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Clippers' Blake Griffin isn't taking a shine to stardom

Coming off a spectacular rookie-of-the-year season, Blake Griffin is poised to be the NBA's Next Big Thing. But the goal, he says, isn't to be a star but to become a great player—which takes hard work.

December 24, 2011|By Broderick Turner
  • High-flying power forward Blake Griffin and the Clippers have more help this season with the arrival of guards Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul as well as forward Caron Butler.
High-flying power forward Blake Griffin and the Clippers have more help… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

A star is born.

And his birthplace is right in Hollywood's backyard.

Not so fast, says Blake Griffin, Los Angeles' and the NBA's newest star.

While others are ready to proclaim the Clippers' power forward the Next Big Thing, Griffin says he wants to be the next "great basketball player."

"When I think about myself, I don't think about it in those terms," Griffin said. "I'm working on my game like everybody else. I want to be a great basketball player. I don't necessarily want to be a star. I'm not in it to be famous. I want to try to be the best."

Having been one of the best in the NBA last season is what set Griffin on the path to superstardom — on and off the court.

His basketball exploits are what started it all, and they'll be on display when Griffin and the Clippers open the season Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors on national television.

It began with the highlight dunks, including Griffin's triumph in the dunk contest on All-Star weekend when he dunked over a car. He was voted onto the Western Conference All-Star team by coaches, and later was named NBA rookie of the year after averaging 22.5 points, 12.1 and 3.8 assists last season, when he started all 82 games.

Off the court, Griffin, 22, quickly caught the eye of the endorsement world and Hollywood. He has done commercials for Kia automobiles, Nike, Subway and other companies. He did an internship over the summer with "Funny or Die," a comedy video website owned by comedian/actor Will Ferrell.

That's what most people would call being a star.

So, Griffin was asked, what's his definition of a star?

"A person that has a unique quality that sets them apart," he said.

Well, that appears to be Griffin, a 6-foot-10, 252-pound marvel of strength and athleticism.

But Griffin has his reasons for being tempered.

He can't shake the memory of the knee injury that ruined what would have been his first NBA season — a non-displaced stress fracture of his left patella suffered Oct. 23, 2009, in the Clippers' last exhibition game. He missed the entire 2009-10 season after having surgery.

That, Griffin says, "puts everything into perspective."

Nor is it the only reason why Griffin refrains from the star stuff.

He knows there are doubters.

"For every 50 people out there that love you, there are going to be 50 people out there that hate you and say you aren't good," Griffin said. "For me, it's not listening to either one. If anything, I listen to the negative more than the positive."

Don't get him wrong, Griffin said. He worked hard all summer and throughout the 149-day NBA lockout. He worked on his jump shot, knowing that it had to get better.

"I still think I can shoot better and better than I've even shown," said Griffin, who shot 50.6% from the field last season. "It's a matter of getting comfortable in game situations and knowing when to shoot, when to hesitate."

Griffin also vowed to work on his defense, to be better one-on-one and as a team defender.

It was evident Griffin has made strides in that area when he took a charge from the Lakers' Matt Barnes with 16.2 seconds left and the Clippers holding a three-point lead Wednesday night in their final exhibition game.

"Everyone sees all the spectacular plays, but him taking a charge at the end of the game, that's a game-winning play," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Him getting a rebound at the end of the game and staying in the play is another good sign. All those things, he's capable of doing because he's such a great player, a great person and he works at it. He wants to be successful."

Last season, teams resorted to physical tactics against Griffin after he began to make a habit of dunking over opponents.

He then would lash out at officials.

During that exhibition game against the Lakers, Barnes deliberately shoved Griffin with two hands, drawing a flagrant foul 1.

Griffin backed away.

"He's doing a good job controlling his emotions with the referees," Del Negro said. ""There's a process. Everybody wants it now. But he's a worker."

In Griffin's eyes, he's not a star, but a young player still trying to prove he belongs, to evolve his game.

"It's like if somebody is in the stands yelling, 'You're [bad]!' You don't listen to them and say, 'Man, they're right.'" Griffin said. "So if somebody is like, 'Oh, man, you're the best,' you're not going to say you're right. You've just got to keep a level head."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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