It almost feels like it’s unfolding in slow motion: Player X and Player Y fighting for position, limbs ensnared, an extracurricular shot or three, crashing bodies and intervening teammates, a reluctant truce that doesn’t always hold.
Player X is Blake Griffin. Player Y, it seems, is just about everyone else.
Just last week, Jermaine O’Neal of the Golden State Warriors confronted Griffin in the hallway outside the Clippers locker room following a string of testy exchanges throughout the contest, according to ESPN Los Angeles’ Arash Markazi.
With 8:55 left in the fourth quarter, O'Neal got a technical foul as he walked toward the Clippers' bench and continued talking to Griffin before O'Neal's teammates and officials directed him back to the Warriors' bench.
How about this one between Griffin and Golden State’s Andrew Bogut from Christmas Day:
One more? Why not: Here’s Griffin and P.J. Tucker of the Phoenix Suns:
And those are just the fights Griffin’s been involved in this year. We’d add more videos, but worry smoke might start spewing out the back of your computer.
So what gives? In a league that has long done everything in its power to protect its superstars, how is it that Griffin continually finds himself on the business end of his peers’ basketball wrath?
It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to observe what almost all of these videos have in common: a scrum under or near the basket where one of the offending parties gets a little too entangled. In many cases, it’s Blake doing the clutching and grabbing.
Still, why the needless escalation? Last week, Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney lent some smart insight into what it is that makes Griffin such a popular target:
It is not by accident that so many opposing players have come to tussle with Blake Griffin. He’s both a physical player and one teams have apparently marked as easily riled — prone to the pushing and jawing that can land the Clippers’ star forward in foul trouble or worse. Beneath any such ploy is a simple, self-evident truth: As much as Griffin might grapple and agitate, opponents single him out because there are so few other options in dealing with him.
Mahoney goes on to detail Griffin’s Herculean workout routine, positing Griffin’s near-unparalleled strength as a flashpoint of wrath for opponents—envious, perhaps, of their enemy’s seemingly effortless basketball bonafides.
There are, of course, other factors worth considering. The lucrative endorsements, the omnipresent TV spots, the celebrity clout, the occasional flop: Griffin has commanded them all, further fanning the flame’s of enemy resentment.
Whatever the rationale, it’s gotten so bad that even Griffin’s teammates are growing fatigued with the never-ending shenanigans.
Take forward Matt Barnes who, according to the New York Daily News’ Bernie Augustine, submitted this tweet following the Griffin-Ibaka encounter, only to delete it minutes later:
“I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these n-----! All this s--- does is cost me money”
Tact and semantics aside, Barnes certainly has a point: Not only do Griffin’s incessant scuffles risk needlessly subjecting others to punishment and personal risk; initiated at the wrong time, they could end up costing the Clippers a game—or worse still, a championship.
For his part, ESPN’s Mike Wilbon—speaking on Pardon the Interruption—intimated that Blake’s problem lies in not having put his foot down sooner (via SFGate.com’s Bruce Jenkins):
He's a grown man, and people are going after him. He's going to have to pop somebody. He's gonna have to hold his ground and square off, a la Maurice Lucas, on the court. In front of everybody.
Wilbon was being hyperbolic, of course. But the greater point holds true: For Griffin to break free the vicious cycle of unnecessary confrontation, he might just have to go against the wholesome grain he’s so meticulously cultivated during his brief but brilliant NBA career.
The Clippers clearly can’t afford any kind of long-term suspension for their superstar forward. But nor can they risk having these confrontations continue without cessation, letting the pressure build and build until the top pops off, tempers are lost and whole seasons are tossed asunder.
So long as he refuses to be pushed around, Blake Griffin need not worry about being Mr. Popularity amongst his peers. After all, the truly great ones rarely are.