The first ovation lasted 20 seconds for Detroit’s — not the Clippers’ — Blake Griffin during pregame introductions. The standing ovation that followed a two-minute video tribute full of dunks and commercial gags and community events and game-winners? That was another minute or so.
But the applause that showered Griffin after the tribute during the first timeout Saturday at Staples Center wasn’t an adequate thank you, not for what he’s done for the Clippers. Not for what he meant in his seven-plus seasons in Los Angeles.
That can’t be neatly edited together.
During that time, the Clippers underwent a dramatic makeover, turning from punching bag to pugilists, from jokers to contenders, helping rewrite decades of narrative about the organization.
“I don’t look at what I did,” Griffin said after the Pistons’ 109-104 win in which he scored 44 points against his former team. “I was a part of it. The coolest thing to do is to be a part of something bigger than yourself, and that’s what that was. That’s what this was.”
The rewriting of Clippers history is still in progress, even without Griffin as a main character. His return to Staples Center on Saturday was the final step in his term as a Clipper — he got the standing ovation and highlight package he deserved. He got to walk on the court, his face on the scoreboard, and show his gratitude to the Clippers’ fans.
But that’s it. No more. This is closure.
“Yeah, the next time you come here, it won’t be the same, obviously,” Griffin said. “It’s nice to get the game over with it. …There’s such big hype leading up to it.”
The hype, in this case, was justified. His relationship with the organization is still icy after the Clippers dealt him last January. He’s been open with his displeasure in how the deal went down, with who told him what and when.
He and Doc Rivers still haven’t spoken since the trade.
“He’s not my coach anymore,” Griffin said frankly. “There’s no need to.”
But, he’s also said that he’s glad the deal happened, that his time with the Clippers probably needed to end. That he didn’t win a title — that the Clippers never advanced past the second round of the playoffs — probably complicates his legacy in Los Angeles more than it should.
Griffin, along with Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan, went to the playoffs six consecutive seasons. In the 40 seasons before Griffin became a Clipper, the organization made only seven total trips to the playoffs.
The Griffin-Jordan-Paul Clippers (that’s the order in which Rivers thinks the franchise should retire their jerseys someday) won 313 games — tied for third most over that six season span.
“Blake was the star. He was the dunk contest winner. He wore a Clipper jersey and people understood. Now when you hear our name you don’t think of those Clippers, those bad Clippers before Blake. To me, Blake is the one that started that,” Rivers said. “Any success we have, in my opinion, from this point forward, is due to Blake, D.J. and Chris and in that order.”
Because Griffin was a star, because he built a reputation for being a tireless worker, because he’s got career points-rebounds-assists averages that have been surpassed by only Larry Bird and Wilt Chamberlain, the Clippers were able to get a shot at a brighter future by dealing him to Detroit.
The Clippers, thanks largely to the players and pick they acquired from the Pistons, look like a playoff team in a loaded Western Conference. Some prominent league executives think the team’s dream of landing Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant in free agency this summer isn’t far-fetched.
Without Griffin, Paul doesn’t want to come to the Clippers. Without Griffin, Rivers would’ve ended up in a broadcast booth instead of on the Clippers’ sidelines. Without Griffin, the team wouldn’t have anywhere near relevance to spawn discussions of a new building. Without Griffin, the Clippers aren’t where they are today — a threat to have the biggest offseason since the Miami Heat added LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
“He got it started,” Rivers said.
A standing ovation during introductions, a two-minute walk down memory lane, another standing ovation — that’s a start to saying thank you. And if this summer goes as some think it will — and as the Clippers hope — those thank yous shouldn’t stop coming any time soon.