Most weekday mornings, 27-year-old Michael Longa wakes up in his suburban Tulsa home and makes the 20-minute drive to the Blue Sky Bank branch where he works in IT. Sometimes, when he’s asked to visit other branches around Oklahoma, his drive can take as long as two hours. But regardless of where he’s headed, the first thing Longa sees when he gets into his 2011 Kia Optima is Blake Griffin’s autograph on the steering wheel.
It’s been 10 years since Griffin caught a Baron Davis lob and leaped over the hood of this car in the 2011 dunk contest, but neither the silver Sharpie ink on the horn nor the black ink of Griffin’s signature near the driver’s door has faded. Longa has been driving the car since roughly 2015 and says it’s still in good condition. It has just under 89,000 miles on it and gets about 26 miles per gallon in the city. Longa is sure the value of the car is substantial—a normal 2011 Optima that hasn’t had an NBA player dunk over it could fetch anywhere between $3,000 and $11,000 today. But he is content with never finding out what his is worth.
“It’s kind of my dream car,” Longa said. “I’m crazy, I’m still in love with the car.”
Griffin, for his part, has also traveled quite the distance since his rookie campaign in 2011. In the past 10 years, he’s gone from being the face of the Clippers to part of a mediocre Detroit team to yet another weapon on the juggernaut Nets. But when he signed with Brooklyn in March 2021 after the Pistons bought him out, Griffin hadn’t dunked since 2019. That invited questions about whether he was physically able to, following multiple left knee surgeries and back injuries. But in his first game as a Net, Griffin silenced those doubts quickly, and with a smirk.
“I knew once it happened that it was going to be a thing,” Griffin said after the game. “It was hard not to smile in that situation. It felt good to just get that out of the way and move on.”
Longa does not remember watching the 2011 dunk contest. But by the time the Optima arrived in a Tulsa dealership by way of an auction, he was familiar with its fame. He spent years admiring the car from afar, but the story of how it ultimately ended up in his driveway involves a Thunder fan, a far-fetched wish, some aggressive bidding, and, somehow, legendary Oklahoma Sooners coach Barry Switzer. And it all begins with that fateful dunk contest.
The 2011 dunk contest was controversial before it even began. An hour before the start of the program, the NBA sent out a press release that preemptively identified Griffin as the winner. That immediately caused a stir among those following the contest. There had been rumors that Griffin would dunk over a car, and it seemed to be a big reason many viewers were tuning in.
Once the contest began, the controversies did not dissipate. Griffin advanced to the final round against JaVale McGee, even though many argued that DeMar DeRozan had better dunks. And McGee had already wowed the crowd by dunking three basketballs at once and then two basketballs on two nets in one dunk. McGee would go on to score a 50 with his first final-round dunk. But once Griffin brought out the choir and the Optima, it was over.
As Griffin said on a podcast in 2016, his initial plan was to jump over the top of a convertible. He wanted Davis to be inside and toss the ball straight up to him as he flew overhead. But the league said it had to be an Optima, which was then the official car of the NBA.
“I don’t know if you guys have stood next to a Kia Optima, but it’s a pretty tall vehicle,” Griffin said on the podcast. “And there’s no way I was going to make it over the entire thing. So I opted for the hood, and then everyone was pissed that I jumped over the hood, like, ‘That was super easy.’ So it was just a lose-lose situation for me.”
It wasn’t all losses for Griffin, though. That dunk gave him the win—even as it incited talk about whether the contest had been fixed, a theory that players like McGee, Kyle Lowry, and Ed Davis supported. And the image of Griffin dunking over the Kia became the signature shot of All-Star Weekend. Kia promptly began to feature Griffin in their ads, and the company even created a spot out of the dunk itself.
Longa has a copy of that ad in his garage. He also still has the Sprite magnets that were plastered on the sides of the car during the contest. When he first started driving the car, he kept them on the doors to show the world that this wasn’t just another Optima. That didn’t last long, though.
“I realized I was just advertising Sprite at that point,” Longa said.
