LOS ANGELES, February 19 – Just like the towering dunks he has become famous for in his rookie season, Blake Griffin has some pretty lofty goals he wants to achieve before his NBA career is finished.
The 21-year-old power forward is in the midst of a brilliant rookie season with the Los Angeles Clippers and is favoured to win Saturday’s all-star slam dunk contest.
Even he admits things are moving at a rapid pace.
"I had hoped to be an all-star by my second year that was one of my goals. But for me this is just another stepping stone," Griffin said Friday at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. This just makes me hungrier to become better."
It used to be that NBA’s biggest stars shunned the slam dunk event with an almost too-cool-for-school mentality. But Griffin is a leader and not a follower so he jumped at the chance to show what he can do.
He wouldn’t go into specifics because he wanted it to be a surprise, but Griffin did say he has enlisted teammate Baron Davis to act as as a prop.
"To be honest I have been practising one (dunk)," Griffin said. "The other ones I have done before.
"I am using Baron Davis and we are getting creative. It is all coming together pretty nice and he gave me some good ideas."
The 6-foot-10 inch Griffin will be playing in the all-star game with a heavy heart. Griffin’s former high school basketball chum Wilson Holloway passed away Wednesday after a battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Nobody will be busier than Griffin this weekend. He plans to compete all three days, starting with the rookie-sophomore game Friday, slam dunk Saturday and play in the all-star game Sunday.
He wants to get the most out of his first all-star experience and not take anything that happens this weekend for granted.
"I am excited. There are so many guys that deserve to be here. In the back of my mind if feel guilty somewhat," Griffin said.
"Originally, I had agreed to do the slam dunk, and then they said I made the rookie game, and that was cool. And then fortunately I was able to make the big game. So, why not? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so take advantage of it."
Kobe Bryant, who has five NBA championship rings, was quick to praise Griffin on Friday.
"Well deserved. Well deserved period," said Bryant, who is in his 13th all-star game. "He deserves to be here and I’m happy he made it."
Griffin learned about his selection after the team’s plane touched down in Georgia where the Clippers were playing the Atlanta Hawks.
"A lot of people knew before I did," said Griffin, who is averaging 22.8 points and 12.6 rebounds per game this season. "I was on a flight to Atlanta so I didn’t find out until we landed.
"It is crazy. If you had told me four years ago this would be happening I would have never believed you."
Heading into the all-star break, Griffin’s Clippers are in fourth place in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division with 21 wins and 35 losses. They have a winning record at home (16-14) thanks in part to a strong month of January.
Historically the Clippers have been one of the NBA’s doormat franchises but now with Griffin leading the way, the future looks brighter than ever.
"We won some games in January and had a home win streak going. We had fans coming to the games so you could feel the home energy," Griffin said.
"Hopefully we can finish the season strong. Other teams are starting to wear down and hopefully we can keep it going."
Griffin says the adjustment to the NBA hasn’t been as difficult as he expected. He says he is mentally and physically stronger than he was in college.
"I think I am a more mature player this year. The thing about the NBA is you have 82 games to redeem yourself," Griffin said.
"A lot of people want to be great but you have to put in the work. I enjoy working hard and putting in the time to get better."