To Clippers Fans

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Blake Griffin, Forward / Los Angeles Clippers - The Players' Tribune

I’ll just get it out of the way.

Last season sucked.

I am truly sorry. What happened in Toronto was 100% my fault. I messed up.

There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about it. And I don’t mean that in some clichéd “not a day goes by” way.

I genuinely think about it every single day, and I just feel like I let down the fans who have been riding with us since the beginning.

If I took one positive from last season, it’s that there were a lot of people who were obviously disappointed in me, and who told me so, but who were still in my corner. I’ll never forget what those people did for me during a time when I literally had to turn off my phone to get away from it all.

Being in the headlines in 2016 is … well, it’s interesting.

To this day, I’ll tweet out something like, “So good to be back home.”

And the first 10 replies are like, “Make sure you don’t punch anybody.”

Dang.

That’s fair, Twitter. Tough, but fair.

I don’t want to dwell on it, but I think I owe it to Clippers fans to say it once again before the season begins: I’m sorry.

With everything that’s happened over the last few months, you have no idea how excited I am to play basketball again. It’s crazy to think about, but this is going to be my eighth year as a Clipper. I’m really proud of how far we’ve come in that time.

Growing up in Oklahoma and not having an NBA team at the time, I didn’t know too much about the Clippers before they drafted me. They were never on TV in the Midwest, and I didn’t see too much of them on SportsCenter. So I truly had no idea how one-sided the Lakers-Clippers thing was going to be until I got to Los Angeles.

I remember I got off the plane at LAX for the first time back in 2009, and I was walking through the airport, looking around in the little souvenir shops, and at the ads on the walls, and at the people, and it was allllll Lakers, Dodgers and USC stuff.

I’m seeing Lakers hoodies. Lakers teddy bears. Lakers credit card offers.

I’m like, Where’s … wait, where’s the Clippers stuff?

There was literally no Clippers stuff in sight. No billboards. No hats. Nothing. I didn’t even see a Clippers logo until I got to the team facility.

It has been really cool to be part of a team that went from barely registering with people less than a decade ago to being one that people respect. We haven’t achieved our ultimate goal, but I hope we’ve changed the perception of the Clippers. At the very least, we’re worth hating now.

For a long time, I don’t think Lakers fans wanted to waste their energy on us. That’s definitely changed.

The other day, Austin Rivers was in the locker room talking about how he was nervous to throw out the first pitch at the Dodgers game because he had never pitched from the mound before.

I told him, “Oh, just be prepared, because they’re probably gonna boo you.”

He said, “What? Why? We’re in L.A.”

And I explained to him that the majority of Dodgers fans love the Lakers.

I’m like, “Dude, you’ll see.”

He got booed so hard he actually dropped the ball as he was walking to the mound. It was amazing.

To give you an idea what it was like in the darker days, when I threw out the first pitch right after I was drafted, the stadium announcer was like, “Please welcome Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers!”

Crickets. Nobody even reacted. A couple people politely clapped. I’m pretty sure they felt bad for me.

Fast-forward to a few years later, when we started making the playoffs, and I’m at a Dodgers game in the stands. All of a sudden, I see the camera guy come over and crouch down right in front of me, and I just freeze like, Oh no, here we go.

Two seconds later, my face is up on the fan-cam thing on the scoreboard. And they’re just holding the camera on me, and holding it on me. I’m doing that creepy neighborly smile thing you do in those moments, like, “Hiya, everyone. How are ya?”

I got destroyed. The whole stadium was booing me.

Part of me was like, Well, this sucks.

And part of me was like, Alright, this is pretty awesome. We’re officially the enemy.

These days, Lakers fans will boo us any chance they get.

In 2013, Chris Paul went and threw out the first pitch with his kid. He walked out there to the mound with his four-year-old son, and his son was even wearing an adorable little Dodgers jersey.

Did they cheer?

They did not.

They booed him and his adorable son.

That’s why I have ultimate respect for Clippers fans who have been there since the very beginning, who stuck with us through the surreal Sterling Era, and who stuck with us through our playoff disappointments, and who still have to deal with being surrounded by Lakers fans at school or at work.

They booed him and his adorable son.

We all know the narrative going into this season. Everyone’s like, “Oh, they lose in the playoffs every year. Same old Clippers.”

All I have to say to that is this: We’re the same core group that beat the defending-champion Spurs in seven games just 17 months ago. I know 17 months seems like forever, especially in NBA time, but we know how small the margins are between winning and losing, and how quickly the narratives around teams can change.

Even over the course of a seven-game series, the story can change. The Cavs were one loss away from being thrown under the bus (some people didn’t even wait for the loss), and now they’re the NBA champions.

With that in mind, our team has kind of embraced the public perception of who we are. For lack of a better term, we’ve adopted the philosophy of: F— it. Let’s just go out and play basketball.

We have a first-time All-NBA center in DJ. We have a nine-time NBA All-Star in CP3. We have one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the league in J.J. We have a three-time NBA Sixth Man of the Year in Jamal Crawford. We have an owner in Steve Ballmer who has changed the entire culture of a franchise with his positivity, and a head coach in Doc who has led a team to the title before.

The West is tough, for sure, but we really do have the pieces to make a run if we can stay healthy.

Blake F It Pull

I feel like we’re at our best when we have that nothing-to-lose mentality. We definitely had that in the Spurs series, which was probably the high point of my career so far. It was everything that I love about basketball.

I remember before the series started we had a big piece of paper hanging in our locker room with every expert’s prediction written on it. Not a single person picked us.

Spurs in five. Spurs in six. Spurs in five.

One had Spurs in seven.

That was our fuel.

When you’re fighting to stay alive every single night with your teammates, going through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, it’s the most exciting feeling in the world. Just being in the trenches together, going into buildings where everybody is rooting against you. It’s why you play the game.

Not being able to experience that roller coaster last season was a wake-up call for me. If I’m being completely honest, over the course of six NBA seasons, 82 games a year, all the travel, and the whole the grind, it can be easy for everything to blend together.

I don’t want to say you’re going through the motions, but it’s easy to take the whole ride for granted. When I was hurt and basically sitting around going stir-crazy, it made me realize that basketball was like therapy for me. No matter what was going on in the real world, if I could just get to the gym, everything else disappeared.

I was crushed. It broke through all my walls.

When I was at my lowest point, a few days after the incident happened last season, I got a call from my older brother Taylor, who was over in Italy.

He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. He said to me straight up, “Man, what are you doing? This is not you. What are you doing this for?”

I was crushed.

It broke through all my walls. To hear that from him, somebody I’ve looked up to my whole life, who always tells me what I need to hear, that’s when I had a pretty big realization about who I am, and who I want to be.

I don’t want to say what that realization was. I just want to go out and show you.

Clippers fans, thank you for always being the realest.

— Blake

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