In his 2006 book, “Chuck Klosterman IV: A Decade of Curious People and Dangerous Ideas,” Klosterman reveals that despite not being a huge fan or even a regular viewer, he was profoundly saddened by the late night legend’s January 2005 passing. In the same piece, he marvels at the number of obituaries in which he read that “there will never, ever be another Johnny Carson.”
He goes on to argue that while this is not so much true of Carson himself, it’s undeniably true of the idea of the man. Carson was certainly funny and clever and cool, but he was not blessed with these qualities to such an extent that the world will never again see his comedic peer. For 30 years (1962-1992), as the host of NBC’s Tonight Show, Carson was a fixture in American households. Whether you loved him or simply didn’t have anything better to watch, at 11:30 PM, you were either “watching Carson” or you weren’t- and most were. It is in this ubiquity, bred from a lack of viable alternatives, that Carson delivered to the viewing public what they craved from him- a shared experience.
Someone who was watching Carson, whether alone or with family or friends, could be certain he was sharing that very experience, at that very moment, with tens of millions of other people. In today’s on-demand/DVR age, with cable providers offering customers hundreds of channels- many aimed at satisfying niche viewing cravings- it’s increasingly rare to have a large number of people watching the same program at the same time.
Not unlike the overall television experience itself, in recent years the experience of viewing NBA basketball has changed profoundly. No longer are TNT Thursdays and post-Super Bowl Sunday afternoons the only opportunity for NBA fans to watch a game, knowing that other fans nationwide are watching the same game. Now, for approximately $1.10 per day, NBA League Pass offers access to every game for every team. On most, nights, fans will multiple options in the same time slot! It’s glorious. Laker fan in New York City? No worries! Don’t want to wait until Christmas to see Derrick Rose slice into the lane? Watch him against the Washington Wizards on the 22nd. Suffering from insomnia? The Kings are on! You get the picture.
This is where Blake Griffin comes in.
Now, let’s be clear, Griffin is more spectacularly and singularly gifted at his chosen endeavor than Carson was at his, but not in such a way that the human race will never see his likes again. Beyond his transcendent basketball ability, the reason that Griffin has gripped NBA fans like no one else in recent memory- the Blake Effect, if you will- is that he’s once again allowing us to enjoy the shared viewing experience.
Griffin is an absolute beast. At 6’9”-255, and seemingly chiseled out of granite, he is a hybrid of a young Charles Barkely, a young Shawn Kemp, with a heavy dusting of LeBron James. And while he doesn’t possess LeBron’s skill set on the perimeter- he’s not that far off- he’s blessed with great hands, a powerful low post game, a soft touch around the basket, exceptional ballhanding skills and the NBA’s most devastating spin-move. I have said this on multiple occasions, every single time he takes the floor, 50-20 is on the table. How many guys can you say that about? Even throughout NBA history that number can’t more than a dozen. As long as he doesn’t hurl his body into a debilitating injury, Griffin will spend the next 10-12 years as one of the NBA’s best, and most mesmerizing, players.
He’s already one of the greatest in-game dunkers in history. His leaping ability is amazing in that it’s simultaneously ferocious and effortless. He is in constant danger of concussing himself on the rim, whether jumping off of one leg or two, catching an alley-oop, filling the lane on a break or driving to the hole himself. He plays with an uninhibited game that’s both electrifying and frightening, devoid of consideration for the big picture. A lot of athletes claim to approach every game as if it was their last- Blake Griffin actually plays that way.
I can’t remember an NBA newcomer that’s done this to the viewing public. From tipoff to the final buzzer, Griffin sets Twitter aflutter. In his first 12 weeks of NBA action, he’s put together a highlight reel that rivals that of any player in history over the same period. More than any rookie since probably Michael Jordan, Blake Griffin is appointment viewing.
And while there are certain teams are most consistently watched and written about- the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Magic, Bulls, Heat, Mavericks and Thunder- the fact that we are no longer tethered to our local teams and a couple of national TV games each has turned the idea of appointment viewing into a relic from a bygone era.
Until now. That's what's Blake Griffin has done to the NBA viewing experience. I have connected with NBA fans that I've never met (and may never meet) while going Blake-shit (Apeshit? No? Whatever. I tried). On a random Wednesday night with 10 or 12 games on the schedule, if I’m watching at home, playing remote control maestro, I am acutely aware of a) whether or not the Clipper are playing, b) when the game is scheduled to start and c) that even with all of the same choices at their fingertips, most NBA fans that in front of TV at that moment are doing the same.
Blake Griffin: either you're watching or you're not.