He has played in more than 700 games, which isn't even close to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's NBA-record 1,560. But in a league where the average longevity is only about four years, 700 games is nothing to scoff at, either.
When he first came into the league, Darrell Griffith, the second pick in the 1980 NBA draft, signed with the Jazz for what then was big dollars: $300,000 a year. Although he has logged a lot of miles, and owns numerous Jazz career records, Griffith says he expects to be playing for some time. Basketball has never become boring. When the bell rang for the start of each of his 11 pro seasons, he reported ready and accounted for."I always approach the year with a lot of enthusiasm," says Griffith. "A hunger for the game is a phase everybody needs to have. And I still love the game."
It isn't hard to understand why. Though Griffith's playing time has gradually diminished over the years, he has managed to survive the yearly influx of younger players. Last winter his future with the Jazz was in doubt as free agency approached. Griffith sounded doubtful that the Jazz would include him in their plans. But in May the team announced it had signed Griffith to a new two-year, $800,000 guaranteed contract, citing his contributions to the team and the community.
"When I met with them (Jazz officials), I told them that just because I'm 32 doesn't mean I can't play," says Griffith.
He was back in business. Through the early part of the season, Griffith has been a bright spot in what has mostly been a dim bench effort. For the first 10 games he shot 47 percent from the field, including an impressive 43 percent from three-point range. His best game to date was the Nov. 11 game at Houston, his only start of the season. Griffith responded with a season-high 24 points in 38 minutes, in which he made 11 of 21 shots. He also had four rebounds, four assists and four steals.Griffith also had 16 points against Orlando and 10 points apiece in two other games.
Houston, a team Griffith has a reputation of playing well against (he scored 20 in one game against the Rockets last year), is back for its second game against the Jazz, tonight in the Salt Palace. Tipoff is at 7:30. Houston won the first game over the Jazz, 110-90.
To those who know Griffith well, his longevity in the league isn't a big surprise. He works out two hours a day all summer at home in Louisville, where he is still the most famous of all the famous ex-Cardinals. He spends time shooting and conditioning and doing drills that simulate game conditions against several basketball-playing friends.
"There's a couple of home boys that work out with me who know the Jazz offense better than I do," he says.
Griffith continues, "The big key to anyone's longevity is that he's able to keep himself in shape. My motto is the best way to stay in shape is not to get out of shape."
The only serious injury in his career came when he missed the 1985-86 season with a broken ankle, as well as 25 games the following year.
The re-signing of Griffith was a popular move in Salt Lake, where fans have grown accustomed to his rocket-launch jumpers. He was awarded a plaque for reaching the 700-game pinnacle prior to last Friday's game with Seattle, and receivied a standing ovation. "It was nice," says Griffith. "Just great."
Says Coach Jerry Sloan, "He's an insurance guy who can come up and play some minutes. We still need all the help we can get."
Sloan continues, "It's not just a matter of being on the bench and not producing. You have to produce in this league. His is a tough job for anyone."
As much as his point production, Griffith and center Mark Eaton represent the link to the past, when the Jazz weren't winning games. Griffith gives perspective to younger, impatient players who have known nothing but winning since arriving in Salt Lake.
"The younger guys haven't ever been in those situations; they don't know how to handle it," says Sloan. "They don't understand that in this game, the difference between winning and losing is not that great."
Although Griffith says he knows he has "a lot of good years left" in basketball, he doesn't plan on seeing 700 more games with the Utah Jazz. Maybe another 150 would be more likely.
"I don't think I'll see 700 more," laughs Griffith. "If I do, they'll be pushing me in in a wheelchair."Notes: Since they last met, the Rockets have activated Buck Johnson, who has averaged 12.5 points since returning . . . Akeem Olajuwon continues to lead the Rockets with a 25-point, 13-rebound average . . . Jazz guard Eric Johnson dressed for practice this week but didn't participate. Jazz officials say he is still not ready to come off the injured list . . . Jazz forward Walter Palmer had two teeth knocked out Tuesday in practice when he was hit by Chris Munk's elbow.
Jazz records held by Darrell Griffith.
Games played: 702
Minutes played: 20,572
Field goals made: 5,099
Field goals attempted: 10,944
3-point fiedl goals: 491
Points scored (2nd): 12,050