blake_griffin

The role of a power forward in the NBA is pretty simple. On offense, you are to take high-percentage shots, relatively close to the basket, and rebound. On defense, you are to block shots and rebound. I realize that is a very reductionistic description of the role of a power forward, but it’s true. But on top of this, post players are typically the biggest and strongest players on the court, and forwards must exhibit a style of play which reflects those attributes–such as being a “tight defender” or a “beast” rebounder. Power forwards are to display a physical toughness on the court that surpasses everyone else on the court (a little trash-talking helps affirm your status as a big bad forward, too).

Enter the scrutiny upon Los Angeles Clippers power forward, Blake Griffin. No, no sketchy Instagram account and no party or pouty rep. But Griffin’s contemporaries, both players of opposing teams and his own teammates, have labelled him as a “soft” player. “Soft,” meaning that, as Skip Bayless most passionately (and annoyingly) says, Griffin is a pacifist. Griffin, coming up on his fourth season in the NBA, is mostly known for his out-of-this-world athleticism. If you didn’t know, Griffin actually jumped over a car–yes, a car–in the NBA’s slam dunk contest a couple of years ago. Griffin is an exceptional talent, but he’s also known for his undeniable sense of humor–just watch his Kia commercials if you haven’t already. A few months ago, Chauncey Billups, former teammate of Griffin, insinuated that the young player might be “too nice” on the court. On the identity side of things, the implicit law, which Griffin is failing to adhere to–is that power forwards, no matter what, simply cannot be “soft”. As we said earlier, it’s the post players that are typically the tough guys of the team: Charles Barkely, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Shaq, Kevin Garnett, etc, etc.–they’ve all had some fight in them Griffin seems to lack. Numerous commentators such as Stephen A. Smith have implied that Griffin is a laid back, turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. A power forward being called “soft” is synonymous with Marty McFly being called “chicken”–it really hits home.

Griffin’s response to his being “soft” has been just a tad defensive, stating he’s never had a problem being “soft” and he welcomes anyone willing to take up a challenge off-the-court, whatever that means. Pretty McFly-like if you ask me. Given our anthropology of sports (and everyday life) Griffin’s reactionary comments aren’t all that surprising.

Griffin’s recent criticism and response makes me think about how defensive I get when some sort of insecurity or shortcoming is made manifest in my own life, especially the ones that I try to control or hide the most or whatever. Though Griffin being labelled “soft” might not seem like the biggest deal to you or me, but for Griffin, it’s basically implying he isn’t fit to play the position–he isn’t sufficient. We really get all up in arms like a McFly when insufficiency is exposed.

Luckily for Griffin, Clipper point guard, Chris Paul recently stated in an interview that the Clippers are “Blake’s team” and that “he’s our guy.” Paul, undoubtedly the leader of the team, carries weight with his words, especially in light of the whole “soft” criticism. To be sure, Paul’s extending grace to Griffin is exactly what he needs. New Clippers coach, Doc Rivers, who is known for his ability to empower those around him, along with Chris Paul, may just do the trick for Blake.

All of this makes me recount something one of my dear friends said in a conversation, “I’m thankful that–when I say “no, you can’t go there…not there…anywhere but there’–Christ, in the gospel, goes there.”