Dantley was ushered out of Detroit before he could win a title

adrian-dantley-detroit-pistons

In 2 1/2 seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Adrian Dantley (#45) was a dangerous scorer with his solid inside game and fade away jump shot.

This past Friday, Deadspin first reported that former Piston and NBA Hall of Famer Adrian Dantley now works as a $14,000 a year crossing guard at a middle school near his home in Silver Springs, Maryland.

The article quotes an unnamed Dantley associate who said the former NBA star “doesn’t need the money, doesn’t want to sit around, and doesn’t want to pay for health insurance.”

Although his present occupation is rather surprising since being fired following the 2010-2011 season after serving eight years as an assistant coach of the Denver Nuggets where he briefly was the acting head coach in 2010, Adrian Dantley has had more than one major surprise of his own.

The biggest surprise was that it took so many years for Dantley to finally be elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

Even though the two time scoring champion and six time All Star was the 9th all time leading scorer in NBA history when the retired in 1991, seventeen years would pass before he was inducted.

Despite a much traveled and stellar 15 year NBA career in which he played for seven different teams, the two time consensus Notre Dame All-American never tasted championship champagne, thanks partly to one of the most surprising and gutsy trades in NBA history.

On February 15, 1989 the Detroit Pistons announced that they had traded Dantley, the team’s top scorer the previous two seasons and the ’91 first round pick for Dallas Mavericks small forward Mark Aguirre, Isiah Thomas’s close friend from Chicago.

“AD”  - also known as “The Teacher” by his Piston teammates – had been one of the key reasons the Pistons had become a championship bound team after he was acquired from Utah in 1986 in exchange for Kelly Tripucka and Kent Benson.

With his patented head fake and quick first step, Dantley was a deadly low post scorer despite being an undersized forward at 6’ 5”.

During two full seasons in Detroit he averaged more than 20 points per game and helped the Pistons reach the NBA finals against the Los Angeles Lakers in 1988. In Game One, Dantley led the Pistons to a shocking victory when he scored 34 points which set the pace for a dogfight over the seven-game series that ended with a Laker championship following the “phantom call” on Bill Laimbeer in the closing minute of Game Six.

When the trade was announced, rumors swirled as to why Piston GM Jack McCloskey made the deal. He told Sports Illustrated that “For whatever reason our chemistry is not what it should be this season. I’m not saying Adrian was the reason, but we haven’t been the same team this year that we were last.”

It was also suggested that Piston coach Chuck Daly and Dantley were not on the same page, as Dantley was reportedly not happy about losing playing time to Dennis Rodman who had become one of the league’s best defenders and rebounders.

Others, especially Dantley, felt that point guard Isiah Thomas had a major role in engineering the trade under the theory that he wanted his childhood friend Mark Aguirre to have an opportunity to capture a championship ring, an accusation that Thomas and McCloskey have denied.

Joe Dumars was reportedly very saddened about the trade but remained silent. Later, Joe claimed that Dantley was the best teammate he ever played with. John Salley told Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, “How could they trade the Teacher? He was my mentor. A lot of the guys felt that way. I like Mark. He’s ok, but AD did a lot for us.”

A few weeks after the trade, Dantley and the Mavericks came to the Palace to face the Pistons. I was at the game and I will never forget seeing the players lined up for the opening tip and then watching Adrian Dantley make a point of walking up to Isiah Thomas and whispering in his ear.

Years later I had the opportunity to ask Dantley what he said to Thomas that night before tip-off.

His answer?

“‘I know you traded me, asshole.’ He never responded.”

And as for his thoughts of playing for the Pistons, Adrian Dantley gave me a more gracious answer.

“In my career I had the most fun in Detroit. And I was happy they won those championships.”

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About Bill Dow

Bill Dow has written numerous articles on Detroit sports history as a regular freelance contributor to the Detroit Free Press sports page, and some of his work has been published in Baseball Digest magazine. He also wrote the Afterword to the latest editions of George Plimpton’s book Paper Lion.