The poster was there every day, staring back at Blake Griffin. It hung on the wall above his bed from the time he was an 8-year-old to a budding basketball star leaving for the University of Oklahoma, with images of Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and every other member of the original Dream Team serving as a constant reminder of Griffin’s own ambitions.
For all his immense success, Griffin has never worn his country’s jersey in a meaningful game. Don’t blame him. He was the NBA’s rookie of the year and an All-Star in each of his first five seasons with the Clippers, but his resume with Team USA reads more like a medical glossary than something out of the annals of basketball glory.
Concerns about aggravating a mild back injury forced Griffin to withdraw from the World Cup last summer.
He made the U.S. team leading up to the London Olympics in 2012 before experiencing discomfort in his left knee that required surgery.
In 2010, he couldn’t play in the world championships because he was rehabbing from the stress fracture in his left kneecap that forced him to miss what should have been his rookie season.
The year before that, it was a strained right shoulder that forced him to miss Team USA’s minicamp.
All of which has made wearing the letters “USA” across his chest this week during another minicamp at the University of Nevada Las Vegas all the more meaningful.
“It would be the chance of a lifetime,” Griffin said Wednesday of representing his country.
It was about this point four years ago that Griffin had to shut down his most recent Olympic bid. He completed training camp before his knee started bothering him the day before an exhibition. Griffin flew home while his teammates went on to London and won the gold medal.
“Injuries happen,” Griffin said, “but just to be on the cusp of going to your first Olympic games and then have it all taken away, it was tough mentally. It was tough to watch games.”
Griffin is slated to play in the intrasquad showcase Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center, giving Team USA Coach Mike Krzyzewski a versatile power forward he has not been able to utilize much in previous competitions.
Of course, Krzyzewski would rather have Griffin available when the games really count.
“It will be nicer when we see him next summer too,” Krzyzewski said.
Griffin and Clippers teammate Chris Paul, a two-time gold medalist, seem to be near-locks to make the Olympic team despite Paul’s insistence to the contrary — “They didn’t say because you have a gold medal you’ll automatically be on the team,” he said — but Clippers center DeAndre Jordan’s status is a little more uncertain as the roster is whittled from 34 to 12 over the next year.
Griffin said he has spent most of his summer working on his continually evolving shot, including face-ups, shots off one dribble and catch-and-shoots.
He’ll presumably get more rest next season with the Clippers after averaging a career-high 39.8 minutes per game in the playoffs last spring, his team adding proven depth at his position with Josh Smith and rookie Branden Dawson. Newcomer Wesley Johnson could also play power forward in a small-ball lineup.
“Over the course of a year,” Griffin said, “six or seven less minutes every single game adds up. … Having a deep bench is going to help us tremendously, especially come playoff time.”
It could also keep Griffin fresh for his first foray into the Olympics, resulting in him being on a poster that adorns bedroom walls.
“You try not to think too far ahead into the schedule and all that [because] it’s still a year away,” Griffin said, “but it would be an honor really to be able to play.”