Adrian Dantley made his name famous long before even stepping onto the NBA hardwood. Already as a promising freshman at the University of Notre Dame, the 6’5” tall Dantley took part in one of the biggest games in all of NCAA basketball history. The Irish managed to snap an 88-game winning streak by UCLA Bruins, the legendary team coached by coaching guru John Wooden.
Then, the 1974-75 and 1975-76 All-American got a unique chance to display his offensive potential on the global level by leading the 1976 U.S. Olympic basketball team to a gold medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.
There was no stopping for Dantley in the pros either - the 6th overall pick by the Buffalo Braves in the 1976 NBA draft went on to average 20.3 ppg and 7.6 rpg on his way to the 1977 NBA of the Rookie of the Year award.
But in the summer of 1977, Dantley was traded from Buffalo to the Indiana Pacers, a transaction that made him the only NBA Rookie of the Year ever to be traded immediately after his rookie season! With Indiana, he lasted only 23 games - he was again traded, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers.
After seeing what a skilled but undersized forward can do in players such as Norm Nixon and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a total of 116 games, even the Lakers decided not to put a hold on Dantley’s journey. They traded him to the Utah Jazz, his fourth NBA team in as many years in the League.
In Salt Lake City, under the leadership of the visionary head coach Frank Layden, Dantley finally fulfilled his promise and potential as a pro - regularly averaging 30+ points per season, his productivity curve shot to the very top of the NBA best scorers list in 1981 and 1984. It was during his time in Utah (1979-86) where Dantley earned six out of his seven career NBA All-Star performances.
When A.D. got the ball on the wing, he was a deadly low post scorer, comfortable enough to score against any given defender assigned to try to stop him. In most cases, he would use his lightning-quick release to bury a jumper or his head fake and quick first step to blow around defenders, especially taller ones.
If ‘The Teacher’ was hacked on a play, either on the wing or in the paint, he was a sure bet to knock down both shots from the charity stripe. Dantley knocked down 81.8% of his career tries also managed to tie up Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 28 free-throws made in a single game.
From Utah, Dantley’s career path led to Detroit. In the mid-1980s, the Pistons felt that they could be a player away from making a more profound mark in the postseason and that a player like Adrian Dantley could be their guy. Although for the Pistons he wasn’t the ‘scoring machine’ he used to be for the Jazz, Dantley delivered - he stepped in whenever the team needed him as a ‘go-to-guy’ and carry the offensive load.
The Pistons finally reached the ‘promised land’ playing the Eastern Conference finals with the Boston Celtics in 1987 and the NBA finals vs. the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988. They lost both series closely - by 3-4.
It seemed that as one of that legendary team’s stars, Adrian Dantley would get another shot at a title in 1989. But midway through the 1988-89 season, the Pistons decided to make a move and traded the 33-year-old Dantley to the Dallas Mavericks for Isiah Thomas’ childhood friend, small forward Mark Aguirre.
The Pistons went on to win the 1989 and 1990 NBA Championship titles. Dantley went on to the Dallas Mavericks, where he appeared in a total of 76 games throughout the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons.
To this day, many players from the legendary Pistons team openly stood up in Dantley’s favor. Joe Dumars called Dantley ‘the best teammate he has ever played with’ and John Salley called him ‘mentor.’ Salley publicly acknowledged not only that A.D.’s role wasn’t disruptive for the team as it was later shown but quite the contrary - he was a vital part of the team and thus deserved to stay.
“In my career, I had the most fun in Detroit. And I was happy they won those championships.”
In the 1989 NBA Finals, the Detroit Pistons took on the 1987 & 1988 Champs, the L.A. Lakers. The Pistons took advantage of Byron Scott’s and Magic Johnson’s injuries and rolled to a comfortable 4-0 sweep of the Lakers.
Now, it can be assumed that since 33-year-old Dantley and not yet 29-year-old Aguirre was with the team that the outcome of that final series would be the same. Their statistical averages from the 1988-89 season were pretty much the same except for the fact that Dantley was a much better free-throw shooter (Dantley 83.9% vs. Aguirre 73.8%) and quality foul shooting is an essential asset for any contending team.
From Texas, 35-year Dantley continued to Milwaukee, where he rounded up his 15-year NBA career in 1991. During his one and a half decades in the League, he posted an average of 24.3 points while shooting 54.0% from the floor, which puts him in 16th place of the most efficient players in NBA history.
Nowadays, Dantley, who was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame back in 2008, can also be seen working part-time as a crossing guard for Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools.