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The dunk is a force play for Blake Griffin

Rookie sensation takes the quickest route to the basket, which has made him a favorite in the All-Star dunk contest.

February 15, 2011|By Lisa Dillman
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin, top, dunks on a pass from teammate Baron Davis during a game against the Denver Nuggets on Jan. 5. Griffin's extraordinary dunking ability has made him a favorite to win this weekend's NBA All-Star slam dunk contest.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin, top, dunks on a pass from teammate Baron… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)

Reporting From Minneapolis — Dress up the dunk and muse about art, creativity and inspiration, and cue some soft symphonic music to go along as the soundtrack.

Dress it down and talk about the sheer blunt-force intimidation of the message-sending dunk, and crank up Lil Wayne or Young Jeezy.

Blake Griffin neatly cut to the heart of it, and, for him, the art of dunking comes down to one simple issue: ultimate control at its purest, most honest level.

"That's the easiest way to finish," he said. "When you go up and put a ball up off the glass, like a finger roll, once it's out of your hand, you have no control over it.

"I figured out, if I can force the ball through the hoop, nobody else can mess with it."

It's all on him. And then, often over his opponents.

The Clippers power forward, whose NBA career has been all of 54 games and 133 dunks, is in the midst of a sensational rookie season. The frothy topping comes Saturday when Griffin competes in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, one of the most highly events anticipated in years

Let's put it this way: Dominique Wilkins, the Human Highlight Film himself, almost sounded like Star Wars-ish when he was talking about the young Clipper following in the rich dunk tradition of the NBA.

May the (dunk) force be with you.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him doing his thing, seeing if he can carry that torch," said Wilkins, a nine-time NBA All-Star who won two dunk contests. "If he has any type of creativity to go with all that power. Oh boy, I don't know.

"I'm not saying he's going to win. But if he comes out like that, somebody is going to come in second."

Sometimes Griffin launches a one-handed jam. Or two-handed, fastbreak alley-oops. Reverse jams. Windmill dunks. A one-foot takeoff or a two-foot takeoff, and taking crazily designed lobs from Clippers point guard Baron Davis.

"I think the hardest ones are alley-oops, catching the lob, moving in the air," Griffin said. "Catching it and putting it down. Some of them are easy, some of them are hard. Some of them, it's like fast — it happens, bang, bang, bang."

Dunks have come fast and furious for Griffin. His first points in the NBA came off a dunk. That set the tone and Griffin's dunks started to go viral after his signature posterizing of the Knicks on Nov. 20.

There was his now-famous dunk where he used center Timofey Mozgov like a random piece of furniture. Griffin says he has no particular favorite but when pressed, he picks his full-speed spin move and dunk over Danilo Gallinari in that same game.

"The best part about it was that it was forceful," Griffin said. "It was like going down you can hear the rim snap. Probably that one….I don't really have a first, but I had to pick a first."

The dunk contest is probably the most eagerly awaited since Vince Carter won it in 2000. Griffin wasn't even a teenager then and his first dunk was still a few years away.

"Oh I tried a million times in seventh and eighth grade," Griffin said. "I think the first time I got up was in eighth grade I was 13."

Growing up in Edmond, Okla., Griffin was an avid student of Carter's and recorded his games.

"It was crazy, incredible. I watched a lot of his games," Griffin said. "I watched a lot of his highlights. There wasn't Youtube back in the day."

"Every game, [Griffin] has a highlight," teammate Craig Smith said. "The sky is the limit."

Smith laughed, adding: "In every decade, you have someone who kind of comes up. Like, 'Wow.' We thought this person had it. [Michael] Jordan. Guys like Dominique [Wilkins]. In this age, now it's Blake."

It is one part inspirational, one part intimidating.

"People want to go out there and see Blake," said the Raptors' DeMar DeRozan, one of Griffin's opponents in the dunk contest. "It definitely gets you hyped. Next time you are out on the floor, you want a shot at doing something like that, or top something like that."

But it's not as though Griffin spends hours crafting his arsenal of dunks.

"He doesn't dunk in practice," the Clippers' Chris Kaman said. "He lays it up all the time. He only dunks in games. He's a game dunker. Everybody knows he can dunk, so why does he need to dunk in practice?"

Griffin's father, Tommy, who played center at Northwestern Oklahoma, coached Blake and his brother Taylor in high school. Dad said what his kids worked on every day was passing, not dunking. "Five basic passes," Tommy said.

By the way, Tommy's vertical wasn't shabby, either.

Blake: "I've talked to a lot of his college teammates and his friends. They always talked about how … high he could jump. …I saw a picture of him in college — a jump ball and he was way up there."

Tommy: "Nowhere close to his [vertical]."

The father-coach explained why his son's dunk highlights are so compelling.

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