Grin and bear it: Griffin takes it all off
There's no panic in Blake Griffin, whether it's holding out with his fellow NBA players for a better labor deal or posing nearly nude in a national magazine.
Griffin doesn't think the players will flinch even as the league's lockout threatens the start of the season next month. He didn't blink when given his choice of a white, black or leopard thong to don for the photo shoot.
ESPN The Magazine's annual Body Issue hits newsstands on Friday with Griffin fronting one of the four covers. Soccer player Hope Solo, New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes and Olympic snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler are on the others.
For the record, Griffin chose the white thong, not that it's visible in the photos. He described the experience as ''uncomfortable at first.''
''But then after a while I didn't really care. They were bringing the robe over after every take and after a while, I was like, 'Whatever, it's OK.' I guess I'm more comfortable now with less clothes,'' he said, smiling.
What Griffin and his fellow NBA players aren't comfortable with is the idea of giving away too much of their revenue split with the owners and changes to the salary cap structure.
Commissioner David Stern said he will cancel the first two weeks of the regular season if there is no agreement on a new labor agreement by Monday.
''We have to wait for a better deal,'' Griffin said. ''Not just for the guys that are in the league now, but the guys that are coming in the next several years.
''That first proposal that the owners sent was so far out in left field, now it makes it seem like they're compromising and they're trying to do all these things when really we just want what we had. The NBA had its best year last year in however many years and I don't see a reason to cut all the progress that we made.''
Griffin said none of the players he's been in contact with have shown the slightest hint of giving in, even though the exhibition schedule has been scrapped and the Nov. 1 start of the season is threatened.
''I feel like everybody's been together,'' he said. ''I think that's something the owners are really going to test over these next few weeks or so when guys start missing games. All the players are going to stick together no matter what and do what's best for the players.''
Griffin should be in training camp this week preparing to begin his second full season with the Los Angeles Clippers after being named the league's rookie of the year last season.
Instead, he's going about the same routine he's had since May: wake up, work on his shooting and do drills for a couple hours in the morning, followed by a strength and conditioning session, a break and then a pickup game or individual shooting in the evening.
The Clippers got together informally for a week in August to play pickup games and go through drills. They're planning on doing it again in a couple weeks to ''keep the unity,'' Griffin said.
One of his biggest offseason goals was to improve his shooting, something that was overshadowed by his highlight reel dunking last season.
''It's something that I feel will be my biggest improvement this coming year, just being confident and being ready and knowing when to attack in certain spots and when to pull up and use that jump shot,'' he said. ''Also a big thing for me is becoming a better leader this year.''
Griffin takes weekends off, mostly spending them on the couch watching college and pro football. This Saturday he'll be in Dallas rooting for his alma mater, Oklahoma, against Texas.
''It's cool to do things like that,'' he said, ''but obviously I'd rather be playing.''
Griffin is interested in playing on the U.S. team for next year's London Olympics, although he said USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo has yet to contact him.
''There's no greater stage than playing for your country,'' he said. ''At the same time, there's a lot of great players that deserve to be on that team. I'll definitely try out.''
Unlike others who have signed deals or are considering playing overseas, Griffin is staying put for now.
''I'm not saying I would never go over there and I'm not saying I'm absolutely going to go over there if this continues,'' he said.
At 22, Griffin has played in just 82 NBA games. A knee injury caused him to miss his entire first season. Now the lockout is threatening to derail another one.
He was a 9-year-old kid growing up in Oklahoma the last time the NBA endured a lockout in 1998-99, which led to a reduced 50-game schedule.
Back then, Griffin didn't understand what the fuss was about, and this time, he's not sure the fans do, either.
''They see it as just a whole bunch of guys that are getting paid to play basketball complaining that they're not getting paid,'' he said. ''To a certain extent they're right, but at the same time, we just want what we had.''
When he's out and about in Manhattan Beach, where he and a number of pro basketball and hockey players live, fans ask Griffin what's going to happen with the season and say they hope it gets figured out.
''I wish I knew better how the majority of fans really felt,'' he said. ''Nobody is going to say how they really feel to you in person.''
The reaction to Griffin baring it all in the magazine has been clear.
''I've already gotten a lot of good feedback,'' he said, citing Dwight Howard's previous appearance in the magazine as a reason for doing it himself. ''Most athletes don't really pose like that. I thought it was cool. It's always tastefully done.''