Griffin was given the car in the spring of 2011, as a prize for the dunk contest win, and soon after he donated it to an auction. The money it made went to Stand Up to Cancer, a program that aids in cancer research, in honor of Griffin’s high school friend and teammate Wilson Holloway, who died in 2011 after a three-year battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. While Griffin had gone to Oklahoma to play basketball, Holloway had played for the University of Tulsa’s football team, and, coincidentally, a businessman from Tulsa had set his eyes on the Optima.
Henry Primeaux owned a large Kia dealership in Tulsa in 2011. He remembers watching the dunk contest and immediately thinking to himself that he wanted to buy the car. At the time, it felt like wishful thinking—he had no connections to Griffin or the NBA. Then one day, Primeaux saw a Facebook post advertising the auction where the car would be sold and pounced on the opportunity. Soon he was in a bidding war with two other dealerships and another collector.
“I always jump the bid, like if it’s $1,000, I’ll drop a $3,000 [bid] so they know that I’m serious,” Primeaux said. “After I got up to 10 grand more than it was worth, I knew I was gonna buy it.”
Primeaux ultimately paid $35,220 (well above market value) for the car, which was promptly delivered to his dealership. There, he immediately began not just displaying it, but also marketing his business around it. Primeaux made posters and advertisements featuring the car and the dunk. He allowed people to come to the dealership just to see the vehicle and even created giveaways around the car and the legend of the dunk. Everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the Optima, and the business, he says, more than benefited from it.
“This is no BS, I would say it was invaluable,” Primeaux said. “I couldn’t measure it, but I got [the $35,220] 10 times from it.”
A few years passed and Primeaux, who was then in his mid-70s, started thinking about retirement. He decided he wanted to sell the dealership, and eventually he got a bite from a group that included Switzer. Primeaux finalized the sale in 2015, but says the group wasn’t interested in buying the Griffin Optima that was, at the time, four years old. So he told them they didn’t even have to worry about it. He wanted to keep it in the family.
Enter Longa, one of Primeaux’s two grandsons. Primeaux wanted the boys to inherit a part of the dealership they could use right away, so he decided to give them each a car. Brian, Longa’s brother, wanted a convertible, but Michael had always liked the Optima. Whenever he and his friends would hang out and go to the dealership, he enjoyed seeing how star-struck they got when they caught a glimpse of the car. So when Primeaux called him to tell him the Optima was his, he had no hesitation about accepting it—even if he felt some about actually driving it. After all, he was just a busboy for a local pizza place at the time and he still remembers how shocked his coworkers were when he first pulled up in the car.
“It was terrifying because I never thought I’d drive anything that nice,” Longa said with a laugh. “Anytime I drove it out any place I was, I was really scared. ... I was just trying to be as careful as possible.”
These days, Longa is comfortable in the car. He still finds joy in getting the Optima detailed or getting an oil change and having the attendants ask if that’s the Blake Griffin car. Seeing the looks on their faces when he responds “Yes” hasn’t gotten old yet.
The Optima comes up in conversation any time the family watches the dunk contest, and it’s become such a valuable piece of memorabilia that Longa’s grandmother checks in with him periodically to make sure he’s taking good care of the vehicle.
“Every time the All-Star Game comes up, we think about it,” Primeaux said. “The thing you gotta remember is we were watching it live, and this guy jumps over the car and dunks. I said, ‘Man.’ He didn’t even finish the dunk yet and I’m thinking of a way to buy it, never thinking in a million years that we could buy it. In the end, it was the right place at the right time.”
Occasionally over the years, the family has had discussions about selling the car. But Longa doesn’t want to part with it any time soon. “My future plans are kind of just to keep going with it as long as I can,” Longa said. “I mean, it is kind of getting up there in years, but it’s hanging on pretty good.” And with the average lifespan of an Optima being around 200,000 miles, the car will probably outlast Griffin’s career.
For now, though, Griffin is still getting up—he has 26 dunks with the Nets this season and eight through 10 postseason games. And though Longa remains a Thunder fan, he can’t help but feel an affinity for Griffin and the Nets during these playoffs.
“It boosted his appeal to me a little bit,” Longa said. “I’m rooting for him, mainly because of the car.”