Adrian Dantley's been directing traffic for years. He just didn't have the title. (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
The last time most NBA fans saw or heard from Adrian Dantley, the legendary scoring forward and 2008 inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was crying foul over losing his job as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets because, he claims, he wouldn't switch seats on George Karl's bench. This sounded like a very odd reason for a man to lose a job — especially one who, just a season before, had served as Denver's interim head coach while Karl was undergoing cancer treatment. (Dantley held down the fort, going 13-12, but was a clear step down from Karl, as the Nuggets went from a Western Conference finalist in the summer of '09 to a first-round exit under his stewardship in '10.)
Whether it really was Musical Chairs that precipitated his ouster or something else entirely, it seems like we needn't worry too much about the employability of the man who scored the 25th most points in NBA history — as it turns out, he's gainfully employed in an industry that's got nothing to do with professional basketball. Since last fall, Dantley has apparently been working as a crossing guard outside Eastern Middle School in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Silver Spring, Md., where he makes just under $15,000 a year.
But unlike some other ex-pros who have fallen on hard times after the end of their days in the league, D.C. native Dantley — who starred for perennial DMV hoops power DeMatha Catholic in early 1970s — isn't scratching out morning and afternoon shifts shuttling kids through crosswalks because he's in dire straits. No ... he's in it for the benefits, man.
Writing at Deadspin, longtime Washington City Paper sportswriter and D.C. sports mainstay Dave McKenna has the (kind of amazing) story:
"He doesn't need the money," a Dantley associate tells me. The guard-forward was legendarily cheap during his long and fruitful NBA career, and he still lives nearby in a home he purchased in 1990 for $1.1 million, one that a former agent said "was virtually free and clear" of debt back in 1996.
"He's not going to just sit around," the associate continues, "and he just doesn't want to pay health insurance." Turns out that NBA veterans aren't provided health insurance by the league, not even all-timers like Dantley. Crossing guards in Montgomery County, however, are. [...]
On a recent morning I was sitting in a car at the intersection that Dantley guards, and just minutes before the first period bell was to ring, I saw him lunge in front of a running youngster, who was oblivious to everything but her own fear of tardiness, and keep the kid out of the path of a turning automobile. He went about this lifesaving task with all the effort he'd put into stopping Isaiah Thomas from driving to the basket or David Falk from touching a paycheck. It was as if the gods wanted me to know Dantley's not on anybody's dole.
McKenna details Dantley's lifelong financial austerity in the piece, using it as both a narrative device to frame some of the off-court battles the six-time All-Star had during his 15-year NBA career an as to repeatedly underline one key takeaway. The decision to get up with the dawn's early light, bundle up for D.C. cold and direct traffic was made not because Dantley was an Antoine Walker-style spendthrift who blew his fortune and desperately needs a paycheck, but rather because working as a crossing guard — which is, as McKenna notes, a part-time job in which employees "normally put in one hour a day, but [...] receive the same insurance and benefits package as full-timers" — was a shrewd, sensible way to get a significant return on an investment that primarily just costs him effort.
Sounds very much in keeping with the on-court profile of a man who finished in the top 10 in the league in free throw attempts 10 times (including three seasons where he led the league in trips to the line) and relied on smarts, savvy and effort in the post to turn the mismatches he faced as an undersized forward to his advantage. It's not a path many ex-players would take, preferring instead to hang around teams' front offices or community relations departments, act as a color commentator on local TV and radio, look for other opportunities to leverage their former fame into relatively easy money in retirement, or — if they love the game enough — grab another assistant job and look for a road back to becoming a head coach.
But Dantley's been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt and (apparently) not liked the seat he was supposed to occupy, so he found something else. And because of the smart (if tight-fisted) choices he made during his career, he's now able to make the choices he wants after his career. That's pretty cool ... even if the uniform isn't.
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