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Not that Blake would admit it then, or now, but this was a big moment in his life (that is, of course, if it ever happened). He spent his childhood trying to catch his brother, literally. Footraces, touch football, made-up games like can-you-jump-that-fence. Being three years older, Taylor was always bigger and stronger (in high school he stood 6'7" and weighed 235 pounds), so Blake figured he just had to want it more. "It didn't matter if it was basketball or a board game, he was going after it as hard as he could," says Taylor, who's now playing in Belgium, where he watches his brother's games on his laptop with NBA League Pass. "There's no cruise setting on his dial."
Victim #172: Zack Novak, March 21, 2009
It is the second round of the NCAA tournament, and Griffin's Sooners are playing Michigan. Griffin is averaging more than 22 points and 14 boards, but his game remains limited. Outside of 10 feet, Michigan players are told, let Griffin shoot it. The coaches do not cover what to do if he decides to jump over your head.
In the second half Griffin catches an outlet pass on the right wing. Racing down the middle of the court is Novak, a freshman guard for the Wolverines. No slouch, the 6'4", 210-pound Novak was all-state in high school and has enough hops that he will win the UM Midnight Madness dunk contest seven months later. Still, like Griffin, he was coached by his father, so he knows that taking a charge is more valuable than blocking a shot. So Novak sprints with a mind to intersect Griffin's path in the key. There's only one problem: Griffin is too damn fast. "When I get to the three-point line, I start thinking, Why am I doing this?" remembers Novak, now a junior. "I'm in foul trouble, I'm not going to get there, and he's got this look in his eye like he's going to abuse me. I step in late and start to fall back, kind of flop it, hoping to maybe get lucky and get the call. Next thing I know his feet are at my face."
To Griffin, the dunk was merely "pretty good," but to Novak it became, for lack of a better term, a case of fame-by-posterization. Sure, he was disconsolate at first, mainly because his team lost, and for the first year or so he got sick of hearing from friends who, whenever Griffin's name came up, would say innocently, "Hey, isn't that the guy who dunked on you so hard he lifted you off the ground?" But now Novak sees it differently. "I see what he's doing to NBA guys, and it's cool to look back," he says. "My mom's a high school teacher, and she actually has the picture up in her room." Novak laughs. "I mean, one day it'll be proof that I got dunked on by Blake Griffin. It'll be a bar bet when I'm 50 or 60 years old." Indeed, Novak is so far from being embarrassed that after we talk on the phone, I receive a text message with a request: "Any chance we can use that photo in the story?" (Here you go, Zack—it's back a couple pages.)
Victim #265: D.J. Mbenga, Oct. 18, 2009* (*First NBA victim)
The Clippers are playing the Lakers in a preseason game, and most eyes are on Griffin. After being named player of the year by everyone with a keyboard, he was drafted first overall by the Clippers. There was talk of a Savior and a Franchise Rebirth. Griffin, who is friendly and approachable but not very quotable in person, refused to play the part. He would let his game do the talking, he said. There was no need for hyperbole.
And then this, against the Lakers of all teams. In the fourth quarter Griffin catches a pass on the left side of the lane, takes one dribble and—boom!—up he goes, summitting the airborne, seven-foot Mbenga and pulling the ball back in midair before hurling it into the basket. His teammates go bananas. For his part Griffin cracks only a tiny smile and later declares the dunk "fun," while adding, "I still gotta get better." No one's buying it; his teammates dub him Amazin', while Spurs coach Gregg Popovich calls him "a monster." Griffin's legend grows by the day. And then, suddenly, it stalls.
Victim #267: Blake Griffin, Oct. 23, 2009
Maybe it's the way he lands. Maybe he just gets too high. Who knows? But when Griffin touches down after a tremendous one-handed jam in his final preseason game, against the Hornets, he feels something crumple in his left knee. The doctors tell him "nondisplaced stress fracture of his left patella." It doesn't sound that bad but it lingers. By January, Griffin has yet to play a game and is shut down for the season. Surgery is required. Finally, someone found a way to ground Griffin. It's a shame it had to be a doctor.