David Griffin Sr. frequently took his sons, David Jr. and Adrian Griffin, out into the neighborhoods of Wichita, Kansas, to offer assistance where needed. This often involved tasks like mowing lawns, collecting recyclable cans, painting houses, and carrying wood.
These early life experiences laid the foundation for crucial life lessons, including the importance of a strong work ethic, discipline, collaboration with others, and nurturing self-worth. These lessons have served as the cornerstone for Adrian Griffin’s nearly three-decade-long career in professional basketball. He frequently shares these simple yet impactful anecdotes.
As Adrian Griffin sits above the courts in the Milwaukee Bucks’ practice facility, his coffee barely touched, he fondly recounts these stories. A smile is never far from his face as he absentmindedly rotates the cup between his palms or spins it along his fingertips. These tales from Wichita played a significant role in propelling him towards becoming the 17th head coach in the franchise’s history.
These experiences not only instill valuable lessons but also instill in him the confidence to navigate the road ahead. As the Milwaukee Bucks gear up to commence their preseason camp on October 3rd, Adrian Griffin, as a first-time head coach, acknowledges that it’s a rare opportunity to take charge of a team poised for championship contention. This is indeed a luxury, yet it’s worth noting that the Bucks have only made it out of the second round once in the last four years, and their playoff exits since 2019 have been marked by surprising defeats. The organization is under public pressure, primarily from their two-time MVP, to sustain their pursuit of a championship.
Adrian Griffin finds himself in uncharted territory as he steps into the role of a head coach for the first time. It’s a challenge that demands a unique blend of vulnerability and confidence, putting his determination to the test. It’s somewhat akin to a child nervously knocking on strangers’ doors. However, a smile creeps back onto his face.
Adrian Griffin reflects on the situation with a touch of humor, saying, “You could look at it in two ways: you can get embarrassed, or you can also get the job.”
Adrian Griffin brings a sense of “fearlessness” to his role with the Bucks. This unique quality stood out to Jon Horst, the Bucks’ general manager, as he introduced Griffin as the team’s new coach. Horst pointed out that Griffin has previously worked under a variety of “fearless” tacticians. While it might not be the most common adjective used to describe a basketball coach, it’s a characteristic that Horst believes is a significant part of Griffin’s coaching profile.
“To ultimately achieve success, you must possess that ‘go for it’ mentality, and I firmly believe that ‘Griff’ embodies that spirit,” stated Jon Horst. “This fearless approach can be seen in defensive strategies, offensive plays, leadership methods, and even in the way you utilize data. Griffin effectively conveyed that he possesses this fearless mindset—it’s an integral part of his coaching repertoire, like a tool in his toolbox, ready to be used when the moment calls for it.”
Griffin’s journey toward coaching fearlessness has its roots in vulnerability, though.
In a profession where the expectation is to always have the right answers precisely when needed, Adrian Griffin has learned the value of admitting when he doesn’t have immediate solutions. He shares an illustrative story to emphasize this point.
During the 2005-06 season, Avery Johnson, the head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, openly confessed in a team huddle that he didn’t have an immediate remedy for the challenges they were facing in a game. Instead, he conveyed the message that they would work together to find a solution. Despite Johnson’s extensive 16-year playing career and a championship win in San Antonio, this honesty didn’t diminish his team’s respect for him. On the contrary, it garnered more admiration, and the Mavericks went on to win 60 games and reach the NBA Finals.
Adrian Griffin recalls the impact of this moment, saying, “I remember how it made me feel. I always held onto that lesson, that when I get my opportunity as a coach, sometimes you have to show vulnerability. I believe it builds trust, and people genuinely want to assist you.”
Adrian Griffin’s commitment to self-improvement has been a defining trait throughout his life. He has always been a seeker of knowledge, eager to experiment with anything that might aid his personal growth. This attitude is evident in several instances:
- During his time at Seton Hall, he didn’t hesitate to wear strength shoes to enhance his athletic performance.
- In the CBA, he was an early adopter of training equipment like weighted vests, training ropes, and nutritional shakes.
- When he felt he had exhausted his coaching knowledge while working with players like Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell in Chicago, he took it upon himself to order numerous books on coaching and spent days reading them.
- Additionally, Griffin pursued a doctorate in organizational leadership while coaching with the Toronto Raptors, embodying the coaching principles he preached to his players.
Griffin’s philosophy is rooted in leading by example. If he expects his players to be diligent in their personal development, he believes he must do the same. This approach has earned him respect from those who have worked with him, like Ronnie Brewer, who played under Griffin in Chicago and now serves as the University of Arkansas’ recruiting coordinator. Brewer notes that Griffin’s shared experience of striving for excellence and reaching the same goals helps him connect with and guide his players effectively. Griffin is seen as someone who leads through his actions and can offer valuable insights, even when players may initially resist or disagree with his guidance.
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