DETROIT — Tommy Griffin would come home after a day of teaching and coaching at his Oklahoma school, then go to work. When one job ended, the next began. Griffin operated a trophy shop in the back of the house where he, wife Gail, and their two sons, Blake and Taylor, lived. A day might start at 6 a.m. and end at 2 a.m. the next. Griffin’s sons often helped, starting as early as five, to get that extra time with their dad and learn what it meant to work, to see what it takes to put a dream together.
As teachers, Tommy and Gail (who homeschooled their sons) saw how critical that time together was, and wanted to give their kids every chance to succeed after seeing how thin the line sometimes was between making it and not, regardless of talent.
“They were doing that to get us through what we needed to do,” Blake Griffin said from the locker room at the University of Detroit Mercy in early March. “I always just think back, if it wasn’t for one or two things here, if it wasn’t for all those things coming together, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Griffin, the do-everything forward for the Detroit Pistons, could have been content as a bouncy, high-flying, dunking force of nature. He could’ve been known as the guy who dunked over a car, ushered in the era of Lob City, and made All-Star teams. That, understandably, could’ve been enough, and he’d be remembered for that.
But that’s not the five-year-old who helped in the trophy shop, or the 30-year-old who has added a three-pointer, improved his passing, become a master at drawing charges, and became the first player in Pistons history to average at least 24 points, seven rebounds, and five assists in a season. That’s not the producer who rebooted White Men Can’t Jump, or does stand-up and roasts, or started an Audible podcast on health and wellness debuting in 2020.
This version of Blake Griffin stems from Gail getting up early to make the boys fresh juice with barley grain, or Tommy driving the kids he coached who didn’t have rides home before sitting down in the trophy shop.
“They grinded for years and years and years,” Taylor Griffin says. “It’s stuff like that that I think Blake and I both attribute to some of our health success and growth physically, and then also just the work ethic that they kind of laid the foundation for us early on.”
Griffin is naturally charismatic, and openly embraces the awkwardness that comes from pauses or an uncomfortable situation. He’s at ease around cameras, and always looking for notes. At a Red Bull shoot in Detroit Mercy’s gym, he asks if he’s in frame, does another take or two if his timing is off, and cracks jokes with the social media editor firing questions at him.