On the eve of training camp, Blake Griffin decided to try to put last season behind him once and for all. The All-Star power forward and Players Tribune senior editor penned a public apology to Los Angeles Clippers fans for a campaign in which he played in only 39 total regular- and postseason games due to multiple injuries — most notably the broken right hand he sustained by punching friend and assistant equipment manager Matias Testi in the face during a road trip in Toronto.
From Griffin’s mea culpa:
I’ll just get it out of the way.
Last season sucked.
I am truly sorry. What happened in Toronto was 100% my fault. I messed up.
Many of you likely still remember — Griffin writes that whenever he tweets “something like, ‘So good to be back home’ […] the first 10 replies are like, ‘Make sure you don’t punch anybody” — but in case you forgot “what happened in Toronto,” here’s a refresher:
During an East Coast road trip, Griffin — who’d been sidelined since Christmas after suffering a partially torn left quadriceps tendon — was sent back to Los Angeles to continue “working his way back into game shape,” according to a team spokesperson. ESPN soon reported, though, that Griffin’s return trip came after he injured his right hand “in an undisclosed team-related incident.”
That incident was later specified as “hitting a member of the team’s equipment staff” during an argument at a restaurant following a loss to the Toronto Raptors; that staff member was later identified as 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. The Clippers later announced that Griffin had “suffered a spiral fracture of the fourth metacarpal in his right hand throwing a punch on Jan. 23 in Toronto,” and had undergone surgery to repair it.
“A situation among friends escalated and I regret the way I handled myself towards someone I care about,” Griffin wrote in a statement. “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.”
After an NBA investigation into how “routine back-and-forth teasing” between Griffin and Testi turned into multiple punches, a broken hand and a badly swollen face, the Clippers suspended Griffin for four games without pay, and docked him a paycheck for a fifth game — a total penalty of $859,442 — “for striking a team employee” and “conduct [that] has no place in the Clippers organization.”
“It was a situation, like I said, between two friends that escalated and again, I exercised poor judgment,” Griffin said in his first public comments following his suspension. “It is something that I think about every day and wish I could take it back and I have told Matias that. It is one of those things that you cannot take back, so now I am focused on moving forward and doing the best I can from here on out. […] I have talked to Matias tons of times since the incident. He actually said it best: ‘Stuff happens. We are like brothers and we just have to move on.’”
Eventually, Testi did move on. In July, TMZ reported that he no longer worked for the Clippers.
Despite all sorts of trade reports and rumors, though, Griffin still does. After his attempted comeback to salvage a frustrating season was cut short by a re-aggravation of his quad injury midway through the Clippers’ first-round playoff loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Griffin says the failure — his own as well as the team’s, as the Clips once again failed to advance past the second round of the playoffs despite boasting one of the NBA’s best offenses and an All-NBA core headlined by Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan — has stuck with him, and he’s looking to convert it to fuel for the pursuit of bigger and better things in the season ahead:
We’re the same core group that beat the defending-champion Spurs in seven games just 17 months ago. I know 17 months seems like forever, especially in NBA time, but we know how small the margins are between winning and losing, and how quickly the narratives around teams can change.
Even over the course of a seven-game series, the story can change. The Cavs were one loss away from being thrown under the bus (some people didn’t even wait for the loss), and now they’re the NBA champions.
With that in mind, our team has kind of embraced the public perception of who we are. For lack of a better term, we’ve adopted the philosophy of: F— it. Let’s just go out and play basketball. […]
When you’re fighting to stay alive every single night with your teammates, going through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, it’s the most exciting feeling in the world. Just being in the trenches together, going into buildings where everybody is rooting against you. It’s why you play the game.
Not being able to experience that roller coaster last season was a wake-up call for me. If I’m being completely honest, over the course of six NBA seasons, 82 games a year, all the travel, and the whole the grind, it can be easy for everything to blend together.
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I don’t want to say you’re going through the motions, but it’s easy to take the whole ride for granted. When I was hurt and basically sitting around going stir-crazy, it made me realize that basketball was like therapy for me. No matter what was going on in the real world, if I could just get to the gym, everything else disappeared.
A newly motivated and wholly re-dedicated Griffin would be a very, very good thing for the Clippers. Lest we forget, he was off to an absolutely tremendous start to the 2015-16 season before the initial quad injury, averaging 23.2 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 34.9 minutes per game — Wilt, Bird, Oscar, Kareem, Elgin-type numbers — before going down. If he can return to the level of production and versatility he’d reached before things blew up last year, serving as a devastating force at power forward in the Clips’ traditional lineups as well as a pace-pushing center in small-ball units and a legitimate primary playmaker when CP3 takes a rest, the Clippers should once again rank near the top of the NBA in offensive efficiency, push 50-plus wins and have a chance of advancing to the Western Conference finals.
Just don’t call it a puncher’s chance, OK? Blake’s off that.
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