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The NBA’s Franchise Player?

The untouchable Blake Griffin or the can’t-do-right Andrew Bynum?

by David J. Leonard / @DR_DJL

After watching yet another commercial, seeing yet another magazine advertisement, and trip to Subway, both my 4-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter noted that Blake Griffin seemed to be everywhere.

No matter where they turned, no matter what was on the television, it is almost impossible not to see Griffin, all of which is emblematic of the power of the NBA’s marketing machine. Despite winning nothing of substance to-date and only putting up very good numbers over his short career (20 and 10), Blake has ascended as the face of the League.

Celebrating for his ferocity, his spectacular dunks, and his purported right attitude, Griffin has filled the hero gap left by LeBron’s “Decision,” Dwight Howard’s “Indecision,” Melo’s “New York State of Mind,” and Kobe’s “Baggage.” Griffin, on the other hand, has consistently been represented as a “breath of fresh air,” a throw back player, and someone who fans can cheer for.

Celebrating his balance, the media narrative consistently depicts Blake as a competitor on the floor and a good guy off the floor. For example, TJ Simers highlights the difficulties Blake must endure and the grace that he has shown under this pressure:

That almost speaks to a sensitivity one would never consider Griffin possessing, given the way he imposes his physical will on opponents. But he is still young, and when asked about the highlight of his summer, surprisingly it was his brother’s wedding rather than the Hollywood treatment he received.

Similarly, Justin Verrier offered explanation and, in some regards, an excuse for Blake’s “antics” as a means to celebrate him:

But Cousins and Gasol aren’t entirely wrong, either: While it’s hard to argue that Griffin is “babied” by refs, given the game-by-game punishment he takes in the post, he certainly benefits from his share of favorable calls (in particular, the one that sent Cousins off the deep end to begin with). And Griffin has made a habit of forcefully dropping his off-hand on some of his more memorable dunks, creating both a way to propel himself higher and return some of the force applied to him on his way up (a natural reaction with unintentional consequences, he’s said in the past).

But these are only minor squabbles in a season full of them, throughout the League. Their comments certainly put a national spotlight on Griffin’s on-court demeanor—Cousins’ comments alone overshadowing recent ugly performances by the Heat and Thunder—but they may end up saying more about how players around the League perceive the rise of young stars like Griffin.

You have to crawl before you walk. You’re supposed to intern before you get that big job. And in basketball, like all other professional sports, you’re supposed to pay your dues.

This represents the crux of the Blake the narrative: great kid, whose passion, competitiveness and work ethic at times get the best of him. What could have been a criticism thus becomes a way of celebrating Blake Griffin as unique and special.

“He’s a highlight at any second of the game, but he’s also smart enough to know that the fundamentals are the part that will make him better and help this team,” noted his coach Vinny del Negro. “He handles it very well. He has great humility and great character.”

Evident here is how the Blake Griffin story is very much a figment of the media/NBA imagination. Shooting free throws with the precision of Shaq and Chris Dudley, possessing only two moves—the dunk and a 20-foot, pick-and-pop shot—and of course playing no defense are not the markers of a fundamentally-sound player. The description of Blake as humble doesn’t match his on-court persona of talk trashing in the tradition of Bird and Payton, and relishing the opportunity to embarrass an opponent with a poster shot.

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