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Jazz acknowledge Dantley's greatness

Frank Layden doesn't skip a beat when reeling off the accomplishments of Hall of Fame nominee Adrian Dantley. He knows most all there is to know about A.D.

One thing the Utah Jazz president doesn't know, however, is if the franchise will ever retire Dantley's uniform number."I think the Utah Jazz have a lot of criteria for retiring a number, and I think that Adrian Dantley met all of them as a player," Layden said. "I'm not so sure he met other criteria such as being in line with all of the philosophies and policies of the Jazz."

Dantley, who joins 10 others, including former Boston Celtics great Larry Bird as nominees for induction into the Hall of Fame this summer, played seven of his 15 NBA seasons in Utah. During his tenure with the Jazz (1979-86), he was a six-time all-star and two-time league scoring champion.

Dantley, a 6-foot-5 forward with inside skills, also received NBA Comeback Player of the Year honors in 1984 after missing 60 games the year before because of torn ligaments in his right wrist.

His achievements that season landed Utah its first Midwest Division championship and a berth in the 1984 NBA playoffs. The Jazz eliminated Denver in the first round but fell to Phoenix in a hard-fought Western Conference semifinal series.

When training camp opened the next fall, Dantley was a no-show. He wanted a new contract and wound up exchanging words with Layden, who doubled as coach and general manager, in the media. Dantley eventually got what he wanted and played 55 games that season. His relationship with Layden, however, was never the same. A heated exchange the following season led to Dantley being sent home from Phoenix. The infamous 30 pieces of silver fine followed and eventually an offseason trade to Detroit.

"When he held out it was a very tough time for this franchise and a very unfortunate thing," Layden said. "And so I think that has a lot to do with why his number is not retired.

"Does time heal those wounds? Do you say let bygones be bygones? Do you get on with it? I'm not going to say certainly one way or the other," Layden added. "If, in fact, he gets an opportunity to get his jersey retired - fine. I would not vote against it. I would not stand in his way. Dantley and I have made our peace."

The two shook hands and embraced in 1994 at the retirement party of longtime Jazz employee Helen Daynes.

At the time, Dantley hoped any hard feelings were gone.

"That's history now," he said. "It doesn't bother me. Maybe I would have done some things differently. You always learn from controversy and I learned from that, and Frank said he learned from it."

And four years later, Dantley hopes past troubles have been put aside for good.

"I don't even think about it," he said. "I've forgotten all about it. That's part of the business."

A poll of Deseret News readers, conducted over the Internet last month, indicate 2-1 support for the Jazz to bring Dantley back to the fold by retiring his No. 4.

"Maybe one day it will happen. Time will tell," said Dantley, who resides in the Washington, D.C., area and refers to himself as a married, full-time father of three children. "It would be special for me, but that's up to Jazz management."

Dantley said the overwhelming fan endorsement means a lot.

"I think Jazz fans knew I played hard and played the best I could," he said. "I had a good career in Utah."

Since leaving Salt Lake City, the player who scored 13,635 points for an average of 29.4 over 461 games in a Jazz uniform has been bypassed, while Utah has set aside the jersey numbers of "Pistol" Pete Maravich Darrell Griffith and Mark Eaton , as well as No. 1 in a tribute to Layden.

"That's kind of a political thing more than anything else. The powers that be are the ones who make that decision and I'm not going to get in the middle of that," Eaton said. "A.D. was a great player. He carried the Jazz for a long time and he had a great NBA career. Statistically, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I had a great time playing with him. He provided a lot of good nights entertainment for Jazz fans."

Karl Malone agrees.

"He should be in the Hall of Fame without a doubt. He was a great player and he taught me a lot of things. He taught me how important it is to train in the summertime. He always prepared himself, which is something I learned from him," Malone said. "I think he should have his (Jazz) jersey retired. I don't make those decisions, but if it were up to me they'd retire his number."

However, owner Larry H. Miller said Jazz management has never discussed such a tribute to Dantley. Both he and Layden said the subject has never been broached, due in large part to the fact Dantley also played for six other NBA teams.

"It's something we've never really considered and maybe we should. Maybe this is a heads-up for us to at least look at it, really consider it and air it out," said Miller. "I can't say it will never happen because you look at history and his numbers were pretty dog-gone good."

Miller thinks the passing of time has curbed any hard feelings, which he said were created by some real insubordination problems that existed between the Jazz and Dantley.

"Along the way there were some difficult situations. But Frank never criticizes Adrian and I know has wished him well in different situations since he's been with the Jazz," Miller said. "There's never been any kind of a backdoor conspiracy. No `Let's not talk about him.' No `Let's not honor him in any way.' That's never happened. Nor has he been blackballed or something."

Miller and Layden readily acknowledge that Dantley brought credibility to the franchise in its early years in Utah.

Layden, who confirmed a recent New York Daily News report that said Dantley encouraged then-rookie Malone not to dive after loose balls because it could shorten his career, won't spearhead a drive to retire the number, even though the former Jazz coach thinks it should happen, especially if Dant-ley is inducted into the Hall of Fame.

"I think we'd look very foolish if we didn't," said Layden, who expects Dantley to earn the accolade on the first ballot. "It would look too vindictive and would be too mean. I don't think anyone deserves that."

Layden said one of the problems in sports today is that there is too much anger and too many grudges held. He holds out hope for a softer, more kind and understanding future - an approach he has taken toward Dantley.

"I have nothing against Dantley. I admire the guy. He was a great player, one of the greatest players ever to play the game. I just think life is too short to carry on hard feelings," Layden said. "I've made my peace with him and you know what? I think we should just move on with it. I can't think of anybody, other than Peter Vecsey (New York sports writer), that I dislike in basketball. I mean, I understand (Dennis) Rodman. I don't want him on our team and I don't agree with what he does, but I don't dislike him or hate him."

It remains to be seen, however, whether the olive branch to Dantley includes number retirement.

"I'll have to look at it," Miller said. "And I think we'd want to give fair consideration to it."

*****

Additional Information

Worthy of number retirement?

Despite impressive credentials, Hall of Fame nominee Adrian Dantley has yet to join Pete Maravich, Frank Layden, Darrell Griffith and Mark Eaton with number-retirement recognition from the Utah Jazz.

#4 ADRIAN DANTLEY

- JAZZ YEARS: 1979-86.

- JAZZ STATS: Scored 13,635 points in 461 games for an average of 29.4 per game. Entering the 1997-98 NBA season, Dant-ley ranked in the top 10 of 10 Jazz statistical categories, including third in points scored and fifth in both assists (1,702) and rebounds (2,845).

- NBA HONORS WITH JAZZ: Six-time All-Star (1980-82, 84-86); scoring champion (1981, 1984); Comeback Player of the Year (1984).

Hall of Fame resume

- HIGH SCHOOL: Scholastic All-America at national power DeMatha (Md.)

Catholic High School.

- COLLEGE: Averaged 25.8 points over three seasons to finish as the second-leading scorer (2,223) in Notre Dame history. Led the Irish to a 68-19 record and was named National Player of the Year after his junior season. A two-time first-team Sporting News All-American.

- OLYMPICS: Led the USA to the gold medal in 1976 by averaging a record 19.3 points per game.

- NBA: Won the Rookie of the Year award while playing for the Buffalo Braves. In all but the final three seasons of his 15-year NBA career, Dantley averaged 20 points or better. Entered the 1997-98 season as the 14th leading scorer in league history with 23,177 career points; fifth in free throws made (6,832) and seventh in free throws attempted (8,351). Played in 955 regular-season games during stints with Buffalo, Indiana, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah, Detroit, Dallas and Milwaukee.