Clippers’ Blake Griffin on growing up biracial, Colin Kaepernick and fighting through injuries
‘I’m very comfortable being exactly who I am’
BERKELEY, California — Blake Griffin’s parents didn’t spend much time worrying about what Oklahomans thought or the stares they received when they raised their two half-black, half-white sons there. The occasional odd looks or awkward questions have not stopped for the Los Angeles Clippers star forward as an adult. The five-time NBA All-Star is proud of both of his races and is comfortable talking about his childhood and society today when it comes to race.
“Still to this day, all the time, I get comments about how you look, how you talk, who you are with or things like that,” Griffin said late Tuesday afternoon from the Clippers’ team hotel. “But I also think there is a huge movement of people like me who don’t feel the need to answer to that. That’s what’s special. I like meeting people like that. I’m inspired to meet people like that.”
The Clippers visit the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night. Griffin said he is still working through the concussion protocol and he does not expect to be cleared in time to play.
The injury-plagued Griffin sat down with The Undefeated to discuss growing up biracial in Oklahoma, the racial and social problems of society, former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Colin Kaepernick, why he is still a Clipper, the departure of Chris Paul and more.
Tell me about your hometown and what it was like growing up.
I grew up in Oklahoma City. As far as Oklahoma goes, Oklahoma City is the most ‘city’ area you can grow up in. Lower middle-class neighborhood. Both my parents were schoolteachers, so we didn’t have a lot growing up. They did whatever they could and needed to do to provide for us. Life was simple. I had a great childhood.
What was it like living in Oklahoma with a black father and white mother?
My parents did a really good job of — and I wouldn’t say sheltering us from everything — not being fazed by any comments that were being made. A lot of times I was too young to really understand. There were times as I got older where I realized what was happening when I was younger.
When I was young, it didn’t really affect me much because I didn’t necessarily know. All I knew was that I had my mom and dad as my parents. I didn’t think anything of it, really. There weren’t situations where I was getting made fun of a lot. It was just looks, comments, little stuff like that.
Where there any times during your youth where you noticed being treated a little differently because of being biracial?
Yeah. I remember being places with my dad and people not knowing that he was my dad, having to explain it. I remember going into a convenience store with my brother [former Phoenix Suns forward Taylor Griffin] and the guy asked me if we were lost or if we needed help. I said, ‘No. We are with our dad.’ He’s like, ‘Where?’ He’s standing right there. And we’re pointing to him. I just remembered the awkwardness. The look.
That’s what I meant when I said my parents never really gave into it. My parents never skipped a beat with stuff like that. Obviously, I’m apologetic. Obviously, there is no reason to even be that way. That was just life for me.
Was there anything your parents had to deal with and fight through?
Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. And they talked about it. But they didn’t give me specific incidents. There were definitely times when they were together in the early ’80s in Oklahoma. It’s probably a different thing in California. Being a mixed-race couple in Oklahoma is a little different. I know they had to deal with their share of things. Nothing they would give credence to.
How did that shape or affect you?
Now, I look back at it and I’m very comfortable being exactly who I am. I never have felt the need to fit into any stereotype, whether it’s sports, whether it is basketball, whether it’s black, white. I like what I like. I’m cool with it. I think I got that from my parents and my brother as well. That’s something that I appreciate.
I appreciate it now more than I did in high school. In high school, I went to a private school with four black kids in the whole school. But I was playing AAU basketball and I was traveling, and all my friends outside of school were much different than the friends I had in high school. That’s not to say that either is better than the other; it was just different. I always felt like I was going back and forth in a sense than just being me. That’s not to say I wasn’t being myself, but in high school you’re not as confident in who you are. You’re not as grounded in who you are.
Were you comfortable in both worlds?
Yes, I was comfortable in both worlds. I never thought about it either way. But I remember feeling it a little bit going back and forth and noticing the difference between the two. But I appreciated them both.
In living in diverse Los Angeles, are there any problems racially that are seldom heard or seen above the surface?
