When Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller finally made the call to Adrian Dantley on Wednesday that many have been waiting for maybe 10 or 15 years or more, "There was kind of dead air," Miller said of the other end of the phone.
Dantley, once the Jazz's 6-foot-5 power forward and now an assistant coach for the Denver Nuggets, hardly knew how to immediately react to Miller's call about retiring Dantley's No. 4 jersey a call that's seemed a no-brainer for a decade-plus but one it seemed might never come at all.
"At first, it was like it didn't compute with him. And then he said, 'Well, that would be nice,"' Miller said Thursday in his weekly radio interview segment on 1280 AM. "By the end of the conversation, it was really fun. Right at the end, he said, 'This is really good. Thank you. Thank you."'
The call that Dantley had so wanted to get for so many years one that will likely help him enter the Basketball Hall of Fame because how can the Hall of Fame admit someone whose jersey isn't retired by the team with whom he spent the most time? was finally in his ear, and it was sinking in.
"He was able to open up a little bit and show his appreciation," said Miller. "He didn't break up and get too emotional, but he was genuinely pleased, and that was good for me. He expressed a genuine 'thank you' for it, and I told him that we'd appreciated what he'd been to the franchise when he was here and so we'd be pleased to honor him that way."
On April 11, when the Nuggets visit EnergySolutions Arena, Dantley's No. 4 jersey will be hoisted to the rafters and finally wave alongside those of Pete Maravich, Frank Layden, Mark Eaton, Darrell Griffith, Jeff Hornacek, John Stockton and Karl Malone.
"I feel good because you keep reading things like you've got to have your jersey retired before you get in the Hall of Fame," Dantley told Chris Tomasson of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver Thursday night.
"It's a great honor," Dantley added. "I knew my jersey would be retired sooner or later. Now, I don't have to have guys around the league giving me a hard time asking 'Why isn't your jersey up there?"'
During Wednesday's call, Miller asked Dantley for a list of family, friends and coaches he'd like to have at his jersey-retirement luncheon and a list of those he'd like to have speak on the occasion.
And it will really, really happen for the man who was most responsible at least on the court for the Jazz franchise that moved here from New Orleans in 1979 becoming a fixture in a town that at first didn't totally embrace NBA basketball after losing its beloved ABA Utah Stars a few years earlier.
Miller recalled in his radio segment how he went to some games in 1979 and recognized only players on the other team, except for Dantley, who came in a trade with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sept. 13, 1979, for Spencer Haywood and gave the Jazz an average 29.6 points in the 461 games and the seven years he played here.
In his 15-year career, Dantley totaled 23,177 points, still 18th in NBA career scoring, and was a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring leader. He is third in Jazz career scoring with 13,635 behind Malone (36,374 in 18 seasons) and Stockton (19,711 in 19 seasons) nearly 21 years after being traded, in 1986, to the Detroit Pistons.
That trade allowed Malone to take over the power forward position and freed Jazz management from a somewhat contentious relationship with Dantley, who twice was suspended for what Miller called a defiance of Layden in the locker room, and who further upset things by telling Malone to save on his body.
Dantley was always conscious of preserving and bettering his own body an early believer in icing his knees after every game. And Miller got word from Malone that Dantley had told him not to dive on the floor or into the stands because, "'You might get hurt or you might hurt somebody or you might make me look bad because I'm not doing it' or something like that," Miller recalled on the radio.
"And I thought, 'Boy, if that's the case, then I don't like too much of that.'
"There was some baggage there. That's probably part of what brought that about," Miller explained of his years of resistance to retiring Dantley's number despite pleas from many, even Layden, to do so.
Miller frequently has said, and did so again Thursday night, Dantley played less than half his career in Utah, so he didn't think a number retirement was appropriate, until the Jazz retired Hornacek's jersey and people brought up that Hornacek had played less of his career in Utah than Dantley had.
Miller said it was a couple of years ago that he began to reconsider what will finally become reality for two reasons: First, the Hornacek point and, second, the historical perspective of what Dantley really meant to a team that was underfunded and not all that appreciated until probably 1984, when it won the Midwest Division behind Dantley, Griffith, Rickey Green, Thurl Bailey and John Drew and then drafted Stockton that summer and Malone the next.
"So I thought, 'I need to give this fair consideration,"' Miller said.
Stockton and Malone's jersey retirements/statues were in the works, and Miller said he didn't want to add Dantley's too close together to take away from the others.
But he called Stockton and Malone for their thoughts on whether it would "'demean or diminish what your jersey retirement meant to you.' And both unequivocally said, 'Not at all.' They understood his place in Jazz history and NBA history and I asked Jeff Hornacek along the way and when they said that, I said, 'That's OK, let's go ahead and do it."'And so, the woefully undersized power forward whose quick postup drop step brought so many old-fashioned 3-point plays the Jazz's way, who paved the low block for Malone, will finally get his due in Miller's arena.
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