10 players have worn No. 32 for the Clippers to date, and the best of the lot is very easy: With all due respect to Bill Walton and his reputation, the easy pick here is Blake Griffin.
There are several factors that you could argue have contributed to the Clippers revival this century. There’s the ownership change, which will probably be the biggest catalyst in the long run, and there’s the likes of Chris Paul joining up and helping to lift the Clippers’ level, as well as the free agent double whammy of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining up this season.
But Griffin being the No. 1 overall pick for the Clippers in the NBA Draft in 2009 has as good a case as any to be one of the major turning points in the franchise’s history for the better. The Clippers have had three No. 1 overall picks in the draft in history — Danny Manning in 1988, Michael Olowokandi in 1998 and Griffin. Manning carved out a decent NBA career, but injuries prevented him from truly becoming a star, while Olowokandi is regarded as one of the biggest busts in history.
Griffin seemed as though he might go down a similar path, when the Oklahoma star suffered a complicated knee injury before he even played his first game. Was this another example of Clippers bad luck dooming a player before he even got to play?
He missed the entire season, but when he made his bow in 2010-11, we got to see what all the fuss was. Griffin was a rookie All-Star, an unusual honor, and was NBA Rookie of the Year. He averaged a double-double in points and rebounds his first two years, and became a dominant star, the first for the Clippers in a long time.
Griffin was a terrific dunker, and routinely put up highlight-reel jams.
He was also charismatic, had skills and could do unprecedented things like leap over cars to win the NBA Dunk Contest.
Griffin had endorsements, he was a key part of Lob City, he brought it on the court and he was a celebrity. You’d think that would be pretty obvious in Los Angeles, but with the Clips it wasn’t even a consideration, really.
He’s funny, and he’s a good comedic actor (although this movie looks terrible in general):
Basically, Blake Griffin brought the following:
- He wasn’t a draft bust
- He could play — he was a five-time NBA All-Star, NBA Second Team three times and NBA Third Team once with the Clippers
- He helped the Clippers make the playoffs in six of seven seasons, by far the franchise’s best run in that department
- He was fun to watch
- He was an NBA star
- He was a charismatic celebrity who transcended the NBA, something only a handful of players a generation can do
Now, it’s worth noting the downside and the departure of Griffin. After missing his first season entirely, Griffin was able to stay pretty healthy for a while and managed to play 80 or more regular-season games three times in LA. He also developed some nagging or freak injuries that slowed him down at times — he missed between 15 and 47 games a season over four seasons, and as a power forward with a dominant game, the Clippers didn’t have a ready replacement just hanging out on the bench.
Griffin was traded to the Detroit Pistons in Jan. 2018, a move that was perplexing and logical in equal measure. Superstars don’t grow on trees, and seeing Steve Ballmer part ways with a bonafide star had echoes of the many, many times Donald Sterling pulled the trigger on trades to save a couple bucks in the past for the Clippers.
But Griffin’s age and injury history meant he was almost certainly exiting his peak years, and for a player whose game was so dependent on athleticism, counting on him to evolve and remain elite was a risky bet.
Plus, the Clippers were playing the long game. After trading Griffin, Lawrence Frank said they wanted flexibility to pursue free agents in the future with Griffin’s enormous contract off the books, and boy howdy, did that pay off. In other words, if not for the trade of Griffin, it’s unlikely Leonard or George would have signed with the Clippers, simple as that.
In the short term, the trade looked rough for the Clippers, but they were able to leverage one superstar into two a couple years later. Time will tell if Leonard and George can take the Clippers to greater heights than Griffin and Paul, but expectations are that they have what it takes.
But don’t let that take away the superstar tale of Blake Griffin with the Clippers. The team was in desperate need of a star to change the trajectory of their history, and they got him. He put in seven and a half elite seasons for the Clips, and needless to say, he’s the best ever to wear No. 32 for the franchise.