Milwaukee Bucks: Adrian Dantley’s 13-game tenure

BOSTON, MA - 1988: (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - 1988: (Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images) /

One of the NBA’s all-time great scorers finished his career with just a 13-game tenure with the Milwaukee Bucks, which came about through bizarre circumstances.

At the end of an illustrious career that saw him star for the Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons, Adrian Dantley joined the Milwaukee Bucks in 1991 with hopes of a suitably auspicious finale to a Hall of Fame career.

With the playoffs rapidly approaching, the Bucks were looking to put the finishing touches on what would conclude as a 48-24 regular season when disaster struck.

Dale Ellis, a go-to scorer who was acquired in exchange for Ricky Pierce, suffered a herniated disk in a March matchup with the Chicago Bulls, leaving Del Harris’ team in need of an added offensive punch down the stretch and moving into the postseason.

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Dantley presented as a possible solution, but not one without more than his fair share of complications.

Years removed from his prime as a six-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion, Dantley had spent his previous two seasons playing with the Dallas Mavericks, and suffering major injuries in the process.

Most recently, Dantley’s 1990 season had come to an end after 45 games due to a broken leg. From there, Dantley’s career took a turn that many would have anticipated for a player returning from such a significant injury at 34 years old, yet from the player’s perspective there were larger, potentially more sinister forces at work.

Having opted to enter free agency in the hopes of earning one last lucrative deal, Dantley ended up without a deal when the new season began, and was forced to sit on the sidelines all the way through to signing with the Bucks in April.

By that time an incredibly outspoken individual in the NBA, an article in the Chicago Tribune after he came to terms with the Bucks even suggested Dantley had been blackballed. Speaking on the subject himself, the former Notre Dame man said:

"“I knew I was better than a lot of players, but sometimes it works that way. That’s the point we got to. I told my lawyer to say I’d take a step down. Where did I rank between sixth and ninth on teams? It wasn’t even close, but there were a lot of reasons.”"

Continuing on that same theme, Dantley relived just how close he came to a deal on multiple occasions before it would all fall apart.

"“We’d be almost there and bam, something else would happen. Maybe a trade or the money. I can’t pinpoint one particular thing. It didn’t make sense to me and it still doesn’t, but I have no control over the teams. It did get frustrating, but I never got down.”"

All of that ultimately led to the Bucks extending an NBA lifeline to Dantley, yet more than any kind of sympathy for his situation, they needed him to perform.

Speaking to the L.A. Times, coach Del Harris noted:

"“We feel extremely fortunate that on such short notice we are in a position to acquire such a fierce competitor as Adrian Dantley. I’ve talked with several of our key players and they all have a great deal of respect for his ability and determination.”"

For his part, Dantley insisted he never stopped working hard and, although there would be a period of adjustment with a new team, that he’d be able to prove himself once again with the Bucks.

Unfortunately, once the veteran took to the court in competitive action again, that quickly proved not to be the case.

Dantley would appear in 13 games between the regular season and playoffs, remarkably failing to score on three occasions, which was also how many times he managed to score a double digit tally for Milwaukee.

With a total of just 62 points, Dantley’s Bucks average of 5.7 points per game was jarring from a player who’d never previously averaged under 14 points per game for a single season, and did nothing to prevent the Bucks from getting swept in three games in the first round against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Upon signing for Milwaukee, Dantley told the Chicago Tribune:

"“I feel I’ve got my foot in the door again. I know I’m going to be in the NBA next year, and whoever gets me is going to be very happy they got me.”"

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As it turned out, Dantley would never play in the NBA again beyond the 1990-91 season. Upon retiring, Dantley’s NBA legacy was more than secure, with a strange, brief and uninspiring spell with the Bucks as nothing other than the most minor of footnotes.