By Kevin Arnovitz
With all the superlatives being thrown Blake Griffin's way since his explosive Summer League debut in July, it's easy to miss what he represents most profoundly to fans of the Los Angeles Clippers. For everything they've heard about Griffin's athleticism, his ability to prowl the paint, and his capacity to pick up things like NBA defenses and an outside stroke in an instant, his allure has never been about those attributes.
To the Clipper faithful, Griffin personifies the deeper idea that change can occur instantly.
After 25 years of deprivation, capped by a uniquely miserable 19-63 season in 2008-09, that's something people who love the Clippers desperately need to believe, which is why news that Griffin will miss up to six weeks with a broken kneecap is so devastating.
When the Clippers won the draft lottery in May, the wounds from the 2008-09 season were still raw. The pick would provide something of a salve, but the team was still carrying a load of weighty, unmovable contracts. But once the Memphis Grizzlies willfully took Zach Randolph off the Clippers' hands, the long-term prospects of the team suddenly appeared rosier.
In Randolph's place, Griffin certainly helped the Clippers with their cultural makeover, but how quickly could he pay real dividends on the court? Griffin's performance in his first Summer League game on July 13 suggested that his impact would be felt immediately. Playing the inside-out game to perfection with budding second-year star Eric Gordon, Griffin gave Clippers fans a glimpse of a brilliant future. After the front office bolstered the bench with a series of smart acquisitions and the banged-up veterans got clean bills of health, that future appeared even closer.
Meanwhile, the more Clippers fans learned about Griffin, the more they loved him. He was a workout fiend, a model son and incredibly coachable. Pure? Yeah, but not obnoxiously so -- just check out his Twitter feed.
Speaking of which ... want to know what Blake Griffin tweets at 7:31 a.m. the morning after a preseason game?
heading to the gym..... we played well last night but still got work to do.... time to get better.
Can you imagine what this public declaration of commitment means to a fan base that 15 months ago watched Elton Brand leave them at the altar after pledging his eternal devotion? It's an intoxicant, and by the time Blake Griffin threw down his first alley-oop in the preseason, Clipper Nation was completely blitzed. Here was a kid wholly uninterested in the Clippers' legacy of losing or silly superstitions. When asked by reporters if he was concerned about the franchise's history, Griffin never took the bait. That stuff had nothing to do with basketball -- and Blake Griffin was all about basketball.
The Clippers finished the preseason 6-2, but the more important indicator was the vibe at the training facility in Playa Vista. To a man, returning players and coaches beamed about the change in mood around the team. Some days it felt like the Clippers facility personnel were pumping nitrous oxide into the ventilation system on the Clippers practice court. Everyone was having fun -- except for the workaholic Griffin when he was sidelined for 10 days with a bruised left patella.
Griffin fractured that same left patella (kneecap) on a thunderous dunk Friday night in the Clippers' final preseason game. He won't be on the court until nearly Christmas and Clippers fans will have to wait another six weeks before they can witness the Griffin Era. Nobody in the universe has a more inexhaustible supply of patience than Clippers fans, but the next month and a half just might run the tank dry.
Here's something they should take solace in: The person most heartbroken by this development and most eager to see Blake Griffin on the floor winning basketball games is Blake Griffin.
When's the last time they could say that about anyone in a Clippers uniform?