YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Jail Time Does Griffin Good

Talented Minnesota forward didn't receive star treatment while spending 15 days behind bars during the summer.

October 30, 2005|From Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Eddie Griffin has all the talent in the world.

A 6-foot-10 forward, Griffin can shoot the three, block shots and run the floor.

But all the gifts that made him the seventh overall pick in 2001 didn't do him a bit of good as he sat in a Houston jail cell for 15 days this summer, wondering if his NBA career was over just as it appeared finally to be taking off.

"That definitely went through my mind," said Griffin, who was a free agent after an impressive 2004-05 season with the Minnesota Timberwolves. "The situation in Houston, I felt teams were going to shy away from me because of the stuff with me."

Just when Griffin appeared to be getting his life in order, trouble found him again.

On probation after pleading guilty in a 2003 assault case, Griffin was listed as a witness in a disturbance at a Houston nightclub in July. It was a violation of his probation because he was "consorting with disreputable people" at a compromising time of day, a court official said.

Griffin says he simply went to the nightclub to pick up a friend when he was harassed by two men. Griffin was not involved in the altercation and was not drinking at the time, but a Houston judge found him in violation of his probation.

"Eddie has made a lot of mistakes and Eddie has had a lot of problems in his life, but this is not something he created at all," attorney Rusty Hardin said.

Griffin chose a 15-day sentence for the violation rather than going to a hearing that could have resulted in a harsher punishment. Without a contract for the upcoming season, Griffin went to jail, unsure what awaited when he got out.

"It was frustrating because I didn't do anything," Griffin said. "I was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and he decided to punish me. I couldn't do anything about it."

Feeling a little helpless and more determined than ever to prove his trouble was behind him, Griffin served his sentence. He did push-ups and sit-ups to pass the time and stay in shape, while a healthy dose of anxiety helped him shed a few pounds.

"I felt for him, just because he's one of my players and he's going through a tough situation," new coach Dwane Casey said. "I didn't judge him, saying, 'He's a bad guy. Let's get rid of him.' No I didn't."

He certainly didn't receive star treatment at the Harris County Jail. Griffin was put in with the general population, a millionaire basketball player mingling with drug dealers, wife beaters and thieves.

"They [fellow inmates] were there for me and helped me out when I was in there," Griffin said. "But it was a bad experience. I don't want to go through that again.... I just wanted to do my time and get out of there."

Griffin is no saint.

His first two seasons in the NBA with Houston and New Jersey included a series of suspensions, court dates and missed practices. He was arrested on marijuana possession and aggravated assault charges in 2003, and checked into the Betty Ford Center for alcohol treatment in 2004.

Yet Griffin is soft spoken and polite. Nice almost to a fault -- coaches wouldn't mind seeing a mean streak in him on the floor -- Griffin shakes hands and answers questions with a humility and earnestness that belies his reputation.

Out of the league in 2003-04, it was that attitude that helped convince Timberwolves vice president Kevin McHale to give him another chance. Griffin made the most of it. He averaged 7.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.7 blocks a game in a valuable reserve role.

Most importantly, he stayed out of trouble off the court, at least until the incident this summer -- which cost Griffin big money on the free-agent market. Convinced Griffin simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Timberwolves re-signed him for a portion of their midlevel exception.

"I think some teams shied away because of it," Griffin said. "But Minnesota stuck with me and I was happy about that."

Now Griffin is looking to reward that faith, and he knows he will be watched closely to see if last year's good behavior was the start of a new phase in his life -- or an aberration.

"It's a big year for him," Casey said. "I think he wants to come in and establish his position in the league again, like he did out of college. He's got to re-establish himself. It's a new beginning for him."

Griffin already has impressed Casey with his conditioning. He came into camp 10 pounds lighter than last season and has been active on both ends of the floor in practice.

"Eddie's been super, he's a great young man," Casey said. "Very intelligent, attentive. I have nothing but respect for Eddie, he's fought through his troubles. And again, it's like the team, how you bounce back from it is huge."

Griffin knows that another mistake could land him back in jail. And that's a place, and an experience, that he hopes never to go through again.

"It was awkward and embarrassing, but you have to go through things," Griffin said. "I got through it and I'm happy it's over with and I can move forward and start playing."

Los Angeles Times Articles