When Western Conference head coach Gregg Popovich called his number in the first quarter of the 60th NBA All-Star Game, Blake Austin Griffin became a part of black sports history at the tender age of 21.
After his participation in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge, in which he scored 14 points, and his rousing victory in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, Griffin’s entry into the annual showcase marked the first time in league history a player has taken part in all three events during All-Star Weekend.
The historic achievement was merely another highlight reel in what has been a memorable rookie season for the Los Angeles Clippers superstar power forward, who’s averaging 22.8 points and 12.6 rebounds in the first 56 games of his blossoming career.
But even in high school, where he was integral in Oklahoma Christian School winning four consecutive state championships, Griffin appeared to be destined for greatness.
During his junior season, Griffin averaged 21.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists, and as a senior, he posted 26.8 points, 15.1 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 2.9 blocks per contest, which resulted in scholarship offers from college basketball powerhouses such as Duke, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
When push finally came to shove though, the Oklahoma City, Okla. native chose to stay home, accepting a scholarship to play for the University of Oklahoma as one of the highest-rated and most decorated recruits in state history.
In his freshman season at Oklahoma, Griffin averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds in 28.4 minutes per game, becoming the first Sooner to earn Big 12 All-Rookie Team honors since Wayman Tisdale in 1983. And although he was expected to be a lottery pick in the 2008 NBA Draft, Griffin decided to return to Oklahoma for a second season to mature physically and lead the team to the NCAA Championship.
Griffin failed to accomplish the latter, as Oklahoma fell to North Carolina in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, but flourished individually, posting 22.7 points and 14.4 rebounds per game. Griffin’s standout year would garner him a myriad of Player of the Year awards, including the Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award.
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles Clippers selected Griffin with the first overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft after he announced he was giving up his final two years of eligibility two months earlier.
Unfortunately, Griffin would not play a single game during the 2009-10 campaign due to season-ending surgery on his broken left kneecap, which he injured during a preseason game.
Nevertheless, Griffin worked vigorously to rehabilitate his knee, and get himself into playing shape, to fulfill the tremendous promise he exhibited as an amateur.
Since he missed all of last season, Griffin was still considered a rookie entering the 2010-11 season, where he has been named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for November, December and January.
In addition, Griffin has set Clippers’ franchise records for most consecutive double-doubles (23) and most points scored in a game by a rookie (47).
Griffin also became the first rookie since the 1996-97 season (Allen Iverson) to have two 40+ games, as well as the first rookie to be voted into the All-Star Game by the coaches since San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan in 1998.
One can only imagine what Griffin will do for an encore.
Black Sports History Honorable Mention
Kobe Bryant (37 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, three steals) tied Bob Pettit for the most All-Star Game MVP Awards (four).
LeBron James (29 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) became only the second player (Michael Jordan) in All-Star Game history to record a triple-double.