Editor’s Note: this article originally appeared April 5, 2011 at Nepean Funk
Bob Dandridge (1970 – 1982)
Regular Season: 18.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 1.3 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 48.4% FG, 78% FT
Playoffs: 20.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.2 SPG, 0.7 BPG, 48% FG, 76.1% FT
Accolades: 2nd Team All-NBA (1979), 1st Team All-Defensive (1979), 1st Team All-Rookie (1970), 4 ASGs (1973, 1975-76, 1979), 2 NBA Championships (1971, 1978)
Some of Hall of Fame snubs are well-known travesties or controversies, but others are merely swept under the rug and forgotten. Bob Dandridge is a player who definitely falls into the second category as he was one of the best small forwards of the 1970s. It’s understandable that people years removed from Dandridge’s heyday don’t appreciate his game, but even during his prime he wasn’t quite recognized making only one All-NBA and one All-Defensive team, both in 1979 at the tail end of his career. Perhaps they were recognition that Bob “the Greyhound” had been unjustly overlooked his entire career despite his efficient offense and stifling defense.
Born in Richmond, Virginia, Dandridge would attend Norfolk State University for his collegiate basketball career. During his 3 varsity seasons, Dandridge would dramatically increase his scoring average from 17.4 to 25.5 to 32.3 all while shooting a remarkable 57.8% from the field. He also gobbled up 13 rpg for his college career. Despite such breathtaking numbers, Dandridge fell to the 4th Round of the 1969 NBA Draft where the Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the 45th overall pick. The Bucks also commanded the #1 overall pick in that same draft thanks to their league-worst 27 wins in 1969, which was also their inaugural season. They naturally selected Lew Alcindor (a.k.a. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
Loaded with two outstanding rookies, the Bucks surged to a 56-26 record during the regular season and in the Eastern Conference Finals lost in 5 games to the eventual champs, the New York Knicks. In the 1970 offseason, Milwaukee pulled off a dramatic trade sending starting PG Flynn Robinson to the Cincinnati Royals for the disgruntled Oscar Robertson. Now with a triumvirate for the ages, Milwaukee promptly responded by winning 66 games in 1971 and demolishing the Warriors, Lakers and Bullets on their way to a 12-2 postseason record and the championship.
The Bucks would finish with 63, 60 and 59 wins over the next three seasons and come within a game of winning another championship in 1974. In a classic 7-game series, they were pitted against the Boston Celtics, who featured their own trio of legends who played the same positions as Milwaukee’s in John Havlicek, Dave Cowens and Jo Jo White. Robertson would retire that offseason, leaving Jabbar and Dandridge to carry the mantle. Surprisingly, the Bucks collapsed to just 38 wins and missed out on the playoffs entirely. By this point, Jabbar had made it well known he wanted out of the Midwest and he was shipped to Los Angeles in June of 1975. Dandridge now stood alone in Milwaukee.
Despite featuring a lesser roster, Milwaukee scrapped its way to 38 wins again, but this time made the playoffs where they lost 2-1 against Detroit in the 1st Round. The feel-good story quickly ran its course though as the Bucks finished 1977 with a mere 30 wins. Despite that awful final season, Dandridge’s 8 year tenure in Wisconsin was marked by consistent excellence. The Bucks made the playoffs 6 times and the Finals twice. Although overshadowed by Robertson and Jabbar, Dandridge made three all-star teams in 1973, ’75 and ’76, starting in the bicentennial game.
Curiously, though, Dandridge was never selected to an All-NBA or All-Defensive Team despite being the best two-way player in the league at his position. Throwing out his rookie year, you could mark Dandridge down for about 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals all while shooting close to 50% from the field and 80% from the line. More importantly, Dandridge was a fierce competitor whose work ethic and tireless hustling wore off on teammates. These last qualities would prove excellent for Dandridge’s next NBA stop, as the 29-year old free agent contemplated his future…
Signing with Washington Bullets in the summer of 1978, Dandridge found himself on a veteran team that had been to the playoffs every year since 1969 and had made the Finals twice behind the frontcourt duo of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. However, they had failed to win a single game upon reaching the Finals. In 1971, Dandridge’s Bucks had swept the Bullets and in 1975, the upstart Warriors had surprised the world by sending the 60-win Bullets home with a sweeping demolition. The Bullets were in desperate need for Dandridge’s talents.
Wes Unseld was a monster defender and gobbled up rebounds like a Hungry Hungry Hippo. To boot, he was perhaps the greatest outlet passer to ever play which suited Dandridge just fine since Bobby the Greyhound was always bolting for the break upon an opponent’s missed shot. Unseld, however, was less than refined on the offensive end. His frontcourt mate, Elvin Hayes, may have been nicknamed the Big E and produced big numbers, but in big moments he wilted routinely. Dandridge was a player who never backed down and routinely played better when the pressure ratcheted up.
