Midway through the first half today, a 6-foot-5 leaper named Bob Hansen became obsessed with the feeling that he could bring basketball's helicopter -- Darrell Griffith -- back to earth.
"We were on the floor at the time," Hansen said later, "and he was jumpin' over everybody else, so I said to the coach (Lute Olson); 'Let me have a shot at him.' At first, he said no. Then he changed his mind."
And Hansen, who can fly over cornstalks himself, also failed at everything -- except explaining what separates Griffith from even exceptional leapers.
"Lots of guys can jump," he said. "But they come down. Know what I mean?"
"Well, he floats. Hangs. And hangs. Most everyone else is back on the floor by the time he takes his shot."
Hang time better than Ray Guy, the pro basketball scouts chuckle. But for a fellow who has jumped over defenders a time or two and presumably dunked a nearby sponge moments after leaving the womb, today's show was rather ordinary.
These surely were the most casual 34 points, five rebounds, six assists, two blocked shots and three steals of his life. Dr. Dunkenstein today became Mr. Straight. As in straight up into the stratosphere, perhaps a foot higher than the Hansens of hoops ever dream of climbing.
Today, Griffith left what John Duren calls "skipsydoodle" back in Louisville. The only time anyone wanted to wrap him in a bun was when he shook nearly every hand in the gym near game's end.
Throughout a Louisville victory that was all but assured when Iowa's best player, Ronnie Lester, reinjured his leg late in the first half, Kenny Arnold, Hansen and Kevin Boyle took turn chasing Griffith. Each brought something special to the task, Arnold being quick, Boyle tall and Hansen Iowa's best jumper.
The problem was that Griffith was even quicker than Arnold and springier than Hansen. Incredibly, Griffith posts natural forwards such as Boyle, backs them toward the free-throw line and shoots over them too.
"Once he had his back to the basket about 15 feet down the left baseline," the 6-6 Boyle said. "He turned and jumped -- and I had a hand right in his face. I had the best position possible -- and he still made it.
"That's what makes it so disappointing."
Hansen's frustration was the worst, for he honestly felt capable of rendering Griffith mortal. His competitive fire was stoked by watching Griffith from the bench. To appreciate Hansen's awestruck look after the game, imagine yourself equipped with springs on each leg, soaring three feet off the floor and still watching helplessly as Griffith flicks in a jumper.
What impresses the Boyles and Hansens even more about Griffith is that Louisville lies about his height. He is at least 1 1/2 inches shorter than his advertised 6-4, possibly no taller than 6-2.
But he plays about 9-2.
"He's been a hero of mine for quite a while," freshman Hansen said. "We'd hear about him as a high-school player (the only schoolboy invited to the '76 Olympic trials), see some of the things he'd done on film -- and then go out and try and imitate 'em.
"I rushed up to him right after the game and told him I hoped they went all the way."
In Griffith's path, if not quite in his face, in the NCAA championship game, will be a very tall UCLA Bruin and a very quick one. But not at the same time, Darren Daye and Michael Holton both lament.
Daye is 6-7, so it was suggested even Griffith might need a crane to hoist his jumpers Monday.
"Watch him," Daye said. "That man could get his jumper off over Kareem Abdul. I want to try and make him shoot, 'cause if he drives by you he's a triple threat. He can pass and shoot."
"Oh, yes. And dunk."
UCLA was splendid with its teamwork and freshman poise against Purdue. But freshman Daye and Holton could not have disagreed more about how to hobble Griffith.
"You've got to make a driver out of him," the 6-3 Holton said. "On great players, you've got to play defense before he catches the ball. Then, if you give him room -- and he cracks jumper after jumper -- you're in trouble. You've got to force him into the big men."
When Daye's strategy was relayed to Holton, he said: "He'll change before Monday night."
The UCLA coach, Larry Brown, refused to look forward to Griffith. It was enough of a scare to simply realize who Griffith resembles on the court.
"So much like David," Brown said. "So much. It's really frightening. I coached him (at Denver) and never could imagine how anyone could stop him.Now I'll have to try and find a way."
Griffith took all of this in stride, for the simple reason that there was nothing out of the ordinary to explain. This day, he was content to be technically, if not artistically, perfect with his shots and passes.
"Just took what I was given," he said. "I didn't force anything."
Was this his most satisfying performance of the year?
"Yes," he admitted slowly, "to this point."