Griffin's Gifts: A Sooner for Life

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to

For the better part of a year, it was presumed the building being constructed at the south end of Lloyd Noble Center would be known as the Blake Griffin Performance Center. It even said so in crimson letters painted on a beam that was hoisted during a “topping out” ceremony last month.

Such was never the intention of the namesake, however, which is why the facility officially has been named the Griffin Family Performance Center.

Blake’s father, Tommy Griffin, admitted he didn’t know what the building would be called, and said it really doesn’t matter. He’s just glad it exists.

"There are numerous people I can think back to who either donated their time, their energy, whatever it was, to help me get what I needed to get to the place where I wanted to go. I owe a lot to the University of Oklahoma. It’s like a family environment to me."
- Blake Griffin

“I was just pleased to know he was giving back,” Tommy said of his younger son, an All-Star power forward with the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. “There are so many people who just want to receive and there’s not enough people who want to give. It doesn’t have to be money. Just give back. Let people know that you care about them.”

Blake Griffin definitely cares about the University of Oklahoma, and few professional athletes have been as charitable toward their colleges.

Only six active NBA players have their names on a college court or building thanks to donations. They are Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love at UCLA, Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, Richard Jefferson at Arizona, Draymond Green at Michigan State and Mike Conley at Ohio State. Griffin could have become the seventh, but instead he made it all about family.

OU officials confirmed Griffin’s contribution to the performance center is the largest gift ever by a former Sooners basketball player and the second-highest donation from an OU student-athlete other than the many donations from former tennis player Tim Headington.

An encore contribution from Griffin came last Thursday, the day before the Clippers faced the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Griffin made a campus appearance to reveal that OU had been selected as only the third collegiate football program to be represented by Jordan Brand apparel.

Griffin made three stops, meeting with the women’s basketball team first, then men’s basketball, then football. Griffin held up a white Jordan Brand T-shirt while sharing each announcement and all were greeted with enthusiastic responses from players.

“That was exciting for me, too,” Griffin admitted. “Seeing everybody’s reactions was a lot of fun. I think back to college, whenever I got free stuff, suddenly I was your best friend.”

Sooners first-year football coach Lincoln Riley said, “For Blake to take the time and come over and do that was awesome. Our guys were floored. They didn’t have a clue. It was a neat moment. There was a lot of energy. Our group is excited about it.”

OU uniforms will feature Michael Jordan’s iconic Jumpman logo at the start of the 2018-19 academic season and retail sales will begin next summer. In addition to football, Jordan Brand’s partnership with the Sooners includes women's basketball (also only the third collegiate program to be selected) and men’s basketball (the fifth to be selected).

Selecting the Sooners to join the Jordan Brand family was a direct result of Griffin being among the company’s select group of pro athletes. Griffin initially signed with Nike when he turned pro after his sophomore year at OU and was asked to join the Jordan Brand prior to the 2012-13 season.

“Of course I hoped it would happen, but it wasn’t up to me,” Griffin said of the Sooners joining Jordan Brand. “Ultimately, it was Jordan’s decision.”

These two significant changes to the OU athletic landscape didn’t happen overnight. The Griffin Family Performance Center and Jordan Brand projects took approximately three years each, which means Griffin was just 25 years old when both ideas were hatched.

“When you get to take a little bit more ownership, I think it means a little bit more,” Griffin said. “They became real somewhat quickly, but a lot of pieces have to fall in place.”

Blake committed to help finance the performance center project in August 2016.

Griffin and Joe C

Griffin tours the site of the new Griffin Performance Center with OU athletics director Joe Castiglione.

“I totally believe he felt good about doing it,” Tommy said. “And if he hadn’t felt good about it, I don’t think he would have done it. He’s a pretty giving kid anyway. It’s not like he brags about what he does, but he does do a lot of giving.”

Asked to explain his generosity toward OU, Griffin paused briefly while trying to find the right words.

“The best way I can describe it is there were numerous people in my life growing up in Oklahoma who helped me get to where I am. I mean that sincerely,” Griffin said after the Clippers’ 120-111 loss to the Thunder last Friday. “There are numerous people I can think back to who either donated their time, their energy, whatever it was, to help me get what I needed to get to the place where I wanted to go. I owe a lot to the University of Oklahoma. It’s like a family environment to me.”

The amount of Griffin’s contribution will remain confidential at the family’s request.