Dandridge’s acquisition initially appeared innocuous as Washington battled injuries and finished with a 44-38 record which was four games worse than the previous season. As the playoffs started, Washington quickly showed its new mettle by sweeping the Hawks in 2 games and then facing the San Antonio Spurs. Although best known for George Gervin’s exploits, the Spurs also featured high-scoring forward Larry Kenon who averaged 20.6 points and 9.5 rebounds on 49% FG and 85% FT for the ’78 season. Dandridge was tasked with shutting Kenon down and was largely successful as Sports Illustrated noted at the time:
… a hale Dandridge contributed 16 [points] and harassed Spur All-Star Larry Kenon into 4-for-16 shooting. Though the San Antonio Iceman, Gervin, had again performed remarkably—46 points—a pattern had been set. Dandridge would fly downcourt on fast breaks, finesse his way open for soft onehanders or feeds to teammates, and positively humiliate Kenon…
Kenon’s scoring average fell to 17.7 points but more importantly his percentages took a dive to 44.7% FG and 73.7% FT and the Bullets moved on in 6 games to face the 76ers.
Philadelphia was a front-running team of the highest order featuring me-first characters in Lloyd Free, Daryl Dawkins and, especially, George McGinnis. The Bullets although considered underdogs quickly showed their bite and leapt out to a 3-1 series lead despite missing center Wes Unseld for a couple of games with a sprained ankle. Dandridge, of course was his usual self, wreaking havoc for the opposition on both sides of the court, such as in the first half of Game 3, where “Dandridge had burned [Julius] Erving for 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting, while the good Doctor was 1-for-6, [Doug] Collins and McGinnis 1-for-5 each and Lloyd Free 1-for-9.” Washington moved on in 6 games to face the Seattle SuperSonics for the championship.
The Sonics were no slouch with players like Gus Williams, “Downtown” Freddie Brown, Dennis Johnson, Jack Sikma and Paul Silas. The series was a slug fest that went the distance and saw Game 7 played in Seattle. Elvin Hayes in this playoff run had helped rejuvenate his image, particularly in the Philadelphia series, but in this deciding game he fouled out after only shooting 10 shots and scoring 12 points. Dandridge and company picked up the slack with a balanced scoring attack led by Bob’s 19 points. While on the defensive end, Dandridge along with Kevin Grevey and Charles Johnson harassed Dennis Johnson and Gus Williams into a horrendous 4-26 shooting performance that led to a Bullets victory and title. Dandridge, in typical fashion, was snubbed as Finals MVP in favor of sentimental favorite Wes Unseld.
The next season, 1979, at age 31 in his 10th campaign, Dandridge may very well have had his finest year. He totaled his 2nd highest scoring average (20.4), a career high in apg (4.7) and FT% (82.5) all while playing the fewest minutes since his rookie year. Atoning for the Finals MVP snub, Dandridge was selected to the All-Star Game for a fourth and final time while making the All-NBA 2nd Team and All-Defensive 1st Team. They would be his only All-NBA selections. The Bullets meanwhile improved to 54 wins and returned to the Finals after two 7-game series against Atlanta and San Antonio. Rematched against Seattle, Washington would fall in just 5 games. Dandridge, however, had his finest statistical postseason with 23 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists on 47% FG and 83% FT in 19 games. He also added to his big game reputation in the postseason as the Bullets rallied from a 3-1 series deficit against San Antonio. In Game 7, Dandridge hit a 15-footer with 8 seconds left that gave the Bullets a two-point victory.
As the 80s dawned, Dandridge faded. Injuries began to take their toll on Dandridge. After having played in at least 70 games in every season of his career, Bobby only played in 68 games in the 1980 and 1981 seasons combined. The Bullets without Dandridge in the 1980 playoffs were swept by Philly and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade in 1981 as Dandridge crumpled, Unseld creaked and the 34-year old Hayes struggled to carry the load by himself. That offseason saw Unseld retire, Hayes traded to Houston and Dandridge sign back with the Milwaukee Bucks. His homecoming lasted only 11 games before he was waived.
The Greyhound should be a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. He was the greatest two-way player at his position for a decade. In his 11 healthy seasons, his teams only missed the playoffs twice and had a winning percentage of 60%. He won two championships and was undeniably instrumental in both of them, especially in 1978 where he should have been the Finals MVP. He made two more appearances in the finals and could always be counted on to raise his already stellar play to greater heights in the postseason as his points, rebounds and assists all went up in the playoffs. Sadly, I think time has already passed his candidacy by.