While Michael Jordan ended the 1980s as the best offensive player in the NBA, Adrian Dantley started that decade as the game’s most prolific scorer. In 2008, Dantley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for his outstanding 17-year career. Today, Dantley is making less than $15,000 a year working as a school crossing guard in Maryland. What happened?
Adrian Dantley’s hall of fame career
Adrian Dantley came out of the gates running his rookie season with the Buffalo Braves (now LA Clippers) in 1976-77. That first season he averaged 20.3 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. For his efforts, he earned Rookie of the Year honors. He was just getting started.
A couple of years later, after shifting west to Utah, Dantley took his game to the next level, showing a knack for drawing fouls and getting to the line, he averaged a league-leading 30.7 points per game for the Jazz in the 1980-81 season. Over a four-year span from 1980-84, he averaged 30.5 points per game, including the 1984 season, when he led the league again, scoring 30.6 points per game.
From 1985-91, Dantley played for Detroit, Dallas, and Milwaukee before retiring at age 35. For his career, he averaged 24.3 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game, and shot an impressive 81.8 percent from the free-throw line. Dantley made a name for himself at the charity stripe.
Dantley and the free-throw line
In his career, Dantley became legendary for his work on the free-throw line. It started the moment the official delivered the ball to him.
Dantley followed the same pre-shot routine every time he stepped to the line. The ritual included four two-handed dribbles, one quick spin, then a second more protracted spin where he reached over the top of the ball, before quickly spinning it in his hand. Then the release.
More often than not, Dantley converted. He led the NBA five times during his career in free throws made in a season. In the 1983-84 season when he led the league in scoring, Dantley made 813 free throws that season (more than 10 per game). And he tied Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record by hitting 28 foul shots against the Houston Rockets in one contest. He finished that game with 46 points.
As odd as it sounds, Adrian Dantley probably never makes it into the Basketball Hall of Fame if he’s not as proficient from the line.
Adrian Dantley’s life after basketball
After Dantley retired, he stayed close to the game for almost a decade working as an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets. Since then, he’s returned to his roots in Maryland where he’s involved with the local schools.
Some nights he can be found working as a ref for local school games. On school days, he hangs out on a street corner not far from his house, working as a crossing guard a couple of hours a day at a nearby middle school and elementary school in Silver Spring.
The six-time All-Star isn’t doing it for the money. He makes $14,685 per year, according to Montgomery County civil service records. He’s doing it for a couple of reasons—medical benefits, and it provides him with a chance to work with the youth and pay it forward.
The small forward was notoriously cheap throughout his lengthy NBA career. All those frugal habits allowed him to purchase his $1.1 million home in 1990, and then pay it off six years later. And because the NBA doesn’t provide insurance to its former players, Dantley decided to take the job with the schools and work a few hours a week and receive full insurance benefits.
Ultimately, he’s doing it because he grew up in the area and feels connected to the people. This is his way of giving back to a community that has given him so much and supported him his entire life, much less his career.
Adrian Dantley’s story is a refreshing one. In a day and age where you hear how athletes have made millions only to lose it all, it’s nice to know someone made millions, saved it, and is now living a moderate lifestyle while doing something good in his community.