Inspired by the re-release of the classic adidas Top Ten, we hooked up with one of the shoe’s original endorsers, Adrian Dantley, in his memoribilia-laden Silver Spring, MD home. Peep what the Hall of Famer had to say, and then read a little about the man.—Ed.
by Datwon Thomas / @Daydog
Adrian Dantley’s hands are frozen. So frozen that he can’t introduce himself properly. “I just got finished shoveling out there, man, my hands are super cold,” he states calmly while opening the heavy wooden door to his spacious abode in Silver Spring, MD. The biggest snowstorm of the new year has started to blanket the east coast and the 15-year vet and Hall of Fame scoring machine can’t even use his money makers.
His fork holders weren’t always cold, though. Dantley, a native of Washington, DC, had the hot hand as a youngster. “A court called St. Ann’s in Hyattsville, MD, is where I learned my game,” says the 6-5 Dantley. “I played all over, but that is where I learned the skills.”
Being the little man back then, soaking up big-game knowledge from the older cats prepared him for his time at one of the most storied high school basketball institutions in America, nearby DeMatha Catholic. Before long,
Dantley’s talents and hard work, combined with tutoring from legendary coach Morgan Wootten, had made him one of the top players in the country.
“I was considered the top junior in high school,” he recalls, “and I played against Phil Sellers who was a senior and considered the best player in America. I remember scoring 50 points, so…” As highly touted a high school prospect as they come, Dantley chose to stick with the storied, Catholic school route and chose Notre Dame as his college in which to ball out. “(Coach) Digger Phelps asked me to come out one day. I came, I saw the Golden Dome and said, I think I want to go here. And there was a spot for me to start right away.”
As a freshman, Dantley was able to contribute to one of the most talked about NCAA games of the century. With Notre Dame being ranked No. 2 at the beginning of the season and the unstoppable squad of UCLA, boasting an 88-game winning streak, coached by the great John Wooden and starring Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes, the stage was set for an ultimate showdown. “We broke their 88-game win streak! That was a great day.”
Notre Dame is also where Dantley started a tradition of wearing adidas, one he remembers as fondly as anything else about his career. “At Notre Dame, Digger had us in all-green adidas, which were pretty cool,” Dantley recalls. “I don’t think we were as concerned about style as guys are now, but I do remember we’d wear one pair of shoes in practice and keep another pair clean for games.”
A great college career led to a leading role on the Gold medal-winning ’76 Olympic team and then on to the NBA. Dantley was drafted No. 6 by a Buffalo Braves franchise caught in transition. He won the Rookie of the Year award with the Braves in ’77 and still got traded, bouncing to the Pacers and then Lakers before settling in with the Utah Jazz. Dantley went nuts on the scoring tip in Utah, leading the League in scoring twice (’81 and ’84) as a member of the Jazz.
As a high-profile, multi-year All-Star in Utah, Dantley was a perfect fit for adidas’ Top Ten team, the collection of top NBAers the brand with three stripes chose to rep its groundbreaking new shoe. Already an adi head, AD welcomed the increased partnership. “I always wore adidas, and I’m wearing ’em right now,” he laughs. “The Top Ten was a great shoe. Never had a sprained ankle or anything else in adidas, and it seemed like they lasted longer than other shoes.”
In ’86, Dantley and his kicks got moved to an elite Detroit Pistons team that boasted the likes of Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas and was just earning its rep as the “Bad Boys.”
Even amongst these greats, Dantley stood out again as the Pistons’ leading scorer. The team played an epic 1988 NBA Finals against the L.A. Lakers. They employed their tough tactics on the Showtime, Magic Johnson-led squad and were up 3-2 in the series before falling in seven games.
Midway through the next season, Dantley was moved again, this time to the Mavericks, before he ended his stellar playing career as a Milwaukee Buck in 1991.
Judging from his earthtone shaded home with vast ceilings and wide hallways, the basketball memorabilia within it doesn’t have a huge presence. He still has various plaques and trophies of distinction around, but he’s a settled man within his new retired life. After assistant coaching for the Denver Nuggets for eight years, Dantley became the head coach for a brief stint of 25 games in 2010. Coach Karl was battling cancer and Dantley took over, sans a certified NBA coaching contract. “Most guys tell me they wouldn’t have coached a team without one, but I did it. It was an experience I did from the heart.”
Going 15-10 and reaching the Playoffs with a Carmelo Anthony-led squad wasn’t enough for the vet to stick around the game on that level. He came back to Maryland and became a school crossing guard. “I enjoy being with the kids, they know me. I’ve been doing it for two years now, I didn’t want to sit around the house all day. Gives me something to do, just a little bit.”
But the game can never leave a guy like this, so now Adrian is working as a referee as well. And yes. as you might have guessed, he rocks the three stripes.