L.A. is different. It’s definitely different than Oklahoma. I’d rather someone say to my face what they think than to be saying it behind the scenes. Some people do. But L.A., obviously, is much more culturally diverse than a place like Oklahoma. So it’s not as weird of a thing, I guess.
How do you look at society today with everything going on from a social justice standpoint? Police brutality has been a problem, especially in L.A., for a long time. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started a controversial and debated movement by kneeling to protest police brutality.
My biggest problem with everything going on is the lack of understanding and the lack of respect in this world. No one is ever going to agree. I was talking about it today in the locker room. We were talking about Jalen Hurts from Alabama [football team]. I was just talking about how well he handled that situation, being 25-2 as a starter and being benched [after halftime of the national championship game on Monday against Georgia] after taking the team all the way there. The interview he gave after was fantastic.
I also read an article with everything people were saying about him in a negative light like, ‘C’mon, man, you have to be more competitive than that.’ I kind of sat back and realized that no matter what you do, people are going to have a problem with it. If he would have been over on the bench sulking, people would have had a problem with it. He wasn’t. He was being a great teammate cheering on this freshman quarterback, which to me is the ultimate teammate. People still had a problem with that.
That’s what I mean. The lack of respect and understanding. Everyone is different. Everyone has different views. You might feel like your way is right. Your religion is right. Your political view is right. But if you don’t have just the fundamental foundation of just respect for people … I think that’s where we are going so sideways as a country.
I’ve never seen somebody get more flak than Colin Kaepernick for silently and nonviolently protesting and standing up for something he believes, and something that obviously is an actual problem. I can’t believe it has become what it has become. It should have become what it has become in a positive light. It’s skewed. It’s mixed. It’s down the middle, unfortunately.
How do you pick your voice now? Are you careful with your voice publicly?
I wouldn’t say careful. That is part of the thing of me being exactly who I am. I am not necessarily an outspoken person on everything, but I also don’t possibly get asked about a lot of stuff. I think if you feel strongly, you believe in something and it’s something that is not negative or negatively affecting other people, it’s important to speak out. This is one of those situations. Kaepernick and police brutality, all this stuff, is important to speak out against because, at the end of the day, everybody wants to be treated equally, and we all should.
Have you ever met or spoken to Kaepernick?
I have met him before, but previous to all this. I have spoken to him briefly. I’ve always been a fan from a business side. It’s crazy that we are having this conversation right now. … It’s not crazy or bad. It’s good. But it’s crazy in this type of day and age that this is where we are at.
How do you reflect on the banning of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling? Was the situation hurtful, stressful? (Sterling was banned from the NBA for life, fined $2.5 million and forced to sell the Clippers after his racist remarks caused a firestorm during the 2014 playoffs.)
We all knew. Everybody always knew. It seems more that you had to wait for something to happen in order for something else to happen, if you know what I mean? In a way, you’re thankful for those opportunities because it brought on change. It certainly wasn’t the first of the dominos to fall. But I think there has been a trend, and we have seen this, or the past however many years of people not being able to keep that stuff covered up. That s— comes out sooner or later.
That’s what’s cool about the whole situation. Everyone is being held accountable and stuff creeps out. … The era of Twitter and social media and all these new platforms have enabled things like this to be blasted out there and people to be held more accountable. That was four years ago? It was growing. People’s opinion and outrage led that movement.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently or wish your entire team had done differently on Sterling?
I am happy about how we handled it because we did it as a team and we did it together. We made a stand. I think we were all kind of worried. We didn’t know what to say. It was also in the playoffs, and we didn’t want to say anything that would disrupt that or say anything that was too crazy.
I appreciated teammates always thinking in those terms, but we could have been more outspoken. But I think we did it as a team, and when you do things together as a team that it makes the biggest impact.
What was the deciding factor on you re-signing with the Clippers on a five-year, $173 million deal last offseason?
This is where I started. This is the franchise that believed in me from the beginning. I want to see this thing through. We ultimately weren’t successful over the past however many years. But, it’s another chance. It’s another challenge. It’s another opportunity for me to find a way to keep this thing going in the right direction.
How did you take Chris Paul’s decision to opt for a trade from the Clippers to the Houston Rockets?
