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Blake Griffin changing Clippers' image, but not his personality

T.J. SIMERS

The second-year forward is already an NBA star even if he doesn't act like one.

December 13, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin speaks to reporters during the team's media day on Tuesday.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin speaks to reporters during the team's… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles )

Albert Pujols doesn't do much for me.

He's already played 11 years and we missed much of that.

Some folks go back to his time in high school wondering if he's older than what he claims.

We might be getting him at age 39 for all we know, and what will he be like at 49 with the Angels still paying him?

OK, so he'll still be better than most of the Dodgers, but now his wife, Deidre, is on the radio. She says it was an insult that the Cardinals offered her husband only a five-year deal for $130 million.

Who can live in St. Louis on $130 million after making probably as much the previous decade?

"When it all came down, I was mad," Mrs. Pujols told a St. Louis radio host. "I was mad at God because I felt like all the signs had been played out through the baseball field, our foundation, our restaurant, the Down Syndrome Center, my relationships, my home, my family close. I mean, we had no reason, not one reason to want to leave."

But they did for more money.

It never fails to amaze when an athlete feels insulted because they aren't being paid enough millions. After all they have done so much for mankind.

Maybe Pujols hits lots of homers in his declining years. Maybe he's fun for a while, but you can have that sense of entitlement.

The best part of this job is watching young athletes develop on the job.

And Blake Griffin isn't married.

And we get to witness potential greatness in the making.

That's why I stopped by the Clippers' practice complex Tuesday. Has he changed already?

How is he handling success? He's doing national advertising campaigns for Subway, Kia and Red Bull, and is already a household NBA name.

But here's all you need to know about Griffin. Instead of ticking off the names of celebrities he has met, he mentions his mother and father.

"Both of my parents are two of the hardest working people I've honestly ever known in my life," he says. "They each worked two jobs throughout my brother's and my childhood. Just the way they live, they still do the exact same things they always did."

But they have a kid now who is rich and who can take care of them.

"I hear so many athletes," he says. "It's like their mom — she wants this house or that. I got my parents a Kia and my dad sent me a text. It takes him about an hour to text a line, but he writes he's really grateful for the Kia and thanks again. I can just imagine other parents maybe saying, 'You got me a what?' But my parents really don't want anything."

They did get a new TV, though.

"My mom loves that TV," Griffin says, and every parent who lives away from their child but who can see them regularly on TV is nodding right now.

His parents live in the same house where Griffin was born, and while he's from Oklahoma City, he's no rube ready to go wild in Hollywood.

"People say fame or money changes some guys, but a lot of times it changes the people around you," he says with obvious insight.

"For me it's easy. I remember the people who were talking to me and around me that first year when I wasn't playing. I know who is really in my corner because of that year."

But now he's arrived big time as a superstar, and I remember when Kobe wasn't so full of himself.

"I'm in a different place," Griffin says, "but I don't think I'm a different person. I've seen what happens to people.

"Tiger Woods was a guy I looked up to, and look what happened to him."

He's asked about his entourage, and he laughs.

"You mean me?" he says. "The other day I went into Radio Shack for something and the guy says, 'Oh man, you don't do like Lamar Odom does and send someone in first to check to see how many people are in here, do you?' I was like, 'Man, I just walked in to buy this thing — could you ring me up?' "

As the conversation starts, Griffin appears so much more guarded than a year ago. Maybe it's to be expected with so many people tugging at him for this and that.

"Yeah," he admits, "I am. But I don't have a problem being guarded. I'd rather be guarded and miss out on this or that and maybe even rub someone the wrong way than be taken advantage of.

"Every year there's going to be a kid who comes into the league and excites everyone, but then it gets old. That's why through all this I'm not really caught up in it. There's a huge difference between wanting to be famous and being a good basketball player. I want to be a great basketball player."

He already is, so it's funny to hear him talk now about being nervous to start last season.

"I was trying to prove I belong," he says. "I was trying to prove I should be starting."

Now he's looked upon as one of the great players in the game, and for his next dunk.

"I hear people say it all the time, 'All he does is dunk.' But hey, it's not like I go up to dunk and say to myself, 'People are going to like this one.'

"I do other things, too. I'm working on defense now."

I stop him. Who wants to hear that? Come on, what's he going to jump over next?

Whatever it is, Los Angeles will have a front-row seat.

And we'll see how he handles the applause that follows.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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