The bubble tea cafe where Blake Griffin wants to meet is the kind of place that would seemingly appeal to someone marooned in Michigan and pining for a cup of cutesy SoCal funk. The walls are painted flat black, the ceiling covered in gold metallic tile. Big black canisters of tea with names like Rooibos and Silver Needle sit on shelves behind the counter. Quilted pillows are scattered on the benches, and pennies, trapped under a layer of silicone, cover the circular tables.
The place is packed. If anyone recognizes the 6'10" star of the Detroit Pistons, they don't show it. And if going unnoticed bothers Griffin, he doesn't show it, either. He orders a large iced vanilla berry tea, which has neither caffeine nor sugar, and suggests a walk down the street to a quieter spot, The Townsend Hotel, where visiting teams often stayed before the Pistons moved from The Palace at Auburn Hills to a new arena in downtown Detroit. "Forgot it was spring break," he says of the cafe. "There's usually nobody there, maybe one student in the corner on a laptop."
Add the notion that Blake is pining for anything in SoCal, other than time with his two kids who live with their mom, Blake's former girlfriend Brynn Cameron, to the long list of misconceptions and titillating rumors that hang on Griffin the same way defenders do when he makes a move to the basket. Example: A visiting media relations executive, upon hearing that a writer is working on a Griffin story, casually says he heard Griffin had bought a 200-acre parcel in the area. "I have good yard space, but…no," he says, offering a taste of his deadpan sense of humor.
Here's something that is true: leaving behind a life of movie roles (The Female Brain), dating celebrities (Kendall Jenner), producing TV shows (Comedy by Blake), making commercials (KIA) and doing stand-up (Laugh Factory) has not been a struggle. At all.
"As far as getting settled and feeling at home here, it was so easy, because it feels so much like Oklahoma," he says. "You live 20 miles from somewhere, it takes you 20 minutes to get there. It's not like L.A., five miles takes you 30 minutes. I'm used to this type of flow, this type of feel. For the first 19 years of my life, this is all I knew until I went to L.A. And even then, when I needed to get away and really recharge, I'd go home to Oklahoma. I don't think people saw that.
"I've always described it as everybody comes to L.A. to see a famous person, so it's almost like everybody is on the lookout. I truly believe that. Everybody is, like, 'OK, we could see somebody at any second.' And when one person sees you, it doesn't matter if people know you or not. It's 'Hey, can I get a picture—and who are you?'
"Here, people always say, 'We appreciate what you're doing.' No one ever said that in LA. Which is a really cool thing to hear."
Perhaps that's why helping the Pistons squeak into the playoffs on the final day of the season seems to mean as much or more to him as being part of the high-flying Lob City crew that led the Clippers to six consecutive postseason appearances, thereby shedding a long-held reputation as one of the league's most miserable franchises.