LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Before there was Michigan's Fab Five, Houston's Phi Slamma Jamma or Kentucky's Unforgettables, there was Louisville's Doctors of Dunk.
On the 40th anniversary of their 1980 national championship, Louisville honored that team Saturday at the Cardinals' game against Virginia, and in the near future fans will be able to watch the Doctors operate and hear stories and interviews about them, thanks to a new project in the works.
They will be the subject of a documentary titled "Dr. Dunkenstein and the Doctors of Dunk."
Two icons of the Louisville basketball program, Hall of Fame coach Denny Crum and Dr. Dunkenstein himself, Darrell Griffith, met the media to talk about the game plan for the venture Tuesday afternoon.
The documentary is being produced by Anthony Holt, a former Butler High School and Georgetown College player who calls himself a lifetime UofL fan. He now lives in the Los Angeles area. He and a film crew were in town over the weekend to interview Crum and members of the team, and he said the film will be completed in May and released sometime next year. He said he is in discussions with ESPN, HBO Sports, Netflix and others about purchasing rights to it.
"I grew up loving Louisville and their program, and it's time to get this story out to the masses," said Holt, whose credits with his production company, "It's the Comeback Kids," include the award-winning "Gone in an Instant" about former UK star Antoine Walker and another on the late UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen.
"Anthony approached me four months ago with the idea and I said, 'Let's go for it," Griffith recalled. "I don't think Coach Crum or any of us recognized at the time the impact our team had culturally on the landscape of college basketball, us being THE team that brought excitement back into the game. I branded myself as Dr. Dunkenstein and when we came to town it was a road show. I'm pretty proud of that."
Known informally as the "Alcindor rule," the dunk was banned from college basketball in 1967 to prevent Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) from dominating at UCLA, where Crum was an assistant at the time under John Wooden.
"Nobody would admit that was the case, but it had to be the overflowing factor," Crum said. "No one impacted the game like Kareem did at that particular time and for them to say that he didn't influence (the rule change), believe me he had a huge influence on it."
If that was indeed the committee's strategy, it failed miserably as the Bruins won three national championships with Alcindor, and it probably would have been four had freshmen not been ineligible.
The rules committee brought the dunk back for the 1976-77 season, just in time for Griffith's arrival at UofL from Male High School with his 48-inch vertical jump. Also, just in time for the health of college basketball, according to the Doctor's diagnosis.
"When you look at college basketball when I came here, it was a little boring," Griffith said. "Then the dunk came back and changed the trajectory and we were the team that pioneered all that."
Griffith and his fellow frequent flyers, who included Jerry Eaves, Rodney McCray, Wiley Brown and the late Derek Smith, played their roles to the hilt, wearing white doctors' jackets with their names on the back during warmups.
As you might guess, with those type of athletes at his disposal, Crum was glad to see the dunk allowed back into the game.
"I loved the dunk because we liked to throw the alley oop and we had guys who could make shots," Crum said. "It's a big part of the game and I was glad to see it come back. I never did want to see it go out to begin with. It's a high percentage shot and coaches like that."
Crum, who will turn 83 next month, said he was wasn't aware of the branding Griffith and the other Cards were plotting.
"They never even approached me about it," he said. "I never heard a word about it until here comes the guys with the Doctor of Dunk costumes."
One clip certain to be in the film happened on Feb. 3, 1980, at St. John's. Crum set up a back door play for Griffith to get a lob from Jerry Eaves. Eaves' pass was short, but Dr. Dunkenstein was able to grab it and, with his back to the basket, dunk it behind his head.
"I made Jerry look good on that one," Griffith quipped.
"I'll never forget that," Crum said. "Even though you watch them in practice every day, you just don't see plays like that. I don't even see guys doing that today."
Another memorable moment by Griffith was his fast break windmill or "around the world" jam in the 1980 Midwest Regional championship game against LSU in Houston, won by UofL 86-66.
Former LSU coach Dale Brown referred to that dunk during Griffith's induction into the Naissmith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.
"We recruited Darrell," Brown said. "And when I first saw him, I thought I'd never have to meet an astronaut or a cosmonaut because he was further out in space than they were."
When Griffith left Louisville for his stellar career in the NBA with the Utah Jazz, he was the school's record-holder for career dunks with 156, but it has since been eclipsed twice -- by Pervis Ellison (162, 1985-89) and Montrezl Harrell (221, 2012-15).
No one on the current team is a threat to that record. The leaders are junior Jordan Nwora with 56 career dunks and senior Steven Enoch with 53.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.