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Utah Jazz: Dantley to be honored by basketball Hall of Fame

Adrian Dantley will be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Adrian Dantley will be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Deseret Morning News Archives

Four days less than a year ago today, on April 11, 2007, the Utah Jazz finally retired Adrian Dantley's number in EnergySolutions Arena.

It may very well have been the key for what will happen in San Antonio today.

Dantley will finally be named as an inductee for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame at ceremonies in San Antonio in conjunction with the NCAA championship game tonight, according to the Rocky Mountain News and Chris Tomasson on Sunday night.

Dantley, an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets, missed Sunday's Nuggets game at Seattle to fly to San Antonio after receiving a call from the Hall of Fame.

Late Sunday night, Dantley confirmed in a phone call to the Deseret Morning News that he has indeed made the grade. "Finally got in. Feel pretty good," he said from San Antonio, where he'd spent the day talking with coaches and other Hall of Fame inductees who will be announced today.

Dantley said the call from the Hall of Fame came to him on Thursday afternoon, but he didn't get the message until that night. He found out from a Denver coach, who said something he thought sounded funny that gave him a clue that he'd made it.

Then he looked at his phone, which had been turned off. "I had about 16 messages on my phone. so they were all trying to get in touch with me."

Tomasson's story quoted Denver coach George Karl as saying Dantley didn't want to take the call because he feared he'd been rejected again. He was a finalist seven times in the last eight years but always before got the call saying he hadn't been chosen.

Dantley told the DMN, "Oh, it's a relief" to finally be selected and now that he's in, he said he has just two more goals in life n he'd like to live to be 100 and someday become an NBA head coach or general manager.

"It's long, long, long overdue. It's an absolute disgrace that he's had to wait this long. It's terrible. I just think it's a disgrace that it didn't happen long before," said Tom Nissalke, who was Jazz coach when then-general manager Frank Layden traded Spencer Haywood to Los Angeles for Dantley in September 1979, just a few months after the Jazz moved to Salt Lake City and before they played their first game in the old Salt Palace.

"I'm ecstatic," Nissalke said after hearing the news that Dantley will officially be a Hall of Famer now.

Layden said much the same thing. "It's long overdue and well-deserved."

Nissalke said last April 11 likely had influence on today.

"I think probably getting his number retired finally here may have had something (to do with it)," he said.

"That certainly has to be given some thought," said Layden. "I think we dragged our feet on that. I think he should have had his number retired certainly sooner, but nevertheless, it was done, and it was a great occasion, and that should have put the icing on the cake."

Dantley said the Jazz number retirement may have had something to say about whether he got in. " Yeah, I guess, when you think about it n I'm looking at this list of all these people in the Hall of Fame, there's not one person on this list who is in the Hall of Fame don't have their jersey retired.," he said.

Like Nissalke, Layden didn't consider the long non-retirement of Dantley's number here to be a valid reason to keep him out of he national hall. "I don't know how anybody would hold that against him if he didn't get it done, but I think it was, yeah," he said.

Layden and Nissalke had dinner together Saturday and were talking about Dantley's chances. "I said, 'I think if A.D. had never played professional basketball, he should have made the Hall of Fame just on his high school and college career alone,'" said Layden, who succeeded Nissalke as Jazz coach in 1981 and was on the bench the rest of Dantley's career in Utah, which lasted until Layden traded him following the 1986 season for Kelly Tripucka and Kent Benson.

"He was a terrific college player. He was an Olympian. A gold medal winner," said Layden, who was at odds with Dantley when he traded him away but made up with him long ago.

"He's in, and we're happy for that. Another Jazz player is in there, and it won't be too long I think we should have a couple more (John Stockton and Karl Malone) and then (Jazz coach) Jerry Sloan should be in there.

"It's great news, and I couldn't be happier," said Layden.

Nissalke agreed that Dantley's prep and collegiate careers alone were stellar enough to have put him in the Hall of Fame, even if he'd never played in the NBA. "He was one of the greatest high school players in the country, and he was one of the greatest college players."

Karl was asked why he thought Dantley, who won scoring titles with Utah in 1980-81 and 1983-84, kept coming up short.

Dantley had an outstanding career at DeMatha Catholic, a nationally known program in Maryland that was 52-7 as Dantley earned All-American honors. He was a two-time collegiate All-American at Notre Dame before playing on the gold-medal-winning 1976 U.S. Olympic team and being drafted No. 6 by the old Buffalo Braves, for whom he was NBA rookie of the year.

He was also a six-time NBA All-Star, was NBA Comeback Player of the Year in 1984 and second-team All-NBA in 1981 and '84 with the Jazz.

The actual enshrinement for the Hall's class of 2008 n including Dantley n will be Sept. 4-6 in Springfield, Mass.