Behold the Chuckster. He is one of the greatest athletes of our time, and happens to have a wonderful personality wrapped up in a stocky (some would say corpulent) frame that just lends itself to televised basketball (whether on the court or behind the desk).
Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog loves Charles Barkley. I just want to make that clear. Players like him make the NBA fun, and he'd be driving the bus if the all-NBA personality team hit the road. (J.R. Rider, in the background would be yelling "I got shotgun, fuckers!")
I firmly believe that if Sir Chuckles was here today, helping me write my blog, I could ask him, "Captain Charles, king of the stouts, lord of the boards, were you better than Adrian Dantley?"
Barkley would look at me, cock his head to the side a little and say, "Jimmy V, I'm better than just about everybody. Shit, I fought Shaq. But Adrian Dantley, well, that old shit gives me a run for my money."
Yes, I said it. Barkley and Dantley had very similar scoring careers. Dantley, despite being a low-post scorer, did not play power forward like Charles, so his rebounding totals are nowhere near as astounding (though he did average 9.6 once, which ain't bad). Still, observe:
Chuckster scoring: 23,757 points, 22.1 points per game, best year: 28.3 ppg, .541;
Dantley scoring: 23,177 points, 24.3 points per game, best year: 30.7 ppg (twice) .540.
That's pretty damn good on Dantley's part. Detractors scoring is the only thing Dantley ever did, but you know what? Who gives a damn? He averaged 30 points a game for three seasons straight (actually four, but he was injured). He was an absolutely lethal small forward who stood only 6-5 and could lead the league in scoring by playing in the post. That's incredible! Nobody can do that anymore (and I don't think anybody could before) except for one Charles Barkley. There's no one else. Period.
Adrian Dantley has been eligible to join the Basketball Hall of Fame six times. Each time, he was passed over. It's a shame, considering all that he's done for the sport of basketball.
Dantley is the best player ever to come out of notorious DeMatha High School, where he was coached by the legendary Morgan Wooten. (Wooten's DeMatha team ended Lew Alcindor's unbelievable 77-game high school winning streak.)
He went straight to Notre Dame and promptly became one of the best players in NCAA history. As a freshman, he singlehandedly stopped the freight train that was the 1973 UCLA Bruins, who at the time were on an 88 game winning streak. That team featured Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes, and Dave Meyer, and was coached by John Wooden.
Figuring it would be hard to out-do himself after that win, Dantley decided to do something that's not very easy in a 40 minute game: average 30 points. He did that, averaging 30.4, and averaged 28.6 as a senior, grabbing 10.2 and 10.1 rebounds per game, respectively. Dantley was also the leading scorer on the US Olympic team that took home the gold medal in 1976 in Montreal.
As you can see, Adrian achieved quite a level of success in college. Unfortunately, his graduation meant that NBA GMs could get their hands on him, and he was soon a Buffalo Brave.
Adrian did win rookie of the year, but his Braves tenure would begin a long road of misfortune that would see many heartbreaking transactions and crappy teammates.
Despite winning ROY, Dantley was immediately traded to Indianapolis, where he would average 26.5 and 9.4. Indianapolis, seeing they had a good thing, immediately traded him to the Lakers. The Lakers team Dantley joined was highly skilled but unsuccessful; everyone stood and watched while Kareem shot skyhooks. Dantley, who is unselfish, was limited to 29.6 minutes a game, and scored under 20 ppg, which was incredible, because he would average 28 the next season.
The Lakers got rid of Dantley and he ended up on a Utah Jazz team that was miserable. The starting lineup was Dantley, Pete Maravich (only played 17 games), Terry Furlow, Ron Boone, and Allan Bristow. Moves to make the team better included trades for Darrell Griffith, Ben Boquette, Wayne Cooper, and Ricky Green, who all left something to be desired.
