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“I'm humbled and honored for being recognized for this award by the Sacramento Sports Hall of Fame.  I could not have done it without the help of my teammates.”

Darnell Hillman

Professional Basketball

High School:  Hiram Johnson
College:  San Jose State University

* ABA / NBA Career:  10 Years (Indiana, New Jersey, Denver, Kansas City,

    Golden State)

* 2 Time ABA Champion (1972, 1973)

* First Ever NBA Slam Dunk Champion
* 7,339 Career Points
* 5,809 Career Rebounds


Darnell Hillman is known as one of the most gifted basketball players to ever come out of Sacramento. He was the first grand master of the dunk.  At an early age, he had the unique ability of being able to jump higher than anyone else the area has ever seen. Darnell turned his jumping ability into an art form combining athleticism and style.  Born in Los Angeles and then moving to San Francisco as a young boy, Darnell ran the streets… literally.  Running up and down the steep hills built up the strength in his legs and helped him jump.


He attended Balboa High School before moving to Sacramento where he landed at Hiram Johnson High School.   He played football and began as a tight end but after throwing a 70 yard pass before practice one day, and soon after he was the new quarterback.  Darnell also was on the track team, running the high hurdles and high jump.  Even though he was an all-around athlete, he is best known for his basketball prowess.  He was an All-Metro selection and fans in Sacramento had never before seen anything like him.  He was a human highlight reel; dominating the opposition.  He had an amazing 31 rebound game against Rio Linda with just as many blocked shots and earned him the name of “the Human Flyswatter.”  


After an amazing prep career he had more than 20 college scholarship offers, and chose to attend San Jose State University.   He played Basketball and ran track for the Spartans, clearing 7 feet in the high jump: but basketball would be his future.  While he loved to dunk, during his time in college it was banned by the NCAA.  Because Darnell could jump so high, he literally would rise over the rim and throw it down without touching the rim.  An amazing little known fact is that during one game in college, Darnell won the opening tip-off with such force he actually tipped the ball into the basket: scoring for the Spartans.


In a unique situation, Darnell had to leave college to join the Army after being drafted by the military. He still had the opportunity to play basketball on the All-Army team where he traveled the world. Darnell was the MVP at the AAU nationals and his skills were noticed by several NBA scouts.  In 1971, he was drafted by both the NBA and the fledging ABA.  The Golden State Warriors drafted Darnell in the first round with the 8th overall pick.  The Indiana Pacers, a member of the ABA at the time also drafted Darnell in the first round of their draft.  Indiana pursued him harder, so he chose to sign with the Pacers. With the Pacers, he won back to back ABA championships.  He played six seasons for the Pacers, who joined the NBA when the leagues merged in 1976.  He quickly became known as “Dr. Dunk”.  Aside from his creative dunks, he also was one of leading rebounders and shot blockers in the league. He held the Pacers record for 10 blocks in a game: a record that lasted for 31 years.


During his days in the ABA, Darnell gained the reputation of not only being a dynamite dunker but also having a stylish hairdo.  After leaving the Army, he vowed never to get a haircut.  He was considered to have the league’s best Afro: 13 ½ inches in diameter. While most players used a pick, Darnell combed his 9 times a day with an Angel Food Cake Cutter.  Darnell actually won an award titled “Biggest ABA Afro Award.”


Darnell won the first ever NBA Slam Dunk Contest, defeating Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the semi-finals and Larry McNeil for the championship.  He was now known simply as “Dr Dunk”.  Darnell was more than the best dunker our area has ever seen.  He was a tremendous all-around athlete.  He played professionally for 10 years scoring 7,339 points and 5,809 rebounds.


He is beloved by Pacers fans and currently works for the organization as the Director of Alumni Relations.  He conducts camps, participates in community events and can be seen at home games interacting with the crowd.   Darnell was a true pioneer in the game of basketball and his exciting style will always be remembered by fans in Sacramento and worldwide.   He is truly one of the greatest basketball players our area has ever witnessed.  

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