SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps more than his high-flying dunks.
His electrifying moves, dunk contest appearances or his No. 35 Utah Jazz jersey in the rafters of Vivint Arena.
One image truly captures the spirit of Darrell Griffith — or “Dr. Dunkenstein” as fans would come to know him as.
It’s a poster. A Nike poster. Award-winning photographer Jeff Koons shot it in 1985. And it continues to live on to this day.
"I had a Dr. Dunkenstein Nike poster, so I know him well,” said Jazz coach Quin Snyder.
On the poster, Griffith holds two half basketballs with smoke coming out of them in doctor’s gear and a pair of Nike tube socks with the iconic black/white Nike Blazers on his feet. With basketballs spread all throughout the background, it reads “Dr. Dunkenstein” on the bottom of the picture with a Nike logo in the top corner.
Even the man himself still owns one.
“Oh, yeah,” Griffith said.
During an era, where other Nike posters such as George Gervin’s “Ice Man,” Moses Malone’s “Moses” and Jamaal “Silk” Wilkes images were widely popular, Griffith’s poster has also stood the test of time due to the creativity. Nike came up with the concept, based off his cool nickname, and the rest is history.
“We did that poster in Seattle after I signed with Nike,” Griffith recalled. “They flew me to Seattle and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a theme for a poster we want to do,’ and that was all them. I asked what they were going to do, and I seen all these basketballs with smoke coming out of them, which was dry ice so we did that in Seattle.”
These days, it’s hard to find the vintage poster unless you’re surfing the web on eBay or somewhere that sells rare memorabilia.
Griffith, 59, continues to live in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, where he runs Griff’s sports bar and restaurant but is back in the national spotlight with the comparisons to high-flying Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who recently paid homage to him by wearing his jersey in the dunk contest.
“Just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing. Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it,” Mitchell said after winning the slam dunk title in Los Angeles. “But just understanding, even if it's just dunking, whether it's dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well, both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”
For a guy who once held a 48-inch vertical leap at 6-foot-4, Griffith is proud to admit that those high-flying days are over. He’s happy to have an impact on the younger generation through a rising star like Mitchell. His poster, those dunks, and his career in Utah keeps him relevant in the hearts of Jazz fans.
Long live Dr. Dunkenstein.
The poster is proof.
“I don’t do that anymore,” Griffith said of dunking. “The warranty on my legs has expired.”