SALT LAKE CITY — On the night when the Utah Jazz wore their purple throwback jerseys for the first of what will be a number of times this season, they brought back one of the franchise’s first cornerstones.
Darrell Griffith, who was selected second overall in the 1980 NBA draft and went on to have his No. 35 jersey retired in 1993, was on hand Wednesday at Vivint Arena as the Jazz beat the Dallas Mavericks 117-102.
Griffith’s visit marked the second time in as many seasons that he has visited Salt Lake City, as the former Louisville Cardinal has a relationship with Utah guard Donovan Mitchell dating back to the second-year pro’s college days at the same university.
“I think it’s great that they have a Jazz alumni,” Griffith told assembled media before the game. “Speaking for all the rest of the guys, it’s good to know that what you have accomplished here, even if you didn’t make it to the Finals or even if you didn’t make it to the playoffs, if you were part of the Jazz organization, they appreciate you."
During the break between the third and fourth quarters Wednesday, Griffith stepped onto the Vivint Arena court to loud cheers and signed some basketballs that the Jazz Bear threw into the crowd.
“That’s the best feeling,” he said. “For them to put together alumni to bring people back in to share their experiences and get them involved back with the fans, that’s awesome. Tip my hat off to them.”
Third on Utah’s all-time list for 3-pointers made with 530 over his career (he was the NBA’s all-time leader for most made at one point), Griffith once set a league record with 92 treys made in a single season. Noting how the game has changed a great deal since he played, Griffith quipped that “Steph Curry does that in a month.”
The 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year, Griffith, who said he bought his furniture from a store where the Zions Bank Basketball Campus now sits, reflected on how the team went from winning a franchise-low 24 games the year before he arrived to getting to the Western Conference semifinals in his fourth campaign.
Griffith gave a great deal of credit to the late Larry H. Miller for helping the franchise become stable after he purchased part of it in 1985 and the rest in 1986.1 comment on this story
“He was the foundation,” Griffith said. “I always thanked Larry for that.”
Of Mitchell, Griffith noted that he’s “a marked man” now after his tremendous rookie season, “and that makes it even harder, so you’ve got to work even harder.”
What does Griffith predict would happen if the Jazz were to one day win the NBA championship?
“For them to even get to that point, get back to the Finals, would be a great move,” he said. “Winning, the city wouldn’t be the same, the state wouldn’t be the same.”