Los Angeles Clippers star Blake Griffin issued a statement Tuesday night apologizing for punching a member of the team's equipment staff during their current road trip, an incident that left him with a broken right shooting hand that will keep him sidelined for at least the next month.
A situation among friends escalated and I regret the way I handled myself towards someone I care about. I want to apologize to the Clippers organization, my teammates and the fans for creating a distraction. I am working with the team on a resolution and getting back in the game as soon as possible.
[Follow Dunks Don't Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]
Griffin has missed the Clippers' last 15 games after suffering a partially torn left quadriceps tendon in their Christmas Day victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He'd been expected to return to the club at some point during their five-game East Coast road trip, but the team announced Monday that the 26-year-old Griffin had returned to Los Angeles and would not play in either Tuesday's game against the Indiana Pacers or Wednesday's matchup with the Atlanta Hawks. A team spokesman said Griffin hadn't "suffered a setback in his recovery" from the quad injury, but rather was "still working his way back into game shape" and simply wanted to make sure he was fully ready before returning to the lineup, according to Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.
ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne, however, reported Tuesday morning that Griffin's return trip came after he injured his right hand "in an undisclosed team-related incident." ESPN's Michael Eaves later reported that Griffin sustained the injury "after hitting a member of the team's equipment staff" during an argument at a restaurant following the Clippers' Sunday loss to the Toronto Raptors.
The staffer was later identified as assistant equipment manager Matias Testi, "who has been close with Griffin for years and routinely banters back and forth with the five-time All-Star," according to USA TODAY Sports' Sam Amick. The altercation reportedly began inside the restaurant with Griffin hitting Testi, who went outside, only to be followed by Griffin, who hit him again. Toronto police have no report for the incident on file and are not presently investigating it, according to Amick.
The Clippers announced Tuesday afternoon that Griffin had "suffered a spiral fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his right hand throwing a punch on Jan. 23 in Toronto," and that he underwent surgery on the hand on Tuesday morning.
"This conduct has no place in our organization and this incident does not represent who we are as a team," owner Steve Ballmer and president of basketball operations/head coach Doc Rivers: said in a team statement. "We are conducting a full investigation with assistance from the NBA. At the conclusion of the investigation, appropriate action will be taken."
The team statement pegged Griffin's return at four to six weeks way, but Rivers pumped the brakes on that before Tuesday's meeting with the Pacers.
"I always say, four to six weeks with a broken hand is unrealistic, I’ll tell you that," he said, according to Bolch of the Times.
Rivers expressed frustration at the "distraction" of the incident, which he said "shouldn't have happened. They were good friends." Rivers also said he'd spoken not only with Griffin, but with Testi as well: "We're a family. You don't just talk to the player."
More from Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:
“We have a responsibility once we play in this league to conduct ourselves in a certain way. That’s something we talked about yesterday. Represent the Clippers. We have to continue to do that,” Rivers said. “Everything that happens, obviously, you try to turn into a teaching lesson for your players. They’re still young, still learning life. And, it’s our job sometimes to teach life, teach life through the mistakes we’ve made. ...
“Guys are human and they make mistakes. I’m not one of those guys to never give people second chances in life. I think that’s very important in life. Having said that, you have to learn from that.”
Griffin could still face punishment from the NBA or the Clippers for the incident beyond merely the time lost due to injury. Under the current timetable, that would cover between 12 and 18 games, putting the All-Star power forward in line to return in early-to-mid March.
This is the second time in the last 16 months that Griffin has been involved in an off-court physical incident. In November of 2014, he was charged with misdemeanor battery after allegedly getting in an altercation with a man who claimed Griffin had slapped him and grabbed at his cell phone during a confrontation at TAO Nightclub in Las Vegas one month earlier; Griffin was reportedly upset that the man was taking pictures near Griffin's face with the flash on his camera phone and grabbed it out of the man's hand. That charge was dropped last March after prosecutors "made it clear that the allegations couldn't be proved."
The Clippers beat the Pacers, 91-89, on Wednesday to improve to 29-16, the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. Chris Paul scored 26 points with seven assists and six rebounds for the Clippers, who are now 12-3 when playing without Griffin this season.
More NBA coverage:
- - - - - - -