There's been a lot going on lately, what with the playoff race and Metta World Peace and what not. At any rate, I'm a little late getting to this story, but I didn't want to let it slide.
There's a story I like to tell. I've told it while teaching leadership classes, I've told it while teaching high school, I tell it all the time because I find it highly illustrative -- and it has to do with basketball, so that's cool.
Back in the late 80s, at pretty much the peak of my pick up basketball career when I was playing more or less on a daily basis, I found myself in a pickup game against an opponent who had a tendency to do the two-step before starting his dribble. He'd step one way, then step the other way as he began his move before putting the ball on the floor, which is a really effective move, but also happens to be a traveling violation. You all know the move well -- NBA players do it all the time, and frequently get away with it.
Well, we weren't letting this guy get away with it. He did it once, we called traveling. He did it again, we called traveling again. Somewhere about the third time, the dude could be heard muttering under his breath:
Man, everywhere I go... same damn thing. People calling traveling on me.
His conclusion seemed to be that every one of his opponents, everywhere he went, was either hallucinating, or didn't understand the rules of basketball, or was conspiring against him despite never having met him. The more logical conclusion of course is the straightforward one: he really was traveling. Of course, he didn't see it that way.
There are several cliches that cover this type of phenomenon. Where there's smoke there's fire. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck. That sort of thing. Bottom line is, if enough people are saying the same thing, there's probably something to it.
But not always. Not in the age of the internet, when there's an echo chamber of people saying things.
I thought some of the calls just didn't go our way and our guys didn't give into that. It's hard to play against all the flopping and nonsense that goes on with that team. Who is the common denominator with all this fluff going on around the league? Blake Griffin. We don't dunk, we don't stare at people, we play the game the same way every night. ... But all the extra stuff, we've never been about that.
Williams comments follow others by DeMarcus Cousins who called Griffin an 'actor' and thousands of voices on blogs and comment sections who have labeled Griffin a flopper. So is this a case of smoke and fire? It's easy to dismiss Cousins, who clearly had plenty of incentive to be less than truthful in his comments after a Kings loss and who doesn't exactly have a reputation as being the most mature individual in the league, and to ignore all the yahoos in cyberspace who are just as likely to blame James Harden for getting his head in the way of Metta World Peace's elbow if it contributes to their own agendas. It's a little tougher to dismiss Williams.
But, seriously, what the hell is he talking about?
No really, I'm trying to parse these sentences, and I want to know, what is he talking about? For the game, he didn't think the calls went their way, and he didn't like the "flopping and nonsense".
Let's start with the game: did he have a point? Well, there were 31 fouls called against the Hornets -- which is a lot. And 27 called against the Clippers -- which is also a lot. But it's hardly significant fuel for a conspiracy theory. Seven percent more calls for the home team seems downright tame for an NBA game, truth be told. It should also be noted that the Hornets are in the bottom third of the league in personal fouls committed and also in free throw to field goal ration -- in short, it's not unusual for New Orleans to put their opponent on the line, which they did a whopping 43 times on Sunday, with Chris Paul going there 19 times himself.
The Hornets committed eight fouls on the supposed ringleader, Mr. Common Denominator, Blake Griffin. I had already deleted the game from the DVR before I saw Williams' quote, so I couldn't go back through foul by foul. But I remember most of them, and there's little question that they were fouls. Nor do I recall anything approaching a flop by Griffin in this game. Did he hit the floor, even once?
As for the idea that the officials in the arena were giving some sort of preferential treatment to Griffin, consider the fact that a technical foul that was assessed to Griffin at a critical juncture in the fourth quarter was later rescinded by the league. That's evidence of a bias all right, but not one in favor of Griffin.
But Williams is clearly talking about something bigger, something beyond the scope of this one game when he speaks of "the common denominator with all this fluff going on around the league" being Blake Griffin. And here you really have to wonder where he's going. "We don't dunk." Well, um, yeah, you do. This kid Eric Gordon had a pretty sweet throwdown, easily the dunk of the game, near the end of the first quarter of that very game. Jason Smith, Carl Landry, Darryl Watkins, Al-Farouq Aminu and Lance Thomas all dunked in the game as well. According to the play-by-play available at NBA.com, there were 14 dunks in the game, half by each team. So his statement is wrong, but of course it's also inane. Is there something inherently wrong with dunking? Of course not.
"We don't stare at people." Well, at least he's onto something worthwhile here, because after all, just as our mothers told us when we were kids, it's not polite to stare. So Williams is just advocating good manners here. The Hornets, I'm rather certain, never ever put their elbows on the table during team meals either.
Of all the criticisms leveled at Blake Griffin, the complaint that he stares people down after he dunks has always been the most baffling to me. For one thing, it's just not true. Go back and watch Griffin's most iconic dunks -- does he stare at his victim? He doesn't so much as glance at either Timofey Mozgov or Kendrick Perkins. He does take a quick look at Pau Gasol on the ground, but nothing excessive before he walks away. He stares, that much is true. But he does not stare down his victims -- period. It's a complete fabrication.
I find Griffin's post dunk celebrations to be among the most subdued in the NBA, especially when you consider the dunks themselves. What exactly would his critics prefer? The Russell Westbrook strutting, crowing rooster? Or how about Monty Williams own Carl Landry, who has experimented with both bunny hops and grand mal seizures after his dunks. Even if Metta World Peace's dunk celebration on Sunday had not devolved into one of the most dangerous elbows the league has ever seen, it was kind of absurd. Pounding your chest like a gorilla? Really?
Blake Griffin leads the NBA in dunks this season with 187, 45 more than his nearest competitor. In 187 dunks, the most his detractors can object to is that he stares down his opponents -- which is a lie. He stares. I guess his critics would prefer more blinking, but somehow I think they'd still find something to complain about.
Which brings us to "the common denominator with all this fluff" in Williams statement, which sounds suspiciously like blaming the victim. That is unless somehow Williams wants to exclude from "all this fluff" the ugly hit that Jason Smith leveled on Griffin less than a month ago and the hit that Robin Lopez delivered last Thursday. Griffin is indeed the common denominator in a large number of Type 2 Flagrant Fouls this season, a total to which Williams' team has contributed.
I've said many times -- Griffin is a hard foul magnet. The combination of his style of play, his strength, his tendency to put people on posters, and his terrible foul shooting pretty much guarantee that he is going to get hit, and hit hard. The league clearly has an issue here involving whether or not they want to do something to protect Griffin beyond the current disincentives associated with flagrant fouls, which frankly aren't much of a deterrent (particularly if the likes of Lopez get away without any suspension). So Griffin is a common denominator in a league-wide issue, that much is clear. But he's not the villain unless you have an internal narrative that makes him the villain.
My guess is that if you allowed Monty Williams to revisit his statements, he'd modify them significantly. I hope he would, as they're not particularly cogent and certainly not defensible. The Reggie Evans flop in the fourth quarter was egregious, and was no doubt fresh in Williams memory as he was speaking post-game, and that probably colored his statements to a large extent. Evans, by the way, should be fined by the league and/or suspended for his flop in my opinion, but for some reason Williams didn't talk about Reggie. Maybe Evans is too mundane a target, maybe he's hesitant to criticize his former star Chris Paul, who took those 19 trips to the line and is, let's face it, a much more adept embellisher of contact than Griffin.
But the idea that Griffin, in his second season in the league, is somehow responsible for a league-wide epidemic of flopping is patently absurd. Turns out, NBA players flopped in 2009, before Blake Griffin had ever played a game.
I have no idea why Monty Williams decided to call out Blake Griffin, but I know his statement made no sense.