November 22, 2017

Before Vince Carter dunking over Fredric Weis, there was Dr. Dunkenstein (and 1977 WUG Recap)

2017/09/03 11:12 am 11:12 am11:12 am0 0 comments

Most NBA fans of a certain age remember when Vince Carter dunked over France’s 7-2 centre Frederic Weis in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia. It’s hard to not to remember the dunk which many consider one of the top five, if not the best, dunks ever that happened in the course of a game.


And it’s not just stateside that fans revel in Carter’s feat, the French themselves humbly refer to it as the “le dunk de la morte” or translated to “The Dunk of Death”.  How did it happen?  Let’s have set it up:

With 16:06 remaining in the second half of a group play game between the United States and France, Yann Bonato grabbed what seemed to be an innocuous rebound, but would wind up being anything but that.

As Bonato looked to move the ball upcourt with a behind the back pass, Carter read the play and intercepted the exchange. What happened next turned an essentially meaningless opening-round game into the defining moment of the tournament and an iconic play still gushed about by basketball fans around the globe.

The rest is history. To refresh your memory, here’s a grainy YouTube video to remind you how absolutely crazy that dunk was. Even in all it’s scratchy quality, you can get a sense of just how impossible a dunk it was.

Half-Man, Half Amazing and Dr. Dunkenstein

What if we told you it wasn’t the first time that a U.S. player jumped over an international opponent? Some basketball fans of a certain age will recall an amazing play during the 1977 World University Games when Darrell Griffith, the future Dr. Dunkenstein, jumped over a defender‘s head on his way to the basket. Read the details from “Tales from the 1980 Louisville Cardinals”:

The US team was playing Poland. Griffith got a Larry Bird outlet pass and began a two-on-one break with Freeman Williams. A 6-5 defender from Poland backpedaled. As Griffith approached the free throw line he shot a glance toward where Williams was supposed to be so he could give the ball up. For some reason Williams had slowed. The wily opponent faked a move and stepped back into Griffith’s path, in a semi-crouch but ready to take a charge just inside the free throw line. Griffith had a split-second to decide what to do next. “I just went up “ Griffith said “ I was focusing on the rim. When you do things, you don’t plan them. It’s natural.” Easy for Dunkenstein to say. Legs splayed, feet aimed perfectly over each shoulder he leapfrogged directly over the guy and laid the ball in, “nice and soft off the glass” remembered Denny Crum coach of the US team. Fans did double-takes, then began hollering. A timeout was called. Griffith headed to the bench where he was met by wide-eyed teammate Ricky Gallon.

The next day, a fan that had taken a photo (or got copies made) of his jumping over the player was selling outside the arena the next day. Here’s the photo of future Utah Jazz player Griffith hurdling the unknown Polish player in that 1977 tournament.

Looking Back: The 1977 World University Games with Larry Bird, Dr. Dunkenstein

In a recap posted by one of our forum members, the thread reflected on the the 1977 World University Games that featured a young Larry Bird and Sidney Moncrief as well as a myriad of future NBA players in Griffith (Louisville), Williams (Portland State), Dave Corzine (DePaul), Jim Bailey (Rutgers), Calvin Natt (Northeast Louisiana St), and Phil Hubbard (Michigan).

Twenty-five years ago, at the end of a legendary NBA career, Bird won the gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics, as member of the “original” Dream Team. Fifteen years earlier, a young Bird was a member of the US team winner at the Sofia (BUL) IX Universiade (World University Games), August 18-27, 1977.

The US men’s team sent young but talented squad made of players to the 1977 World University Games. The roster was full of players that had just competed from one to three years in college. No seniors were selected, as most of them had been drafted by NBA. Williams was the 1976-77 national scorer with 38.8 ppg, Bird too had averaged over 30 points.

Bird was already recognized for his great versatility, but the most promising was perhaps Griffith, the youngest in the US team, who had just played his freshman season at Louisville for Denny Crum, appointed as headcoach of the WUG team. Super gifted Griffith, with an incredible leaping ability, had already been invited as the only HS player at the 1976 Olympic trials.


The team was selected from an 18-player roster on July 26th and travelled to Italy early in August for tuneup games, participating in two high-level tournaments in Sicily.

Besides US, Czechoslovakia WUG team (virtually the Sr. National Team) and the National Tteam of Italy, USSR and Yugoslavia also participated.

The United States beat them all but USSR. On August 7, 1977 USA lost by just two points to Russian team 86-84 (44-42 at half) at Messina tournament. According to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport young Americans lost the game committing too many turnovers (29) and missing as many as 19 FT.

Few days later USA lost again to the experienced Russians in Palermo while winning over Czechoslovakia and Italy. Thanks to “five minutes of master play of Bird, Griffith and Natt” USA men outscored the Czechs in the 2nd half to win 85-71 (35-35), while they were in control of Italian NT opening a wide gap towards the end 113-90 (51-44).

