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Clippers earn respect with leap of faith in Blake Griffin

Critical eyes are directed at Griffin's employers after his dunk over a car, but they allowed their best player to use his young imagination while quietly ensuring that he didn't reach too far.

February 22, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • Clippers forward Blake Griffin dunks over a car after receiving a pass from teammate Baron Davis (in car) during Saturday's NBA All-Star slam dunk contest at Staples Center.
Clippers forward Blake Griffin dunks over a car after receiving a pass from… (Mark Ralston / EPA )

You think you were surprised by Blake Griffin's Saturday night hood wink?

Donald Sterling purposely wasn't told until Friday.

"Yeah, I waited to tell my owner until the night before," admitted Clippers President Andy Roeser on Tuesday. "I just thought it was best to not worry him."

What exactly did you tell him?

"I told him that Blake Griffin was going to dunk over a car, and that I had seen him do it six straight times in rehearsal, and it wasn't going to be problem," recalled Roeser.

How exactly did Sterling respond?

"He said, 'You better be right.' "

It is the dunk contest that keeps soaring and slamming, four days now and counting, everyone still talking about Saturday's All-Star spectacular, with the critical eyes now directed at Griffin's employers.

Some folks are asking, how could the Clippers allow their best asset to take a flying leap and risk career-ending injury for the sake of a silly dunk contest? Yet others are asking, how could they not?

I'm one of the others. I thought the Clippers played it perfectly, allowing their best player to stretch his young imagination while quietly ensuring that he didn't reach too far, showing respect while gaining it in return.

You want to build organizational loyalty and plant the seeds for future commitments that would keep a young star from eventually jumping your team?

Nod your head when he says he wants to jump a car.

"My initial reaction was, 'Gee, I don't think that's such a good idea," said Roeser, who first heard about the plan last month. "But then Blake got the message to us that we shouldn't worry about it and, at the end of the day, because he's already done so many unbelievable things for us, we trusted that he could do one more."

They trusted him, but they also trusted their eyes, so Roeser made a special trip to Staples Center late Thursday to witness Griffin's one and only dunk rehearsal.

"By that time, I had gone from worry to intellectual curiosity," Roeser said. "I was like, 'You know, I really want to see this.' "

While Griffin never officially asked permission, the Clippers could have stopped him, and certainly would have done so if Roeser saw something that worried him. He knew that one stumble and his most valuable asset could crumble like so many past Clippers assets. But he had also spent the first half of the season watching Griffin leap over 7-feet men.

"At some point, if we thought it was dangerous, we could have certainly put the kibosh on it," said Roeser. "But we took Blake at his word."

By the time Griffin lined up for his Thursday night dunk, he had already picked the car — a 2011 Kia Optima — based on its hood measurements. The angle of the car and the width of the hood actually made the leap the easiest part of the trick.

"The only issue, really, was if Baron could get him the ball in the right spot," said Roeser. "Many of the dunks he had already done this season were twice as hard as this one."

Griffin successfully completed the first rehearsal dunk. And the second. And the third. By the end of the night, he had done it six times, and the Clippers were satisfied.

"I went home that night knowing two things," said Roeser. "I knew we didn't have anything to worry about. And I knew he was going to win the dunk contest."

Indeed, despite the incredible dunks that proceeded Griffin's auto ascent, the car trumped all. Only JaVale McGee's final dunk remained, and the only way the Washington Wizard could win would be to stand at midcourt and majestically announce, "Leave the car there!"

"I don't want to say Blake was exactly Superman," said Jaymee Messler, marketing vice president for Griffin's team at Excel Sports Management. "But it really was a superhero kind of thing."

Since then, all kinds of kryptonite has been thrown down, beginning with the contention from someone on Twitter that Griffin stole his exact idea for the dunk. Griffin's representative, however, claimed he conjured up the dunk one month before requesting fan suggestions.

"That whole thing is ridiculous," said Messler.

Demar DeRozan then jammed into the fray Tuesday when the Toronto Raptor complained that he was unfairly eliminated from the dunk contest because he didn't use props.

"I felt like the [props] take away from your dunk more than anything," DeRozan told reporters. "If there was a dunk contest next year, maybe I'd do it, but not a prop dunk contest."

DeRozan said that in this new contest culture, "I could see somebody bringing a giraffe to jump over, or something like that."

One can only hope. This was the best dunk contest ever, and if you don't believe me, check the television ratings, which were an all-time high for the 26-year-old event, the 8.1 million viewers eclipsing the previous high by 29%.

We know guys can dunk. We've seen every imaginable dunk during every imaginable game. A dunking contest without props is as predictable and boring as the Washington Generals. Saturday's dunk contest was purely delicious Harlem Globetrotter.

For Roeser and the Clippers, it was also their biggest victory in many seasons in terms of national perception and league respect. How many more free agents do you think would want to come here and play with the superhero now?

Blake Griffin took the leap, but he wasn't the only one, and four days later, he and the Clippers are flying still.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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