Hollywood Griffin? No, Pistons star is a Motown man

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Blake Griffin

Last summer, Blake Griffin thought he knew what he wanted. So did the Los Angeles Clippers.

They were both wrong.

There’s a saying about the brevity of a New York minute. An L.A. minute is even quicker — flashier but more fleeting.

The team created a summer presentation with Griffin as their long-term leading man, in the fabled “Clipper for Life” production, replete with a faux jersey-retirement ceremony at Staples Center, a weird “This is Your Life” moment when Griffin could reflect on all that he would accomplish in a starring role.

Griffin signed a five-year deal worth $171 million and both parties lived happily ever after.


The script had a sudden rewrite in late January, with a plot twist that sent Griffin to the Pistons in a trade for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovic and this year’s first-round draft pick.

That’s where Griffin discovered what he really wanted — something more concrete, something more than superficial, something closer to his Oklahoma roots. In about two months with the Pistons, he’s finding he has more in common with Detroit than Los Angeles.

And he’s liking it.

“This is a franchise that has a history of winning and a history of championships,” Griffin told The Detroit News. “They just do little things — not to throw shade at any other franchise — but you notice these little things when you come here. It’s good to see the culture from the past, from the Bad Boys era and from the Goin’ to Work era, has carried over and people still talk about those guys.

“When you have examples like that that set the standard for the franchise, it makes a difference to me.”

Griffin might have been more impressed by the Clippers raising championship banners than raising his jersey during that summer presentation. But even that self-centered thought flies in the face of his introverted personality, one that doesn’t crave the L.A. paparazzi or attention from a pesky media.

He’d rather just be regular.

“The thing I’ve told people is that growing up 19 years in Oklahoma, that’s home to me,” Griffin said. “Geographically, whether you want to call Oklahoma the Midwest — people consider it the Midwest like Michigan. It’s the same values and same type of people. (Detroit) reminds me of home and that feels good.

“I had a great time in L.A. and appreciate all the fans and friends I made in my time there. The way that people in Michigan have embraced me and the team has embraced me, it’s been a good reminder.”

It’s an odd transition going from Oklahoma to Los Angeles to Detroit. Griffin often is asked about the differences between the lifestyles in each. It’s not the quick answer many might predict.

Blake Griffin: "(Detroit) reminds me of home and that feels good."

“I don’t look at it as a shocking change. I know what snow’s like, what cold weather is like. They have more of it in Detroit than Oklahoma. It’s not like I was born and raised in L.A. and that’s all I know,” he said. “I’ve lived more of a Midwest lifestyle and life much longer than I was in L.A.”

Griffin, who turned 29 last week, has four years left on his contract and already understands the work ethic that he’ll need to continue to endear himself to Pistons fans. The L.A. façade was just that — and despite the recent movie cameo in “The Female Brain” and some TMZ headlines, he’s settling into a more reserved role in his new surroundings.

Andre Drummond was one of the first to try to make Griffin feel at home in Motown. Griffin brings pizzazz to the Pistons, but Drummond still is the face of the franchise. And a harmonious relationship between those two — both on and off the court — is one of the keys to making the trade work.

“When we first got him, I made it my job to stay on him and make him as comfortable as possible and I tried to take him places with me in Michigan to get him as comfortable as possible, as quickly as possible,” Drummond said. “I’ve known Blake since my earlier years in the league and with (USA Basketball).

“He’s not a Hollywood guy. That’s not who he is. He’s a hell of a guy off the floor and I enjoy playing with him. Our development together is going to be very fun.”

‘It takes time’

“Yo, Blake, can I get a shout-out?” Drummond yells across the visitor’s locker room at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.

“I already did, like five times — my guy, Jamal,” Griffin shoots back, addressing Drummond by his middle name.

Andre Drummond and his Pistons teammates have embraced Blake Griffin.

It’s another of those small details, but it’s a glimpse inside the way his new teammates have embraced Griffin and he’s gravitated to them. Drummond still is the face of the franchise, but Griffin adds some panache as a five-time All-Star and All-NBA selection.

That didn’t make it any easier when Griffin arrived in the trade. With his L.A. reputation, there could have been some friction between the Pistons’ vets and the newcomer.

There wasn’t.

“I’ve been traded before, so I know,” Pistons guard Ish Smith said. “He has a great personality so he just fits the way we are. You try to be as normal as you can and try to make him feel as comfortable as you can. Coming from L.A. to Detroit is two different lifestyles. We try to encourage him and laugh and joke as much as he can.

“For the most part, it’s easy. He made it easy and we made it easy for him.”

That’s the easy part. The hard part will come as he takes on more of a leadership role. He might have to have some frank conversations with teammates to help get the Pistons out of their tailspin. The Pistons are 8-15 with Griffin in the lineup and he’s had some side conversations with players to try to give his impressions of what he sees.

Having one-on-one talks is just the first step, but it’s a step — and that’s part of what coach Stan Van Gundy knew he was getting when he made the trade for Griffin.

“He’s great with his teammates,” Van Gundy told The Detroit News. “As he goes on here longer and longer, he’ll have even more of a voice.

“One thing he’s done in a real positive way is that he hasn’t tried to rush it. It takes time. He’s been more with individuals and he’s starting to say more around the group. As we get into next year, he’ll say more and more.”

New challenge

Coming to the Pistons gives Griffin a second take on his career, a chance to wash away some of the Hollywood glitter.

There will be expectations after Griffin, Drummond and Reggie Jackson have more time to play together and become Detroit’s version of the Big Three. High expectations are nothing new for Griffin — and the way he approaches those challenges remains the same.

“When I was in the draft process and the Clippers got the No. 1 pick, everybody was saying, ‘You can’t go to the Clippers. This is their history. You should ask for them not to draft you,’ ” Griffin said. “For me, it was a cool challenge. I want to go there and be a part of something. Luckily, I was able to do that.

“I look at (Detroit) the same way. This is a franchise that has a history of winning a championship and they have an identity as a franchise. This is a place where I want to help get this franchise back to where it was and where it deserves to be.”

That would be some kind of Hollywood ending.

Make that a Detroit ending.


Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

Pistons vs. Lakers

Tip-off: 7 Monday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/WWJ

Outlook: The Pistons (33-40) have won three of their last four and will try to split the season series against the Lakers (32-40), who have lost four of their last five.