As current Dallas Mavericks veteran and former Toronto Raptors gravity-defier Vince Carter can tell you, highlights don't make the man. That's a piece of advice to which Blake Griffin, the NBA player presently least constrained by the laws of physics, should pay special attention.
That's because in a lot of ways, Griffin's career is in danger of pogo-sticking down the same path that Carter's traveled more than a decade ago. As was the case with Carter, Griffin's early years have been marked by tons of hype, largely generated by earth-shattering dunks and impressive production.
Unfortunately, Griffin has also managed to duplicate some of the less palatable aspects of Carter's fledgling career in Toronto. Fans and players find him irritating, sometimes unlikable and, occasionally, a little soft.
Fair or not, Griffin is subject to a form of backlash almost identical to the one Carter suffered. ESPN's Henry Abbott discussed the phenomenon before the beginning of the 2011-12 season:
As Carter can attest, a "Golden Boy" entrance onto the scene can be a double-edged sword: If you're introduced as essentially perfect, people get all excited when flaws emerge, which they inevitably do.
There's a certain 'you fooled me once already, I'm not buying that hype anymore' vibe that permeates.
Now, a full year after Abbott crystallized Griffin's situation, we live in a world where as many people delight in the 24-year-old's dunks as actively root for him to be on the business end of a flagrant foul.
To get a better idea of whether or not Griffin is already too far down the path to Carter-dom to be redeemed, we have to look more deeply at the similarities and differences between the two polarizing players.
The Blake Show: Vinsanity 2.0
We'll begin by making the case that Griffin actually is following in Carter's bouncy footsteps. And if we've got to go down that road, it's undeniable that the visual evidence of their similarities is compelling.
Though spliced together from footage separated by nearly 15 years, the following clip is a remarkable example of just how striking the resemblance between the two dunkers can be.
Carter's raw vertical leap, the angry finish, the unreasonable confidence—it's all there in Griffin. The apoplectic crowd is the same, too. Fans fill arenas to watch NBA players do things they've never seen before.
Carter and Griffin are among the few performers who deliver on that hope.
For his part, Griffin isn't doing much to ward off the comparisons. As you can see, he sometimes embraces them.
It's not enough to conclude the analysis with the obvious point that both guys are show-stopping highlight machines. Their athletic similarity is undeniable, but it's hardly the most important one.
And besides, Griffin shouldn't be concerned with being the best dunker of a generation. What he should worry about is the way his reputation is beginning to mirror Carter's.
Like Carter, Griffin can be a little smug sometimes. He's a young, charismatic player on a very good team who probably should be enjoying his life. His commercials are terrific, and he's become immensely popular in a very short time.
And like Carter, Griffin is the object of some pretty genuine hate. Most of that stems from his histrionics on the court. Despite being built like the Incredible Hulk, Griffin tends to exaggerate contact. Because of that, he's been labeled as a flopper. Just ask David Lee.
As we'll discuss in a moment, the ill will toward Carter was rooted in a distaste for his effort level. In Griffin's case, peers and fans have begun to dislike him because of the way he reacts to physicality. There's a difference there, but the two players share a sort of "phoniness."
Carter acted like he cared when he really didn't. And Griffin acts tough, even though he might not be.
Nobody likes a faker, and Griffin is coming dangerously close to matching Carter's legacy of fraudulence.
A Different Animal
Carter wowed fans and became a beloved figure around the league during his first few seasons in Toronto. But things soured as questions about his dedication and toughness started to crop up in his fourth year.
Carter's cause hasn't been helped by (a) his being accused in the Tacoma News Tribune of tipping off the Seattle SuperSonics about the Raptors' plays -- a month before he stopped playing for Toronto; (b) distorting his face in derision and mocking the Air Canada Centre crowd for chanting "MVP" at Chris Bosh during a Raps-Nets game this season; and, worst of all, (c) telling broadcaster John Thompson he didn't push himself as hard as he could have when he worked and lived north of the border.
That last part was the real killer. By admitting he hadn't given it his all in Toronto, Carter validated everyone's criticisms.
It might be fair to accuse Griffin of a little bullying. And maybe he opts for style over substance a bit too often. But we certainly haven't reached the point where anyone could honestly accuse him of mailing it in.
And now, Griffin has Doc Rivers to lean on in Los Angeles. There might not be a better mentor for a young player than the Clippers' new coach. He's got championship experience and a legacy of connecting with the top talent on his rosters.
Is Blake Griffin this generation's Vince Carter?
The Raptors foisted a cavalcade of coaches on Carter in Toronto, some of whom were well past their primes (Lenny Wilkens), while others (Sam Mitchell) had no business on an NBA bench.
Who knows how things might have turned out for VC if he'd had a capable leader to keep him in line?
The environment in Los Angeles is much more conducive to reforming Griffin's reputation as well. With the Raptors, Carter was the only show in town. Actually, he was the first and only show in town. Toronto hadn't had a team for very long when Carter arrived, and it certainly hadn't ever enjoyed any success.
It was easy for Carter to get a big head and start to view himself as more important than the team because in a lot of ways, he was bigger than the team.
Griffin is just part of a championship contender in L.A., and he knows he's not even the brightest star on his own squad. Chris Paul runs things for the Clippers, and between CP3 and Rivers, there's an exceptionally strong leadership contingent that will keep Griffin focused on what matters.
Things went bad for Carter in his fourth season. As Griffin heads into his own fourth year, it's obvious that his situation is totally different. There's never been an effort question for him, and if one ever cropped up, there's a remarkably stout support system in Los Angeles to prevent it from becoming a real issue.
Blake Griffin isn't Vince Carter now, and considering his situation, there's little danger that he'll follow the same path in the future.
A Different Legacy
Once billed as bulletproof, Griffin is now on the receiving end of everyone's best shot. Fans and critics want more production from him. They'd also love to see a little less acting.
Reputations are tough to change, but if Griffin continues to play hard, put up excellent numbers and contribute to a highly successful Clippers team, he'll be able to do it. If that's how his story plays out, Griffin may still be viewed as this generation's Vince Carter, but only insofar as his athletic talent is concerned.
All that other stuff—the quitting, the bad attitude and the failure to lead a team—aren't going to be part of Griffin's legacy.