I talked to him the morning before it came out. He called me and just kind of told me everything. Like I told him on the phone, I wished him the best and appreciated the years we had together. That situation was handled the right way. You see other guys and other teammates go separate ways with a bad taste in their mouth because it wasn’t handled the right way.
We shared a lot of moments together. Some good. Some bad. Some just the mundane everyday sitting on the plane, sitting on the bus. When you share that much time with somebody, you have a connection. But now we’re in separate places and both moving forward.
What has kept you mentally strong through every injury that you have had? Every time something happens injurywise, you don’t appear to regress physically. You’re still able to jump and be aggressive. How do you do that, and what kind of toll have the injuries taken on you?
Injuries are more mental rather than physical for me. Especially over the years I have tried to put my body in the right position to be successful and not to deal with this stuff. And sometimes weird things happen. I stepped back and stepped on [then-Clippers teammate] Mo Speights’ foot in the playoffs [last season]. If I don’t step on his foot, then I’m good.
If I’m a second late going for a loose ball going against the Lakers this season, [teammate] Austin Rivers doesn’t fall … you know what I mean? It’s all those things. I think about those things a lot. The biggest thing with injuries, especially injuries when you’ve had several over a course of time, is that you can’t feel sorry for yourself. I attack rehab like I attack a game, with everything you have. It makes you mentally tougher when I come out on the other side.
Any update on your concussion that you suffered on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors?
I just have to continue passing tests. Every test I’ve been given I’ve passed. The NBA [concussion] protocol is much more extensive than I thought it was. But I’ve passed every little thing that I’ve been asked to do. I still have more. I don’t know what that entails. Every day, I ask what I have that day. That’s part of the trick to my rehab.
So you’re not playing Wednesday against the Warriors?
No. I doubt [Wednesday night].
How are you taking teammate DeAndre Jordan’s pending free-agency situation?
This is his second time being in this situation. Before that he was a restricted free agent. Each time I’ve told him the same thing. He knows and he’ll know the exact same thing about how I feel about him and how much we want him to be here, to be a Clipper for life.
But at the end of the day, he has a family and he has to make the decision that is best for him. Whatever that is, I’ll support him. He’ll know how much we want him here.
What do you think about the state of the Clippers franchise now? And even with all the injuries, the Clippers are still very much alive in the Western Conference playoff race.
We’re in the ninth spot and we haven’t played a game with all of our starters since game two. [Monday] night [against Atlanta], we played with one starter. So I’m not in the camp that this season is completely lost. We’ve shown an incredible amount of resilience. [Clippers head coach] Doc [Rivers] has been coaching a team that changes pretty much every single week.
We have a starting lineup that changes every single week and we’re still getting wins. We’re still winning games that we should be. I want to see us healthy. I want to see us as healthy as we possibly can be. We never will be fully healthy this season, but I want to see us go full strength the rest of the season and see what happens.
If healthy, what are the Clippers?
A playoff team, if we’re healthy.
The Clippers play on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday against Paul and the Rockets. Do you like playing on MLK Day?
I do like playing on that day. The NBA does a good job of allowing each team to express Martin Luther King Day in a different way. One of my favorite things on media day is when we read the MLK speech. Everybody reads a different part. When you hear all those words playing on the big screen and see these guys reading it, it’s special, man. It means something.
Those words were said so long ago. And now you think of them as things that should be happening in today’s society. But the fact that we’re still kind of dealing with some of [the issues] is crazy because this man so long ago did so much and gave his life for what he was speaking. It’s a special thing to me.
Is making it to the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles a big goal for you?
I wouldn’t say it’s a big thing in my mind. Being healthy, playing well and leading my team is in the forefront. My first All-Star Game was in L.A. It was a lot of fun. It was special. If it was to happen, it happens. … There are times when I didn’t make the All-Star team. There are guys that have been left off the All-Star team who deserve to be on the All-Star team. Guys like [Portland Trail Blazers guard] Damian Lillard. Damian Lillard has experienced that over and over. At the end of the day, it’s about the season.