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NBA Disappointment Day: For The Rockets, It Must Be Eddie Griffin

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SB Nation's league-wide posts hit week four, where we observe some of the bigger disappointments around the NBA.

I remember sitting on the floor in front of my television, really, truly watching my first NBA draft, when the Rockets announced they had traded three first-round picks for Seton Hall standout Eddie Griffin.

Surely I'm different than others, but let's put it this way: I remember where I was on 9/11 (in school); I remember where I was when Texas beat USC in 2005 (screaming like a madman in my bedroom); and I remember where I was when the Rockets traded for Eddie Griffin — right there, sitting bug-eyed on that living room floor.

To me, disappointments (players who just don't live up to their potential) often garner anger more than actual feelings of disappointment. One can get angry when a high draft pick doesn't pan out after a few years. That makes sense, right? But you rarely feel actual disappointment. And yet, that all changes with Eddie Griffin.

In fact, on draft day in 2001, the one Rockets blog in existence, ClutchFans, wrote these exact words to describe the Rockets' trade for Griffin:

It's that annual Rocket draft disappointment that is missing.

Coming across this quote gave me chills. But Clutch wasn't wrong for writing it.

We've all been there on draft day, eyeing the sexy pick, the hyped sensation, the guy you really, really want your team to pick but the guy you know it will never, ever pick. Hey Texans fans, want a running back? Here, take this offensive lineman. Hey Astros fans, want a franchise first baseman? Here, take this projected reliever.

Yet in 2001, the Rockets went against all odds and literally GOT that guy. They actually took him! The excitement was palatable, and I swear, anyone with a clue felt it for themselves. Anyone from a 20-year-long Rockets fan to a 10-year-old kid like myself knew Eddie Griffin could be special the minute we asked someone else for their opinion.

There was plenty to root for from day one. Griffin came into the NBA as a 6-foot-10 shot-blocking machine, perhaps already an elite shot-blocker among NBA power forwards the minute he stepped on the floor in his first professional game. He had this quiet, confident swagger about him that really made him stand out. He played like a professional on the floor. He really did.

If only that was all that mattered.

From the Houston Chronicle, the day Griffin died in a train crash, months after being waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves:

By his second season, however, his legal and substance abuse problems grew increasingly serious. He was suspended during the 2003 preseason after a series of unexcused absences from practices. While suspended, Griffin was accused of beating a woman and shooting at her in his home. The Rockets released him two months later.

"All the potential, all the dreams his family had for him for what his career would and could be, to see it end like this is just tragic," Rockets director of media relations Nelson Luis said. "He was a very quiet, introverted kid. But you could tell there was a current of trouble underneath the surface with him. It's a shame. He was trying. After he left us, he was trying to get his life together. It's a tragedy."

Griffin sought treatment for alcoholism during his suspension and several times thereafter.

"Eddie was like a man-child," said Rusty Hardin, Griffin's attorney. "He was a wonderful, gentle soul, but he was an alcoholic. Alcohol always got in the way. The one thing the Rockets didn't know and none of us knew was the extent of the problem. It's really tragic.

"What people don't know is Eddie didn't go out partying, he didn't go wild or was a jerk. He was secretly drinking. He would have been the savior power forward the Rockets needed if not for (alcohol). When alcohol wasn't involved, he was one wonderful, gentle giant."

Former Rocket John Lucas famously took Griffin under his wing in an attempt to curve his career back in the right direction. It almost worked. And then it ended too fast.

"Eddie is free now," said former Rockets guard and NBA coach John Lucas, who worked with Griffin in Lucas' Houston-based rehabilitation program. "Eddie was just a special basketball talent. He was doing well for periods. He would go up and down mentally and spiritually. But Eddie was a good person.

"I'm just sad, just so sad."

Griffin averaged 7.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocked shots over the course of his career. Meanwhile, one of the three players the Rockets traded, Richard Jefferson (the New Jersey Nets received Brandon Armstrong and Jason Collins as well) went on to have a career that you've almost certainly heard about, for completely different reasons. The trade, for all the hype and celebration, wound up backfiring on the Rockets. That's the sad reality.

I suppose I was asked to discuss the biggest basketball disappointment for the Rockets, but unfortunately Griffin covers a few more bases. Truly tragic circumstances. Keep resting calmly, Eddie.

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