One of the most unstoppable post players in the history of basketball stood a mere 6’5″ on a good day… in an extra thick pair of high knee socks.
That truth seemed like a doubtful assertion back in the 1970s when Adrian Dantley was routinely told time and again that he was too short to keep playing in the post. Or that he was too heavy and chunky to be any good in college, let alone the pros. And, yet, Dantley proved the naysayers wrong his entire career.
During his final two seasons at Notre Dame, AD dropped a shade under 30 points a night to go along with 10 rebounds and 56% shooting from the field. As his professional career unfolded, it turned out that Dantley’s rebounding would diminish but his scoring and, more remarkably, his FG% would not take a hit.
Despite winning Rookie of the Year in 1977, Dantley bounced from Buffalo to Indiana to the Lakers during his first three NBA seasons. Finally, he landed with the Utah Jazz for the 1979-80 season and fully unleashed his devastation upon the NBA.
From 1980 to 1986, Dantley averaged 29.6 points a night. His FG% remained at an absurdly high 56% the whole time. He rarely dunked and yet he maintained that percentage on a series of shots around the rim. He’d have remarkable control of his body no matter how much pounding or twirling he’d do in the paint. And heaven help you, if you wound up fouling Dantley. He’d still probably make the shot thanks to his stocky strength and with his 80+ percent shooting from the foul line you were just giving him free points.
As often happens, though, a player’s most prodigious statistical seasons don’t coincide with his most successful seasons from a team perspective. The Jazz only made the playoff three times during these seasons, but managed to win two playoff series.
However, a trade to Detroit for the 1986-87 season gave Dantley a chance to be on a true contender. His scoring average dipped to 20 points a night, but with the Pistons having Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson, no one man needed to take a massive offensive load.
In 1987, the Pistons came within a mere three points of making the NBA Finals, but fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 117 to 114. The next season Detroit finally downed Boston by suffered a gut-wrenching Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Leading 3-games-to-2, Detroit lost Game 6 by one point and then lost Game 7 by three points.
Unfortunately for Dantley he’d be traded midway through the 1989 season to Dallas in exchange for Mark Aguirre. The Pistons new high-scoring 1980s forward would finally capture two titles, while Dantley’s career wound down on mediocre losing teams. Sadly, that’s the way basketball goes sometimes.
One man’s lucky break is another’s bad misfortune. Still, Dantley’s career was a marvel. What he did control, he controlled with an ability rarely seen. And he did it with fantastic style: gorgeous knee-high socks, awesome chops on his face, and a great corkscrew free throw shot.
Seasons Played: 1977 – 1990
Rookie of the Year (1977)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1981, 1984)
6x All-Star (1980-’82, 1984-’86)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1977)
NBA - 955 Games
24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, 54.0% FG, 81.8% FT
2x PPG Leader (1981, 1984)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1977 – 1990)
3rd Points, 6th PPG
4th FGs Made, 13th FG%
2nd FTs Made, 27th FT%
30th Assists, 31st Rebounds
9th Games Played, 6th Minutes Played