"Blake’s involvement and support of our program really is an extension of what he developed as a student-athlete here. He was always willing to do something for someone else at a time when people were zeroing on him as a potential No. 1 pick."
- Joe Castiglione

“It’s the humility that their family has. They didn’t want the number put out there,” said Zac Selmon, OU’s senior associate AD/development & administration who has worked closely with the Griffin family throughout the performance center project. “Blake wanted to do it just to do it.”

Selmon said Griffin’s older brother, Taylor, also deserves special thanks for the performance center project. Taylor played four seasons with the Sooners (2006-09), departed the same year as Blake, and was selected No. 46 overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2009 draft.

“Taylor was huge,” Selmon said. “As much recognition that Blake gets – and it’s well-deserved - Taylor was really instrumental in getting all this done, helping out with the communications and the meetings we’ve had directly with Blake. Taylor has been a large part of those. It’s been a family affair. Blake has always been wise beyond his years. I think it’s a credit to Tommy and (mother) Gail and having a big brother to look up to in Taylor as well.”

Tommy said of his elder son, “Taylor has always been that way. He’s very meticulous about what he does and he’s always trying to learn and he gets better every time you look around. That’s just his nature.”

The Griffin Family Performance Center will be south of the Bob and Ann Coleman Basketball Center, an expansion and renovation project at Lloyd Noble Center completed prior to the 2001-02 season that included locker and meeting rooms, offices and practice courts for both the men’s and women’s programs.

The performance center will be an approximately 18,400-gross-square-foot addition at an estimated cost of $7 million. OU athletics director Joe Castiglione said the facility is scheduled to open for use in mid- to late-February with the aesthetic touches completed thereafter. A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be held in late August during the annual basketball alumni weekend with the entire Griffin family in attendance.

“We’ve seen facilities all over the NBA and this facility, once it’s done, will be one of the best I’ve seen at the college level or pro level,” Griffin said last year. “This will put us up there.”

Griffin and team

Griffin takes a photo with the OU men's basketball team after revealing the program's partnership with Jordan Brand.

Castiglione said the performance center “is strictly about strength, conditioning, recovery, sports science, the use of technology and analytics to how each athlete can customize their own approach.”

When Griffin was drafted, the Clippers had recently opened their training center in Playa Vista, Calif., near Loyola Marymount University. In addition to his knowledge of various training facilities, Griffin also is familiar with the demands of rehabbing injuries. He missed his entire first season with a stress fracture in his left kneecap and also has endured back spasms, a back stress fracture, right elbow staph infection, recurring quadriceps and knee injuries, a broken right hand and a broken toe.

“Blake’s involvement and support of our program really is an extension of what he developed as a student-athlete here,” Castiglione said. “He was always willing to do something for someone else at a time when people were zeroing on him as a potential No. 1 pick. We’ve always continued our relationship. When we started thinking about this performance center, we approached him to see if there was some way he’d be willing to help. Not only did he help with his generosity, he was willing to step in and help us take some of the experiences and knowledge he has from training to be an All-Star NBA player and how that can help aspiring athletes here in their sport. It wasn’t just his financial generosity, it also was the generosity of his time, his energy, his expertise and it translated into the design that we put together.”

Griffin said his initial talks involving the OU performance center started “just as a conversation about what we need to stay on par with the top colleges around the world. The cool thing for me was I actually got to have some input and say, ‘This is what we (the Clippers) did and these are the mistakes I think we made.’ ”

The Griffin Family Performance Center blueprint evolved after scouting several similar facilities. For example, when the OU men’s basketball team advanced to the 2015 Sweet 16 at Syracuse, Castiglione and staff members visited the university’s basketball facilities, including the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center.

Griffin has had many achievements the last 15 years or so – winning four straight Class 2A state titles while playing for his father at Oklahoma Christian School in Edmond; being named the 2008-09 national player of the year during his sophomore season at OU; becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft pick; winning Rookie of the Year in 2010-11; being crowned the 2011 slam dunk champion; becoming a five-time All-Star; and beyond.

Where does Griffin’s contribution toward construction of the performance center rank among these achievements?

“It just seems like he surprises us every single time,” Tommy said. “During the time that something takes place, then that’s his biggest achievement. When the next thing comes along, then that becomes the biggest. I want to see Blake top what he’s done this time.”