Ford Griffin, the 5-year-old son of NBA star Blake Griffin, comes bouncing down a mostly empty hallway, wearing his dad’s new Pistons jersey. He’s dribbling a small basketball, spinning in circles, smile as wide as his father’s shoulders.
Earlier in the week, he got to play outside in the snow. Another night, he got to play basketball while his dad took his phone out to make videos that Ford would want to watch later.
As it turns out, Ford, just like his father, enjoys dunking.
As dad later walks out, his son following him like a mini-shadow, it’s evident that the All-Star forward is not in exile in Michigan.
Yes, he chose to sign a five-year contract worth more than $170 million to remain in Los Angeles with the Clippers. Yes, the Clippers balked less than eight months into the deal and sent him to the Pistons. Yes, there are things Griffin misses in Los Angeles. He wishes he was closer to his children on a full-time basis. He misses some Clippers fans and people in the organization.
But being in Detroit instead of playing for the Clippers, Griffin is fine with it.
“Yeah, I’m glad it happened,” Griffin told the Times. “I’m not saying I don’t miss certain people. There were some awesome fans that I got to know and I felt like I was very close with them. And there are some people you miss over there, but it was just time for a fresh start.
“I’m glad to be here.”
Griffin, who turns 30 in March, is really happy — it’s something everyone says when you ask about him. Detroit and the surrounding suburbs are more like his native Oklahoma than Los Angeles, so he’s more comfortable. Teammates say he’s thriving in a role of being the lead voice in the locker room. Staffers say he’s been terrific to deal with. Others love that he seems to know everyone in the organization by name. The mood swings that at times in Los Angeles could be volatile haven’t been an issue.
“We needed him here,” said Detroit forward Reggie Bullock, who played with Griffin on the Clippers. “We needed a major piece here.”
Griffin’s playing some of the best basketball of his nine-year career, averaging more than 25 points a game thanks to an expanded offensive arsenal that now includes six three-point shots per game. And the Pistons are playing fairly good basketball in the improved East, making it look like a good deal.
But when it was consummated, the trade was a gamble for both teams.
The Clippers were saying goodbye to the best player the franchise had ever drafted, a true star who could charm fans with his sense of humor as well as his thundering dunks. But they were also shedding a big contract and creating the kind of flexibility needed to be players in the loaded 2019 free agency class.
The Pistons needed some star power. Stuck on the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff race, knowing that they would have a hard time signing a top-notch free agent, it became easier to overlook the risks of acquiring Griffin. They had just started playing in a new arena. Attendance had been poor. They were in position to gamble on Griffin — which really means gambling on his health.
His career has been littered with maladies — a staph infection in his elbow, bad knees, a torn quadriceps that cost him one playoff series and a toe injury that cost him another. It seemed to always be something.
At times, it could feel like too much.
After Griffin found out that his injured big toe — something seemingly so minor — would keep him out of the rest of playoffs in 2017, he almost had “a breakdown.”
“I remember just thinking that I had been doing everything I possibly could: diet, foam roll every night on your own, work with your own trainers, work with the team’s trainers, sleep in a hyperbaric chamber. I have an ice tub in my house. I have everything down to a science,” Griffin said. “And … this stuff still happens.”
It’s why he finds the nearest wall for a knock when you ask him if he’s missed a game this year — he hasn’t. He spends more than six figures to have a personal trainer at his beck and call. He’s got a sauna in his house and an infrared bed. His desire to get healthy, and stay that way, was fortified after his final playoff run with the Clippers.
“The real test for me was not getting discouraged through that,” he said. “I could easily have been, ‘[Expletive] it. I’m just going to stop caring as much, stop doing all those things that I do.’ But that’s not me as a person. So I just stuck to my routine that summer. And this summer. I put the time in and feel great.”
This past summer might have been a turning point. For the first time in years, Griffin wasn’t obsessed with rehabbing an injury. Instead, his focus was on improvement.
“The past two summers, I was working all summer so that I could just be ready to go for camp. And this year, I was working all summer to actually get better, as a basketball player,” Griffin said.
Detroit’s Dwane Casey, who joined the team after being named coach of the year — and subsequently getting fired — in Toronto, said he knew about Griffin’s injury history, but an offseason visit to Los Angeles quieted any doubts.
“When I first took the job, I knew Blake had all the talent in the world. The only thing keeping him [down] was injuries,” Casey said. “Once I saw him working out, how hard he was going, the stuff he was doing that early in the summer, I had no questions whatsoever.”
While the Pistons are cautious with Griffin — Casey has a minutes limit that he declined to share, and the organization monitors a host of biometrics — it hasn’t stopped the team from tying its fate to Griffin.
The Pistons are putting the ball in his hands as their major offensive weapon. His usage rate, a statistic that measures how often plays end with a specific player, is at a career high.
“He’s one of the best point forwards, power forwards, in the league,” Casey said. “We’re here to win games and he’s a big part of that.”
When the Pistons are in Detroit, Griffin retreats to his home in suburban Franklin, Mich. Maybe he’ll read some scripts. But most nights, if his kids are in L.A., he’s relaxing, working to stay healthy and watching basketball.
“That’s heaven,” he said.
He just happened to find it in Detroit.