In Sofia the US team swept the WUG tournament’s competitors clearly showing its supremacy in team’s and individual play, soundly beating USSR twice, in the second round and in the title game.

Russian squad was a developmental and relatively young team, without the big names. One of the their best players was Sergejus Iovaisha, who played against Bird with team Lithuania at the 1992 Olympics as well. Others worth to be mentioned, Aleksander Sidyakin, Mindaugas Arlauskas, Viktor Petrakov, Mikhail Silantev.

A close call for the US team proved to be the first half of the game with Cuba, that had an excellent team in the 1970s (Bronze at the 1972 Olympics). Cuban players always fought US rivals with overly aggressive play that sometimes resulted in collective brawls. It already happened at the 1973 Moscow Universiade and would repeat again at the 1979 Pan American Games. In Sofia something even worse happened.

Here’s the account of Pacific Stars & Stripes August 25 (pages 17-18):

The U.S. basketball team defeated Cuba 94-78 in the World University Games Tuesday night after a fight in which center Jim Bailey was injured by a broken bottle. The brawl erupted early in the second half as the entire Cuban team rushed the U.S. bench. Bailey, a 6-foot-9 center from Rutgers, was led out of the hall with blood streaming from his arm.”He will need at least 15 to 20 stitches to close the wound,” a team official said. The scene was almost a repetition of the clash between the United States and Cuba at the last University Games in Moscow in 1973. On that occasion the game ended in a free-for-all and players were hit on the heads with chairs. This time Bulgarian police moved in to break up the fighting, and the game was resumed with 18 minutes remaining. The score was tied at 46-46 when the disturbance occurred. Afterwards the Americans pulled away to victory. United States led 42-40 at halftime. The Cubans had just tied the score at the start of the second half when trouble started. Lucille Kyvallos of Queens, N.Y., College, coach of the U.S. women’s team, said, “Somebody just pushed somebody else in front of the U.S. bench and then one of the Cuban players attacked our coach, Denny Crum.” Another U.S. team official said the Cubans broke a bottle and slashed Bailey’s arm. The Israeli basketball team was sitting a few rows behind the U.S. bench. Adin Talbar, deputy chief of the Israeli delegation, said: “The ref said the ball belonged to the Cubans, and the U.S. coach said something to him.” I saw the Cuban bump the American coach with his shoulder, and the U.S. coach pushed him back. “Within one tenth of a second the Cubans rushed the American bench, swinging bottles. It was not a pretty sight.” Crum said, “I don’t really know what started it. It is unfortunate that things like this happen. I know we didn’t start the fight.” Crum said he believed the fight was the turning point of the game and had a demoralizing effect on the Cubans. “They failed to play on even terms with us for the rest of the game,” Crum said. Talbar said, “There is tremendous hostility here between the Cubans and Americans. The Cubans played much better before the fight, when their hostility was channeled into the game. The fight sapped all their energy and they were unable to play good basketball anymore.”

The Cuban player who first shoved Crum was identified as guard Tomas Herrera. Calvin Natt, filling in for injured Phil Hubbard led the US attack with 24 points and Griffith added 21. Cuba was paced by forward Alejandro Urgelles with 21.

As a matter of facts Bailey, the starting center, needed 20 stitches to close three lacerations in his left arm and right hand, but US officials didn’t file any protest against Cuba, backed by the wounded player who opposed any protest. Bailey sat out the remaining games for precautionary reasons.

US team had previously lost forward Phil Hubbard as well, when he aggravated a slight injury in his knee and missed the rest of the tournament after starting in the first games (he recorded 17 points in the opener). Hubbard would actually miss the entire 1977-78 NCAA season due to a knee torn cartilage.

Even with a shortened roster USA had few or no problems to beat Czechoslovakia in the semis and claim gold in the final match with USSR.

Coached by legendary Jack Donohue, a strong Canadian team led by Lars Hansen, Martin Riley and Jim Zoet finished 4th just behind Czechoslovakia.

Whilst Bird showed his consistency and strength by starting every game and leading the team in rebounds, Griffith turned to be the tournament’s most exciting star, scoring, dunking and jumping all over. He finished as the team leading scorer, recording 20 or more points in four games. His showdown in the first game against USSR won 129-96 was described by the Courier-Journal of Louisville, August 23, 1977, page 8:

The Americans led 64-42 at half-time as a packed crowd of 2,000 watched. Griffith, a 6-foot-3 guard, then hit five floating jump shots, two dunk shots and three free throws for 17 points in less than 10 minutes during a second half burst. He finished with 25 points and seven other Americans ended up in double figures.



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