“I’ve loved that stuff since I was little,” Griffin said. “I used to read books on Navy SEALS, Special Forces, the Green Berets, all those guys. It was cool for me. I just think that’s the ultimate showing of sacrifice and teamwork and humility. It’s hard for a basketball team to even begin to understand that, because your life’s not on the line. I don’t know, everything he said, man, it drove something home.”
Griffin heard the tale of progression from SEAL Team 5 to SEAL Team 6 to team leader and wanted to know what changes the SEAL had to make along the way. Griffin wondered how, after completing a perfectly executed mission, the team could still find ways to get even better. He learned about complete accountability.
“They have these meetings where there’s no such thing as rank,” Griffin said. “Anybody can say anything to each other.”
So after a summer of reflection — “More so than ever,” Griffin said — brought on by the collapse of a 19-point lead with a berth in the Western Conference finals just more than a quarter away and the undoing of a 3-1 series lead over theHouston Rockets, Griffin is now willing to forge camaraderie through a little healthy dissension.
“Speaking up and saying things when I see them, not letting it slide,” Griffin said. “Not thinking, ‘Oh, it’s October.’ Or, ‘That’s OK for now.’ I’ve started to cut out all that.
“If I see something, I’m going to say something. If my teammates or people don’t like it … I’m trying to make the team better. That’s one thing I’ve tried to change, other than my physical stuff.”
The change in leadership style is more apparent than the “physical stuff” in the preseason. He’ll demonstrate new wrinkles, such as a floater in the lane during warm-ups, but he’s in no rush to show anything during the exhibition games. Meanwhile, he’ll shoot with teammates before and after practice, instead of off by himself. At the Clippers’ last home practice before departing on a trip to China, he stopped everything to explain some team concepts to newcomer Josh Smith, the type of moment observers didn’t see from Griffin in the past.
“Why not?” Griffin said. “Why not try to be the best player?
“When [a] player says something like that, [people] always say, ‘Oh, is he delusional?’ But why not? I saw Victor Oladipo a couple of weeks ago, and he said, Why can’t I be the best player? That’s the mindset you’ve got to have as a player. That’s always my mindset. … My biggest thing is, if our team does what we’re supposed to do and we play the right way, then a lot of times those individual things take care of themselves.”
Curry wasn’t the popular pick to win the MVP before last season, and he held up the Maurice Podoloff trophy in June after the Warriors won 67 games. Draymond Green made the all-defensive first team. Klay Thompson was an All-Star and third-team All-NBA.
Group achievements lead to individual accolades. It’s the NBA twist on the lessons of a SEAL team member, imparted to Griffin and the Clippers by a member of a highly accomplished group whose job requires him to keep his own identity a secret.