Cleared of wrongful attempted murder charge, Eric Griffin gets new NBA chance

Fifteen months after the worst night of his life, Eric Griffin’s back to pursuing his NBA dream. (AP)

The new collective bargaining agreement between the NBA’s teams and players included a provision that created a new kind of agreement — a “two-way” contract — that acts as sort of a bridge between the NBA and the newly renamed G League. For Eric Griffin, though, the two-way deal represents something much more than another chance to earn an NBA roster spot. It’s an opportunity to finally put the most harrowing experience of his life behind him.

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Chris Reichert of G League website 2 Ways and 10 Days reported Monday that Griffin — a 6-foot-8 forward who went undrafted out of Campbell University in 2012, and who has hops for days — had agreed to a two-way deal with the Utah Jazz, for whom he’d shined as an energetic finisher, rebounder and shot-blocker during the NBA’s Utah and Las Vegas summer leagues. Two-way players will spend their time primarily with their NBA team’s development league affiliate — in Utah’s case, the Salt Lake City Stars — but “can spend up to 45 days with [their] affiliate NBA team,” according to Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. During those days that he’s with the Jazz, Griffin will earn a pro-rated portion of the rookie minimum salary; while he’s in the G League, he’ll make $75,000.

That’s not a huge payday for a player who earned All-Star honors in the Israeli Premier League with Hapoel Gilboa Galil last season. For the 27-year-old Griffin, though, just getting back to the point where he can resume his pursuit of his NBA dream — previous summer and training camp stints with the Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons failed to produce anything more than a 2015 D-League All-Star selection — is a blessing.

Just 15 months ago, Griffin was arrested on attempted murder charges “after he and another man, 23-year-old Daquan Lundy, allegedly fired several rounds at a third individual outside an Orlando, Florida, apartment building,” as Sam Gardner wrote for Fox Sports:

The alleged victim, 24-year-old Treavor Glover, told police he was approached by two black males as he walked from his car to his apartment at approximately 1:19 a.m. on April 27. Glover stated that the larger of the two men fired two shots in his direction, and the other fired one. Griffin’s arrest warrant lists him at 6-foot-9 and 200 pounds, while Lundy is listed at 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds.

Glover told police he attempted to flee to the rear of the apartment complex after the initial three shots but fell to the ground as he ran away, skinning his hand. Glover stated that “at least one” of the men then stood over him and fired four shots at close range, with one shot grazing his forehead. It’s unclear based on the incident report which of the two men fired the shot that struck Glover.

Griffin maintained his innocence, but remained locked up for six days pending an emergency bond hearing, a period during which he says he started “having full conversations with myself, really going psycho. ‘Did you do that? Why did you do it? I don’t know, man, maybe I did it. No, don’t be crazy, you’re going to be all right.’” He’d be released on bond, and vindicated within two months, after defense attorney Eric Barker “presented what he believed to be conclusive proof of Griffin’s alibi,” according to Gardner:

In addition to the security alarm timestamps, the video footage of Griffin inside his home at the time of the shooting and evidence that Griffin had returned the rental car supposedly spotted at the scene earlier that day, Barker also argued that the men described in Glover’s initial statement to police could not have been Griffin and Lundy.

According to arrest records, Griffin is 6-foot-9 and Lundy is 5-foot-7, a 14-inch height difference that doesn’t match up with the incident report.

“The victim is 6-foot,” Barker said. “So if you’re saying the taller guy is 6-foot-2, then you’re saying that (the shooter) is about the same height, maybe a little taller. And in court, you can tell the judge, ‘Hey, my guy is 6-9,’ and it sounds tall, but when the judge says, ‘Hey, can you stand and raise your hand?’ when he stands up, you can really see it — ‘Wow, that’s a tall dude.’” […]

“I think it’s human nature, when you read about something bad in the news, that you just believe it,” Barker said. “There’s that automatic judgment when you hear it, so I don’t think there’s too many people who would question, ‘I wonder if Eric Griffin is guilty or innocent?’ I think they just assume, ‘Oh man, that’s too bad. Another person with talent throwing their life away.’”

Even so, a tarnished reputation couldn’t put a damper on the news that came on June 22: The state had verified the information from the alarm company and was going to drop Griffin’s charges.

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Despite the elation that Griffin and his family felt at his release, they soon had to face a daunting reality: even though he’d been cleared of all wrongdoing, his mere association with the case had drastically limited his professional options. From an August 2016 story by ESPN’s Ian Begley:

The incident cost Griffin opportunities to play in the NBA summer league and an offer from a team in the Philippines, [Griffin’s agent Tod] Seidel said. Teams withdrew their standing offers to Griffin after finding out about the attempted murder charge, he said.

“Even when we provided a letter from the prosecution that explained he [Griffin] had absolutely nothing to do with this horrible crime, teams still backed away,” Seidel said.

And then, a life raft: an offer from Galil Gilboa of Israel’s top league, which he eagerly accepted as a chance to begin working his way back.

Griffin averaged 14.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 assists in 31.7 minutes per game in Israel, earning a spot on the Israeli Premier League All-Star team and an opportunity to get back on the stateside circuit by showcasing his wares at summer league. He caught on with the Jazz’s summer league squad, averaging 8.7 points and six rebounds in three games in Utah before putting up 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in four games in Las Vegas.

“First and foremost, [I’ve noticed] his intensity level and how hard he’s played consistently,” Jazz assistant coach Zach Guthrie told Benjamin Mehic of the Salt Lake Tribune. “No matter the score, no matter who’s out there with him — he’s playing hard and he’s trying to play the right way.”

It’s the kind of recognition that Griffin feared he might never receive again at the NBA level.

“I still have hope, though,” he said after being cleared last year. “I’ll never lose faith, and I know I’m going to grind if they give me a chance.”

Fifteen months after the worst night of his life, Griffin has that chance. Now, he aims to make the most of it.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!