knows what anyone knows who has been watching SportsCenter for the last 25 years. Flash makes some people suspicious. It seems a lot like dilettantism, as if a huge dunks expose a character flaw, a lack of grit and fundamentals.
Remember, before MJ became The Greatest Champion Of All Time, this was the rap on him EXACTLY. What made Michael amazing is that he never second guessed who he was — he knew that Air Jordan and Champion Jordan weren’t mutually exclusive. He also continued to work on his defense, his jump shot, his post-up moves. It paid off in a championship … 6 years later.
I don’t know what to tell Blake, other than — this was probably inevitable. My advice? You can’t be all things to all people. Your first reaction to the Chris Paul — “It’s gonna be Lob City, baby” — was the real you. Flashy, ambitious, confident, maybe a touch entitled, and witty as hell (I mean, come on, off the top of his head Blake wrote better ad copy than the Clips’ PR department could write in their dreams. “Rise with the Clippers?” “Reality TV” Please).
That’s you. That’s why we love you. Sure you’re arrogant. You HAVE to be arrogant. Raw superiority is the essence — though, I’m sure you would be quick to point out, not the entirety — of your game. You’re bigger than everyone fast and faster than everyone big.
The one thing they’re right about: Maybe it’s a little much with a whining. Not because you don’t sometimes deserve a call, but because it’s ineffective, counterproductive. See how Chris Paul does it? Or Kobe? Arm around the ref, talking to them quietly during TV timeouts. Their composure sets them apart and, especially in Kobe’s case, it denies their haters a chance to pounce. The sooner Blake learns that lesson, the quicker the game will get back to being fun.