SAN FRANCISCO -- There's a price to pay for a certain brand of superstar, the kind who rules by force and leaves his victims subject to ridicule. Blake Griffin is paying that price right now, his antagonists armed only with jealousy and envy.Griffin's flying, titanic dunks -- leaving nearly a dozen players in that "posterization" mode -- have been an ongoing treat this NBA season. The man is an outright beast, throwing down some of the most wicked jams ever witnessed. In the manner typical of today's pound-your-chest culture, he doesn't mind savoring the aftermath: a scream, a gesture, a few choice words.
Thank goodness for Blake Griffin. This has been a difficult, grind-it-out season, plagued by injuries and fatigue, and the L.A. Clippers forward seldom fails to light up the highlight reel. Nobody performs quite like him, but that hasn't stopped players from taking the brutal, cheap-shot route.
Jason Smith, an utterly forgettable forward for the New Orleans Hornets, put an NFL-style hit on Griffin in the open floor last month, for no reason at all, then preened for the crowd (he drew a two-game suspension). Phoenix's Robin Lopez took his turn Friday night, drawing a flagrant foul and an ejection for hooking Griffin around the neck as he went up for a dunk. There have been catty remarks from other players, including Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins, who called Griffin "an actor" and said he's "babied" by league officials.
Griffin and his teammates have just about reached the boiling point. "I was told by somebody -- I ain't going to say who -- that Blake is Public Enemy No. 1 as far as dunking," Chris Paul told reporters after Friday night's incident. "It's happening on a regular basis now. He'd better not get hurt, that's all I know. Because it's getting crazy."
Said center DeAndre Jordan: "I feel like people are intentionally trying to hurt him. It'll all come back around."
Griffin says he understands there will be hard fouls in the upcoming playoffs, "but there's a difference between going for the ball and going for someone's head. You expect hard fouls, but not like that."
As Paul put it so well, "I know lot of guys would love to be able to do what he does. They'd love to have the same sort of status. Sometimes it's jealousy. But really, what's not to like about him? He's fun. He's funny. He laughs, jokes, smiles. He's a great guy off the court."
Away from the action, Griffin adopts a flip-side persona. "I grew up wanting to be a Green Beret -- I always read anything I could find about the military," he told the New York Post. "Things have to be orderly for me. I can't leave a hotel room without emptying the trash basket and making the bed. And when I check into the room, I arrange my stuff the same way every time. I take the little waters and line 'em up on the bureau. I put my headphones in a certain spot, my charger by the phone, the key card by the TV, fold my clothes and hang up the ones I'm going to wear that night. ... God, I really am compulsive. It's hitting me right now."
Thoughts and observations from around the NBA:
-- Sitting on the Lakers' bench during a game against San Antonio, Jordan Hill couldn't help but applaud one of Tony Parker's crossover moves. Bad form? Hardly. Such respect is commonplace in the NBA. In my video library of Larry Bird highlights, there are games from the mid-'80s against Portland and Atlanta in which Bird was so unconscious, so ridiculously deadly from any spot on the floor, opposing players were literally falling over themselves on the bench.
-- If it seems the Miami Heat play too often on cruise control, maybe it's no mirage. On national television last weekend, Dwyane Wade said the playoffs would be an entirely different story, and that "we don't want to be at our best right now." That's dangerous thinking. In the ESPN studio, Magic Johnson said his great Laker teams "never looked at it that way. If we saw a team late in the regular season, we wanted to crush 'em, break their spirit, just to let 'em know: This is how it's gonna be."