It took five years of Adrian carrying the team on his back and making the playoffs before he got help. By 1986, the team had Malone, Stockton, and Eaton, and looked like they were capable of doing something really special. (Dantley, by the way, was averaging 29.8 ppg to Malone's 14.9.) The Jazz decided to do what most teams with Adrian Dantley would do when he was propelling them to greatness. They were like, hey, let's trade him.
Dantley went to the Pistons, where he finally saw some good teammates. He led the team in scoring every year he was there, and was a participant in one of the most heart-breaking Finals in history in 1988 when the Pistons lost to the LA Lakers in seven games. His Detroit team was on the precipice of a championship and just when they were ready to win one...they traded Dantley. To Dallas. Arguably the worst franchise in the league at that time.
Dantley tried hard and scored a lot of points but couldn't help a woeful team. He ended his career on a sour note, having never won a chip despite being within one game (closer than Karl Malone ever got).
Here's what his peers had to say about him:
"I was a quiet guy from Louisiana, and A.D. showed me the ropes and reassured me, told me that I didn't have to change my personality to get along in the NBA. That's what I try to tell Grant Hill. Adrian was my idol. He was my guy on the team." Joe Dumars, HOF
"I remember how he would get himself prepared to play; I took a lot of that myself. And his knowledge of the game. He could tell me about every player I was going to play. That helped a young guy like me." -Karl Malone
"In a tough first year, Adrian was the shining light. He gives us great hope for the future." Frankl Layden, Jazz coach, 1980
"Even though people have said he's too slow, too fat, too small and too offensive minded, he is now the most effective point producer in the game. He shoots field goals at a .582 clip. George Gervin and Larry Bird [HOF] can score, sure, but they take 10 more shots a game." -Spectrum
"Adrian Dantley: the man who couldn't be stopped. Go ahead and name a time. One time. A 6-foot-5 forward, a sort of dinosaur of his age (these days 6-5 guards are called too short) and nobody could stop him. Least of all himself. More than any player in the history of the Jazz franchise, he brought professionalism to the arena. When they tipped it up, he was there to play." -Lee Benson
"How do you stop Adrian Dantley? Get a gun." Dallas coach Dick Motta, after a loss
"You couldn't ask for an easier guy to coach" -Jazz coach Tom Nissalke
"We love him. He's our piranha. He'll eat you alive. He would score in a raging storm at sea." -Frank Layden
"He's one of the most unselfish players I've ver seen" -teammate Darrell Griffith
"He was my favorite player to watch" -Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
"I've always said the only player who could score regularly from that position (close to the basket in an NBA traffic jam) were Kareem and myself. Now there are three. I can't figure out how a 6-foot-5 inches guy can score inside like that. Elgin Baylor didn't do that. Elgin had great hands. He'd score off the break, or drive. But he'd never do like Dantley, stay inside and grab balls, go up two or three times and score. That's incredible, especially with all those leapers around. Scoring under the basket, if someone's guarding you, that's gotta be the toughest shot in basketball." -Wilt Chamberlin
Despite all his accolades, accomplishments, and, above all, points scored, Adrian continues to languish outside the Hall. I don't know why. He is one of the best college and NBA players to ever shoot the ball, and he played with fundamentals, heart, and humility, values that all the old bastards running the league claim to extoll.
The thing is, Dantley was never a personality, never a guy like Barkley. Hell, he actually enjoyed playing in Salt Lake City. Despite everything the media complains about with Barkley-type players, they are the ones who get the headlines. Did Barkley win a championship? No. But I can turn on the TV right now and see his face. That's certainly a good thing; he makes basketball a lot more entertaining than Dick Enberg.
The Hall of Fame is about more than just upstaging Dick Enberg, though. It's about playing and asserting one's position as an all-time great.
Adrian Dantley was an all-time great, who was unfortunately moved each time he reached the cusp of achieving what he sought; the championship. I don't think he really cares, though, because he's too good to be sour. He knows what he did, and that's play hard, not complain, and show his stuff for 12 years in which fans were lucky enough to see him. We salute you, Adrian.
As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org