Adrian Dantley was born in Washington, DC and began his ball-playing career at proverbial powerhouse DeMatha Catholic High School. No one thought at this point in his career that he would be much of a basketball player because of his 6’4” height and 245 pound weight. Friends and classmates even gave him the nickname of “Baby Huey” because of his size. When they should have realized that the defining attribute of Adrian was his work ethic. Stories ranging from practicing twice a day to having his own gym key are just mere tips of the iceberg when trying to grasp the dedication and focus possessed by “Baby Huey”. During his high school career at DeMatha, Adrian would use that work ethic to amass a record of 57 wins and only two defeats and would be honored as a high school All-American in 1972. His next stop was the University of Notre Dame.
There was no reason to stop achieving great things for Adrian and he continued to do so. While at Notre Dame, he averaged 25.8 points per game and was named Collegiate All American twice. He would enter the NBA in the 1976 draft after his junior year. Selected sixth overall by the Buffalo Braves, Dantley was about to put his mark on the small forward position at the highest level.
During his rookie year with the Braves Dantley was nothing short of spectacular. Dantley averaged 20.3 points per game, 7.6 rebounds, and nearly two assists. He was an instant offensive explosion and scored at an unbelievably efficient rate of 52% from the field. He also shot 582 free throws in that rookie season and made 81% from the charity stripe. With a breakout season, Adrian was named Rookie of the Year in 1977. This was merely a glimpse of what was to come…for the next 14 years!
Adrian continued his success in the NBA and only got better as the years went by. Before his fourth year in the league he was traded to the Utah Jazz. With the Jazz, Dantley would catapult his scoring averaged all the way to 28 points per game and was still grabbing better than seven boards every time he stepped on the floor. This type of exhibition were going to be the types of games Adrian was going to have for next seven years in a row. The following four years Adrian would average just above 30 points per game while squeezing approximately six rebounds, not to mention winning the scoring title twice! First in the 1980-81 season and again in the 1983-84 season.
The beauty of A.D.’s game was that he didn’t just have one dimension that he beat you with night in and night out, but rather his total mastery of the game’s intangibles. Adrian was one of the best at drawing his man up in the air with a perfectly timed head fake and was strong enough to finish the play and go to the line. Just as headily as he would draw his defender up in the air was how it seemed that he never took a bad shot. One of Dantley’s calling cards was how he always shot a high percentage from the field. A.D.’s career field goal percentage is a staggering 54%. You would think a guy with career averages of 24.3 points, 5.7 boards, and three assists would be a shoe in for the Hall of fame, right? With a NBA honors resume that reads All-NBA second team in 1981 and ’84, Rookie of the Year in 1977, Olympic gold medal in the 1976 games, NBA Comeback Player of the Year in 1984, and seven-time NBA All-Star in during the 1980, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85, and ’86 seasons it would appear to be a no-brainer concerning inducting Adrian Dantley into the Hall of Fame, but yet he keeps getting overlooked. This is where the controversy surrounding how great of a player A.D. lies.
The opposing arguments keeping A.D. out of the Hall of Fame stem from the fact that he played for seven teams during his 15-year stint in the league. Adrian was also evaded by the NBA championship during that span as well. The final attempt to persuade basketball fans from appreciating Dantley’s greatness was that he played during an era when there was an overabundance of small forwards that could score.
All of the aforementioned are completely legitimate arguments based upon fact, but the one thing that needs to be understood is that not a single one of them takes anything away from the player that Dantley was. He deserves to be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, case closed. Don’t believe me, just read the three paragraphs before this one!