Off-Court Fight Keeps Clippers, NBA Wondering Who Blake Griffin Really Is

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Off-Court Fight Keeps Clippers, NBA Wondering Who Blake Griffin Really Is
Aaron Gash/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — You know the two obvious victims.

The dude who got punched and probably winds up losing his job, and the company embarrassed by the infighting and disconsolate over its rare championship window creeping closer to shut.

The perpetrator in this case is Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Sports Council's recently chosen 2015 Sportsman of the Year. The guy with the glamorous life, spot-on comedic timing and inimitable gifts for the game.

Yet Griffin has hurt himself as much as anyone by breaking his right hand Saturday, sources confirm, when punching Clippers assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Griffin is a victim, too, because it is abundantly clear now that even with the glamour, comedy and dunks over cars, he is a young man who has lacked and continues to lack a strong sense of self.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Whatever the root of his insecurities or uncertainties, Griffin has been a paradoxical figure throughout his time with the Clippers. From something as small as his insistence that his hair is brownnot redto his ongoing epic flaw as a basketball great who tends to come up small at crunch time, Griffin has been a quandary amid his great accomplishments.

He's a hard worker, likable person and is the only player besides Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain to average at least 21 points, nine rebounds and four assists for his career.

Yet it has always felt like there is a missing link, some lack of clarity regarding who he is and what he should be.

It has always been out there on display on the court.

The wicked temper that triggers all of those technical fouls but a too-cool-for-school stoicism when a moment brings true confrontation. A behind-the-scenes desire to wrest a greater share of team leadership from Chris Paul but none of the confidence, boldness or self-certainty to go and seize it. The rugged willingness to risk heavy hits driving toward dunks but the frailty to whine about them to officials while flopping at the other end of the court.

Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

For years, there has been talk inside the Clippers organization about what would be the best response from Griffin when he is hit by a hard foul. His most frequent reaction just doesn't resonate and has perpetuated the idea among his peers that he's a fake tough guy.

When Kendrick Perkins, the roughest of the rough, dropped his hammer fouls on Griffin in the 2014 Thunder-Clippers Western Conference semifinals, Griffin took offense but never whirled around and looked Perkins in the eye.

Instead, Griffin turned just enough to show he didn't like it and bumped Perkins with his shoulder or chest—typically passive-aggressive stuff.

What would be the best response from Griffin?

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

As patently illogical as it is, the conclusion by plenty of Clippers folks has been that Griffin should get into a full-fledged fight with some real-life NBA enforcer and show that he is willing to stand up for himself in the most uncertain, toe-to-toe terms.

So what does Griffin do?

He punches a non-athlete…whose head barely rises up to Griffin's shoulders…and is part of his own team…over something said in a restaurant.

It just makes no good sense, and it sends an even worse message about Griffin.

Griffin was charged with battery for a 2014 incident in Las Vegas, but after his lawyer investigated the incident, the allegations were deemed not provable. What happens on the basketball court is not the same as real life, but Griffin certainly has a reputation for being sneaky or squirrelly around the league.

Take a closer look at the flagrant foul Griffin delivered to the face of Chicago's Taj Gibson last month. It seemed accidental, and Griffin seemed apologetic…but check the full video and see how Gibson caught Griffin first with an inadvertent blow to his head jostling for position early in the play, and you begin to wonder about Griffin's true intentions.

This is not what we want in our sports heroes or what teams want in their leaders. If guys own what they do, and their behavior jibes with their beliefs, we accept them for who they are and what they want.

We might not love them, but we'll at least understand and respect that they are secure being in their own skin.

Who is Blake Griffin, though?

He wants to be known as a warrior—and his training is beyond reproach to that end—yet with this latest incident, he has weirdly put himself out for a second consecutive All-Star Game.

Griffin was sidelined last year around this time, missing 15 games after right elbow surgery, and it was suspected, said sources, that his sensitivity to discomfort led to him wanting his irritated elbow so frequently drained of fluid that it developed a staph infection.

He's a guy who has gotten a pass in many ways because he has been a Clipper, and expectations of and pressures on Clippers are not that high. Nevertheless, he has worked diligently to improve himself from just a dunker, making good on the basketball IQ that Clippers assistant general manager Gary Sacks was always certain he had deep down.

Considering the magnitude of some of the dysfunctional issues the Clippers have gone through in Griffin's career, his mental makeup has always been discussed but hardly dwelled upon.

After the opportunities the Clippers have squandered to make good on new owner Steve Ballmer's "America's team" dream, though, Griffin's incident occurring now is a colossal setback. Those who work for the franchise are miserable about this shame—and these are people who have painfully rich experience with disappointment.

Griffin, 26, is no doubt trapped inside his own personal hurt, tweeting his apology Tuesday night:

Perhaps this will shift the course of Griffin's life and career in some meaningful way. Perhaps he'll dig in after all the misdirection and figure out what matters most to him.

For now, he has made a mistake—and it's rather pitiful.

Just because you're making millions and shooting commercials doesn't mean you're more comfortable with yourself than anyone else.

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @KevinDing.

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