Griffin remembered as family-loving kid with tender heart
SHARON HILL, Pa. -- One final, sorrowful time, an Eddie Griffin highlight reel played for family and friends.
Snapshots of Griffin as a child, as a Philadelphia prep star, smiling with his family and shaking hands on draft night with NBA commissioner David Stern seemed more appropriate for a big screen All-Star tribute than flashed on a plain white wall at a memorial service.
The photos were indicative of the way mourners at Griffin's funeral Tuesday wanted to remember him: a family-loving kid with a tender heart and congenial nature.
"His heart was bigger than his wingspan," said friend and former Seton Hall teammate Marcus Toney-El.
Sadly, for those who knew the 25-year-old former NBA player, they were powerless to stop the self-destructive demons that plagued him from high school all the way to his mysterious death two weeks ago.
Griffin died when his sport utility vehicle collided with a moving freight train near his Houston home. Griffin's body was badly burned and there was no initial identification. Dental records later revealed the man was Griffin.
"I guess heaven needed a power forward," Toney-El said.
Kevin Garnett, his former Timberwolves teammate, former Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker and former NBA coach John Lucas were among the 200 friends, players and family members who attended the service at First African Baptist Church.
"He's a special guy to me," said Amaker, who coached Griffin in his one season at Seton Hall.
Some mourners dressed in T-shirts with Griffin's picture on the front. One wore a Houston Rockets No. 33 jersey.
Griffin's battles with alcohol, drugs and the law derailed a promising career for the former star at Philadelphia's Roman Catholic High School. He was drafted seventh overall by the New Jersey Nets in June 2001, and then traded to Houston.
Griffin's emotional issues, addictions and a short fuse that betrayed his youthful appearance, soft-spoken nature and philanthropic achievements eventually forced him out of the league.
The 6-foot-10 Griffin averaged 7.2 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.71 blocks in five NBA seasons with the Rockets and Minnesota.
The pastor, Richard R. Dent, told mourners he prayed that Griffin could find with God the peace "he could not find on this side."
"He's been given a home where no dark clouds would ever follow him again," Dent said.
Griffin's sister, Marian Middleton, told the crowd to ignore stories that portrayed Griffin as troubled or spoiled, and that indicated there was anything suspicious about his death. Middleton said Griffin was excited about spending upcoming birthdays with his nieces and nephews and would never waste those opportunities because he loved his family.
"Everything you read, throw it in the trash, like he was so unhappy and it was all planned," she said.
Toney-El remembered how Griffin told North Carolina he wouldn't commit to the school unless they were both recruited. Toney-El said that when the program had little interest in him, they became Pirates instead.
Griffin spent the summer in Houston working out with former Rockets star Calvin Murphy and was hoping for another comeback, this time playing overseas. Instead, Griffin missed an Aug. 15 morning session; two days later, at 1:30 a.m., the player's blue SUV went through a railroad crossing barrier and hit the freight train.
"Eddie is now out of his misery," Dent said. "He is now at peace and that is a good thing."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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