By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
VIDEO: The Starters talk about the physical play on and from Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin doesn’t need my advice. Fact is, the way he has played this season for the Clippers, both with and without Chris Paul, he doesn’t need much more than the essential advice his new coach, Doc Rivers, gave him when he encouraged Griffin to rotate 180 degrees and face the basket, rather than backing down into the low post. That transformation has been responsible for the Clippers’ rise as a contender and vaulted Griffin into MVP discussions (for the Nos. 3-5 ballot slots, anyway).
But there has been an incessant chorus over the past two months – and this is my nomination for the NBA’s 2013-14 Damn Foolishness Award – that Griffin needs to go medieval on some of his opponents’ rear ends.
Pray that it does not happen.
Karl Malone, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and ESPN columnist Michael Wilbon all have encouraged Griffin to varying degrees to man up, square off and throw down the next time he gets a cheap-shot or abused physically in a game. That’s right, they’re advocating fisticuffs. Going hockey goon on his own behalf allegedly is the only way Griffin can put a stop to the occasional takedowns and extracurricular skirmishes that somehow, despite his monster season, are said to be retarding his growth.
Malone, who cut a chiseled figure not unlike Griffin during his 19-year Hall of Fame career primarily for the Utah Jazz, shifted that conversation into high gear last month while sitting in on an ESPN game broadcast. Said Malone: “First thing I’d do [is say], ‘Blake, the next time one guy cheap shots you, just lose your mind. I would pay your fine. Lose your mind, run roughshod.”
Sounds like a new-millennium version of Sheriff Andy Taylor giving Opie the bully talk, right? Don’t let him take your milk money, son, give him the ol’ knuckle sandwich. Except that those knuckles hang bare at the ends of long, rippling arms, on a guy who stands 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds.
Black eyes are one thing. Major reconstructive surgery and maybe even manslaughter are quite different.
There’s a romanticizing that goes on when former NBA players look back on their days in the trenches, on the abuse they dealt and endured and on the reputations some of them crafted as enforcers. Maurice Lucas often gets regarded as the league’s unofficial undisputed champion of mean, owing both to some legit skirmishes (Artis Gilmore, Darryl Dawkins) and Luke’s withering glare.
But anyone who remembers or has seen the footage of Kermit Washington‘s fist driving violently into Rudy Tomjanovich’s face in December 1977 still can feel in his or her gut the sickening aftershocks of The Punch. The Malice at The Palace melee in November 2004 between the Pacers and the Pistons remains a sore point and image problem for the league, a decade later.
And that wacky videotape of Barkley and O’Neal going WWE on each other under the basket – a staple of the “Inside the NBA” studio banter – would be rated NC-17 and aired far less often if Shaq’s big ol’ paw actually had smashed flush into the Chuckster’s mug.
Chuck might look a little more like Cher right now, too.
No ring, no gloves? No skates, no helmets? Then no way. Goading Griffin into mayhem – Wilbon likened it on his “PTI” show to a pitcher whizzing a fastball high and tight near someone’s ear hole – is reckless because the romanticism of how those moments have gone for some old-schoolers neglects the physics of how badly the next bout might actually go.
Griffin – who addressed his wise reluctance to muscle up on those who initiate the cheap stuff, in a post by our Jeff Caplan coming out of All-Star weekend – could wind up seriously hurting someone or getting hurt himself. Malone says he’ll pay his fine, but would The Mailman be willing to serve Griffin’s time (and pay his salary) if he got hit with a 5- or 10-game suspension? How ’bout if things got really ugly and the Clippers star wound up in jail?
Or worse still (gulp) ended an opponent’s career? Flailing some elbows or sneaking in rabbit punches (a Malone favorite) aren’t likely to achieve the desired effect of sending a league-wide message to “Back the bleep off Blake!” Yet balling up and throwing fists the size of canned hams could escalate it into something ugly and irreversible. No, Griffin’s best tactic is the one he’s been deploying: Bang away within the rules, bristle at any undue rough treatment so the referees are on notice, then laugh all the way to the free-throw line.
Griffin is not soft. He has nothing to prove in that area. And he, the Clippers and the NBA have plenty to lose if he heeds irresponsible advice.
Damn Foolishness, I tell ya. You got a nominee for this NBA season? Have at it in the comments below.