Blake Austin Griffin was born on March 16, 1989 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Tommy and Gail, had an older son, Taylor, born three years before Blake. Tommy, a former high school basketball and track star, owned a trophy company and was a hoops coach in Oklahoma City. Gail home-schooled the boys until 2003, when Blake finished eighth grade and Tommy finished the equivalent of his sophomore year in high school.
The Griffin boys may not have had schoolmates, but they had no shortage of teammates. Both were gifted athletes who competed in youth leagues for football, baseball and basketball. Their greatest battles were in the family driveway. Blake was known as “Little Griffin” by just about everybody, and he didn't like it.
Blake was a typical younger sibling, always looking for a challenge. If Taylor wouldn't play him, he’d find something else to turn into a competition between the two. Blake was always trying to run a little faster or jump a little higher.
One of Blake’s friends was Sam Bradford, who would go on to be the top pick in the 2010 NFL draft. His parents owned a gym, and they got all their trophies from the Griffins. Taylor and Blake spent endless hours playing in the Bradford complex.
The Griffin boys started high school proper in 2003. They enrolled at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond, a wealthy suburb north of Oklahoma City. Tommy coached the basketball team for the Saints. The town was best known for producing gymnast Shannon Miller and BMX superstar Mat Hoffman.
After years of competing against each other, Blake and Taylor relished the chance to team up for the Saints on the hardwood. They led the school to a pair of state championships in 2003–04 and 2004–05. In Blake's freshman season, the team was a perfect 29–0. The following season, they lost only two games on the way to the title. That year, Taylor, now a senior, got all the headlines. He was named Oklahoma’s Player of the Year.
Fresh off his sensational season, Taylor accepted a scholarship to Oklahoma, and. That made Blake Oklahoma Christian’s leader in 200506. The summer between his sophomore and junior seasons, he began to turn heads as a member of the Athletes First AAU team. Bradford was a teammate, as was Xavier Henry, who would later spend one fantastic year at Kansas before jumping to the NBA. Among the players they faced that summer were Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson. Blake also played against some of Taylor’s OU teammates.
As Blake began his third season with Oklahoma Christian, he was quickly maturing into a special player. Strong and athletic, he averaged 21 points and 12 rebounds as a junior and led the Saints to another state championship. They lost only one game all season, and Blake was named Player of the Year by The Oklahoman.
That spring, one of the many fans in the stands watching Blake was Jeff Capel, the new head coach at Oklahoma. With Taylor on his roster, Capel already knew a good deal about Blake. The teenager got rave reviews from other Sooners as well. Capel was impressed by Blake’s size, speed and jumping ability. He also liked the fact that Blake had not yet become a household name among recruiters.
But while Capel was sold on Blake, he wasn’t sold on Oklahoma. That was Taylor’s job. He convinced his younger brother that the Sooners could be a national powerhouse. By the time Duke, UNC, Kansas and other schools began wooing Blake, he had already made up his mind. He officially committed to Oklahoma before the opening tip of his senior season.
ON THE RISE
Blake was a terror in 2006–07. He averaged 26.8 points and 15.1 rebounds a game as the Saints went 26-3. His last high school game came in—what else?—the state finals. He scored 22 points to lead Oklahoma Christian in a blowout over Pawnee High School, 81–50.
Blake was everyone's pick for the state’s Player of the Year and made almost every Prep All-America team. He was ranked among the Top 25 players in the nation as he packed his bags for Norman, just 45 minutes away.
Blake began his freshman year with the Sooners as Taylor’s little brother. By season’s end, people were comparing him to Wayman Tisdale. Only a knee injury could interrupt a mind-blowing string of double-doubles by the dynamic freshman. Even Taylor had to admit he was impressed. At least once a game, he watched Blake do something he’d never seen before. It wasn’t long before Blake’s dunks were showing up on YouTube.
Blake’s season looked like it might end after a cartilage tear in a game against Texas A&M. But after arthroscopic surgery and a week of rest, he was back on the floor in a victory over Missouri. The Sooners won 23 games with Blake assuming a larger role as the year progressed. Overall, he averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds, ranking him was among the Top 10 scorers, rebounders and shooters in the Big 12. He was a First-Team All Conference pick.
Despite Blake’s inexperience against topflight competition, everyone had him pegged as an NBA lottery pick. But he decided instead to stay for his sophomore year in 2008-09 and make a run at a national championship. The Sooners got off on the right foot, wining a dozen games before their first loss. During that streak, Blake had his first 20–20 game, going for 25 points and 21 rebounds against Davidson. He had his first 30–20 game in Oklahoma’s next contest, against Gardner-Webb. Later in the year, against Texas Tech, he had a 40-point, 23-rebound performance.
In all, Blake would record 30 double-doubles during the season. He averaged 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds and was a no-brainer pick for Big 12 Player of the Year. Blake’s 504 rebounds were the most by a college player since Larry Bird had 505 in 1979. His rebounding average was the best since Tim Duncan in 1997.
The Sooners received a second seed in the South Regional of the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma scored a first-round wipeout over Morgan State and defeated Michigan in the second round. Blake scored 33 points and pulled down 17 rebounds against the Wolverines. After beating Syracuse in the Sweet 16, the Sooners finally fell to first-seed UNC in the regional final.
Blake swept the postseason hardware in 2009, winning the Wooden and Naismith Awards. He was also named AP Player of the Year. After the tournament, Blake announced that he was headed for the NBA. It was a good year to be a power forward—of the Top 20 players in the draft, Blake was clearly superior to the competition, which included Tyler Hansbrough and Jordan Hill.
