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Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Classic catches up with Dr. Dunkenstein
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic


Darrell "Dr. Dunkenstein" Griffith electrified crowds throughout his college and professional career. Born in Louisville, Ky., Griffith decided to attend his hometown school of the University of Louisville. In 1980, he led the Cardinals to their first-ever NCAA championship. Griffith left Louisville as the school's career scoring leader (2,333 points). He was drafted by the Utah Jazz and led them to Midwest Division title in 1983-84. Griffith has had his number "35" retired by both the Cardinals and the Jazz. Phillip Lee recently caught up with Darrell Griffith to find out how the Doctor is doing.

Phillip Lee: What are you doing right now?
Darrell Griffith: Well, right now I own a business called Metro Enterprises (in Louisville). We're a warehouse and distribution firm. We do a lot of product handling for different corporations like G. E. and Ford Motor Company. We're Ford Motor Company's distribution point to the local assembly plant.

PL: When did you start that company?
DG: 1992.

PL: And, how's it been?
DG: It's been great. It's been rolling.

PL: How did you come up with the idea for this company?
DG: Someone ran it across me and across my attorney. He had represented some folks that had been in it. We gave it a shot and we're good. It's been doing well.

PL: So, what have you been doing "basketball-wise?"
DG: I play some HORSE, but I haven't played any ball in about five years. It's due to all that jumping I did when I was young and playing professional basketball. It took its toll on my left kneecap and, during the end of my career, it started bothering me. I wore out all the cartilage from all the pounding. I was playing (to stay in shape) after my career was over with, but my knee was aching and it would take me three to four days to get back to normal. It wasn't worth it. So, I keep myself in shape in other ways.

PL: Talk a little about the University of Louisville and what the school means to you.
DG: Well, that was the program that got me to the next level. Every program that I played for -- junior high, high school and college -- played a part, but I think Louisville is the next step to the pros, and the success I had there anchored my pro career.

PL: What are some of your fondest memories at Louisville?
DG: Obviously, winning the national championship and, being from Louisville, born and raised here ... I literally put myself out on faith, promising the city that, before I leave, I'll win a national championship. God was good enough to let that happen, and also I was able to get my degree in four years. I was one of the top five student-athletes in the country when I graduated.

PL: Your senior year at Louisville seemed to be your breakout year. What was the key to that?
DG: I wanted to get better. I worked out that whole summer. I dedicated myself to making myself a better player, the best player I could be. Actually, my goal was to be the best player in the country. And, you know you can't do that if you're hanging in the car with your boys, drinking soft drinks and eating potato chips. You know, you gotta go in the gym and plan to work, and that's what I did.

PL: Do you ever think about the fact that you were part of history? That you helped Louisville win its first-ever championship?
DG: I think we were the foundation to the programs that existed in the early '80s. What was really special for me was that this is my hometown. I was born and raised here and still live here. To have that happen, to be the first is very special to the city and to me. Anytime you win at the highest level like that, it's always going to stay with you.

PL: You seem to have a commitment to Louisville.
DG: Well, my family's here. I'm a family-oriented person. My mom and dad, I'm fortunate enough that they're still living. I have three kids, who are grown now, and, you know, just a lot of opportunities for me here. When I played at Utah and the season was over, I always came back home. So, I kind of feel comfortable here.

PL: Do you still keep in touch with your Louisville teammates?
DG: Oh, yeah. I see them all. Most of the guys who played with me in 1980 still live in Louisville. Jerry Eaves is the assistant coach for Charlotte now. Wally Brown has a position with the University Louisville. Scooter McCray used to be the assistant coach (at Louisville). Rodney is in and out of Louisville. Roger Burkman lives here. Tony Branch and Daryl Cleveland are living here. I mean, all the guys stay here.

PL: Do you guys get together often?
DG: We go out to lunch here and there. Maybe not collectively, but sometimes we might, about five or six of us might go have a bite or whatever. I think the last time we got together collectively, was last year, our 20th year reunion of our national championship team.

PL: Talk a little bit about your career with the Utah Jazz.
DG: Coming from a national championship team and going to a team that only won 20-22 games in my first year was very disappointing to me. It was probably the lowest moment in my professional career, to go from a high to a low like that. But, you know, it was my job. I had to put things in perspective and say "hey, God put you here to grow this team and to make this team into a contender." After my third year, we were Midwest Division Champions. So, that was a proud moment for me. Myself, Rickey Green, Adrian Dantley, Mark Eaton. We were all there at the beginning.

PL: I guess the question that everyone wants to know is how you got your nickname, Dr. Dunkenstein?
DG: Well, I was young; I grew up in the funkadelic Parliament era. And, you know, George Clinton had a character called Dr. Funkenstein. And, it kind of came from that. My brother and the homeboys in the neighborhood sort of tagged me with the nickname.

PL: When did you start getting your knee problems?
DG: Probably about 1986-87. Dr. Dunkenstein was paying his toll. The latter part of my career, I might surprise you and dunk here and there, but I didn't really do the things I did playing my first seven years. It became more of a "hey, I ain't trying to go out here and be Dr. D. I'll try to stay in the league for longevity." I had a balanced game, an all-around game. I was missing some things in my game, but I had other things that made me the player that I was.

PL: And that basically was what caused you to call it quits?
DG: Well, at the end of my career, I asked to be released. I went to talk to the owner and told him that it was changing of the guard. I wasn't playing a lot and I really didn't want to go out that way. So, I said to myself that I was going to go to (Larry Miller), who is a great owner and explain my situation to him and ask him to release me and, if another team picks me up, then at least I know they want my services and they're not just picking me up for a spot. I had some offers, but they weren't really contenders. I had some overseas offers, the money was good, but at that time, I had to make the decision to say "hey, this is it; God's been good". I wanted to go back to Louisville and be with my kids. They didn't stay with me while I was in Utah, so I was glad to be around and give them some time. It was a good time for me to do that. I didn't regret it at all.

PL: When you decided to call it quits, was it hard for you to make the adjustment from basketball?
DG: No. It wasn't hard for me because (I had) people in my life that were guiding me right and telling me that, "hey, this thing isn't going to last forever." You've got to condition yourself and your mind to do something different. As my career progressed in Utah, I started watching players and how they left the game, what they'd be doing, and started thinking about life after basketball way before it was over with.

PL: So, did you have any regrets about leaving the game when you did?
DG: Only that I wasn't able to win a championship and, due to my knee condition, that I wasn't able to leave the way I really wanted to . . . at the top of my game. But, you know, I can't complain. I've been blessed, and just the opportunity to play in the NBA is a blessing in itself. I walked away from the game with a smile.





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