To no one’s surprise, Blake was selected with the first overall pick by the Clippers. He blew away the competition in Summer League play, easily earning MVP honors. He was primed to start his rookie season when, in the final exhibition game, against the New Orleans Hornets, he landed strangely after a dunk. The injury wasn't thought to be serious at first, but x-rays revealed a fracture in his left knee cap.
Initially, it was thought the injury would sideline Blake for six to eight weeks, but the bone was slow to heal and Los Angeles decided to repair the knee with season-ending surgery. This was a bitter pill for the Clippers and their fans. The team had assembled a quality squad for Blake’s inaugural campaign. It included Baron Davis and Chris Kaman—both healthy after missing time the previous season—and Eric Gordon, Marcus Camby, Rasual Butler and Al Thornton. The Clippers showed minor improvement in 2009–10 but still lost 53 games. Two coaches came and went, with Vinny Del Negro taking the reins for the 2010–11 season.
MAKING HIS MARK
That campaign began with great expectations. Blake, still technically a rookie, was not only fully recovered, he seemed to have gotten even stronger. His rim-rattling dunks became the talk of the NBA early in the year. In a November game against the New York Knicks, Blake scored 44 points—including a humiliating dunk over center Timofey Mozgov and a full-speed open-court spin and dunk on Danilo Gallinari.
Unfortunately, the Clippers did not take their rookie’s cue. Davis and Kaman were hobbling again, and the team dropped 10 of its first 11 games.
The season finally took a turn for the better as the holidays neared. The Clippers began feeding off of Blake’s energy, the hometown crowds got into it, and LA defeated some quality teams, including the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and hated crosstown Lakers. Meanwhile, attendance climbed over 16,000 a game for the Clips, and television ratings were up.
In January, Blake had the game everyone was waiting for. He torched the Indiana Pacers for 47 points, setting a single-game scoring record for the franchise, which stretched back to Bob McAdoo and the Buffalo Braves. In February, Blake was accorded a rare honor for a rookie (and for a Clipper) when he was picked as a reserve for the All-Star Game. A day before his All-Star debut, Blake won a surprisingly entertaining and competitive Slam Dunk Contest. His highlight-reel moment came when he leaped over the hood of a parked car for a left-handed jam.
Blake finished the year strong and averaged 22.5 points and 12.1 rebounds per game. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year, becoming just the 20th first-year players in history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in a season. The last person to do this was Elton Brand in 1999-00 for the Bulls. Even with these stats, Blake could not help the Clippers make it to the postseason. They finished with a lackluster record of 32—50. LA won only two out of 46 games on the road—one of the worst marks of all-time.
The Clippers decided to build a new roster around Blake and made some big-name offseason acquisitions. Their primary target was Chris Paul, who initially agreed to a deal with the Lakers. But David Stern vetoed the trade, and the Clippers seized their chance and got their man. They also signed Chauncey Billups.
Working with one of the NBA’s top point guards, Blake enjoyed an impressive campaign in the shortened 2011-12 season. He averaged 20.7 points and 10.9 rebounds, leading the team in both categories. He was voted a starter for the All-Star Game in Orlando. Blake had 22 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes and was a key part of the West's win.
Blake's best regular season game may have been the team’s finale against the Knicks. He torched New York with 29 points,10 rebounds and six assists. Blake led LA to the playoffs with a record of 40—26, good for the fifth seed in the West.
The Clippers faced the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round. LA won in seven games. Blake topped the team in scoring for the series. In Game 4, Blake poured in 30 points, added seven assists and pulled down several big offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, LA’s season ended in the next round against the Spurs, as San Antonio swept the series in four games.
After the season, Blake was selected for the 2012 U.S national team headed for the Olympics in London. But he opted to skip the Summer Games and deal with a torn meniscus in his left knee. He did not want to miss time with Clippers in 2012-13. Meanwhile, the Clippers and Blake agreed to a five-year contract extension worth up to $95 million.
Even with Blake’s impressive personal achievements, the Clippers need to bring in more pieces to compete for a championship. But that doesn’t mean the team and its fans have lost any optimism. To the contrary, for the first time in a long time, Blake has brought real hope to the other NBA squad in LA. Because of him, the Clippers are viewed as a team on the rise. And, of course, no one knows more about rising high than Blake.
BLAKE THE PLAYER
Blake is a living, breathing physics lesson. When he unleashes his energy and powers to the rim, there is literally nothing that can stop him. Not since Michael Jordan has a player truly seemed to defy gravity on his dunks. Blake’s quickness is reminiscent of Amare Stoudemire when he first came into the league, but his immense strength reminds many of a young Carlos Boozer.
On defense, Blake is ahead of the curve compared to the typical rookie power forward. His leaping ability makes up for a lot of mistakes, and it obviously comes in handy as a shot-blocker.
As a rebounder, Blake does not always rely on jumping. His father schooled him in the fundamentals of boxing out and using his body for leverage. He is a clever and intuitive player when the ball is around the basket.
As an offensive player, Blake is doing everything a team could ask of him. Nearly half his points come on hustle plays, put-backs and tip-ins—an all-out approach that is rare in Clipper culture. Still, Blake has some work to do. His jump shot is inconsistent, but it does show great promise. In his 47-point game against the Pacers as a rookie, he canned eight of 12 attempts from the outside. Blake understands how to use the glass—another lesson learned from his dad. He is a horrendous free throw shooter, but given his tireless drive to improve, his percentage should eventually reach an acceptable level.
Blake’s energy and intensity sometimes make it look as if he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder. In high school and college, that may well have been the case. As a pro, he has done a good job of keeping his emotions in check on the court without losing any of his intensity.
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