The question must have been put to Adrian Dantley 50 different way Tuesday night. The star of the Detroit Pistons' show in the L.A. Forum - featuring a 105-93 dismantling of the Los Angeles lakers as the main act - was surrounded by hundreds of his newest friends in the media. They had inquiring minds. They wanted to know if Dantley, the 12-year veteran playing in the NBA limelight of the Championship Series for the first time, was finally feeling a sense of achievement and maybe a little avengement now that he was showing off in the ultimate showtime.
Was this payback time, they asked him.As was his style when he played for the Utah Jazz, Dantley measured his words carefully. He didn't go so far as to have his agent, David Falk, answer for him - as he did during the infamous pieces-of-silver episode two years ago that hastened his departure from the Jazz. But he thought before he spoke, posting up the questions so to speak.
"I'm happy to be here," he said. "Yes, I want a championship ring very badly. I've been playing for 12 years. I hope it's my turn this year."
Time and again he was pressed about the significance of meeting the Lakers in the Championship series. The Lakers are one of four NBA teams that have traded him during his dozen-year career, trades that have lent to a reputation that he is an expendable or an undesirable player, or both.
Was it extra special to score 34 points, his total Tuesday night, against a team that dumped him?
"Being traded, that's part of the business," he said. "I don't even think about it."
When he got traded from the Lakers to the Jazz in 1980, he explained, it was because he and Jamaal Wilkes were both small forwards and L.A. only needed one of them.
"Jerry West (the Lakers' general manager) didn't want to trade me, but Jack McKinney (the coach) did," said Dantley. "The system has hurt me. Whenever you get traded a lot you're supposed to be a bad guy. But I'm not."
Certainly the Pistons didn't think so, Tuesday night, especially not during a fourth-quarter stretch when Dantley scored 12 straight Detroit points.
"I haven't had any control during my career at being on expansion-type teams," he went on. "Except for the Lakers that one season, all other teams I've been on have been like that."
Being with Buffalo and Indiana and the Jazz in their formative years helped him become the No. 11-ranking scorer in NBA history (and climbing), but didn't help him get very far in the playoffs.
Both Dantley and the Jazz came to Utah in 1979. The Jazz sent Spencer Haywood to the Lakers in return. Dantley carried the Jazz for seven seasons, from 1980-1986, never averaging less than 26.6 points for any given year. He won two NBA scoring titles, in 1981 and 1984. By his last three Jazz seasons, 1984-85-86, the franchise was a first-round playoff regular.
But for all his offensive moves, Dantley had his detractors. Chief of whom was Coach Frank Layden. Layden did not approve of Dantley's boycott over a contract negotiation dispute in 1985, and their personal relationship disintegrated thereafter.
And hit an alltime depth in 1986 when Layden sent Dantley home from a road trip. He fined him 30 dimes - for being disloyal, he said - and to the surprise of no one, the veteran forward was traded to Detroit in the offseason.
As he noted at the time, Dantley wasn't pleased with the move. He sensed that Utah, with Karl Malone and John Stockton new to the team, was a franchise on the rise. And with the Pistons, he was joining a team that played in the Eastern Conference, where he was less familiar with the players and the style of play.
Still, as he said Tuesday night, "It wasn't long before I knew we had talent (in Detroit). It took us a while to get to know each other. But now that it's clicked . . . "
More specifically, it took Dantley a while to get used to scoring 20 points a game rather than the 30 he was accustomed to with the Jazz
"They didn't want me getting 30," he said. "I know I can score that many. But that's not our system. Our system is to have everyone involved, to have one guy doing the scoring one night and another guy another night."
Tuesday was his night.
To a lot of people, it was their first introduction to the Dantley system of basketball: Post up your opponent, back him to the basket, negotiate any number of subtle power moves, shoot the ball and probably draw the foul.
In a battle of the initials, the Lakers' A.C. Green, who had drawn the guarding assignment on A.D. was virtually defenseless.
A.D. took 16 shots and made 14 of them, and he was 6 for 7 from the free-throw line.
"He played like a man possessed," said Detroit Coach Chuck Daly.
"He's never been in the finals before, and he's taken a lot of abuse about it," said Pistons' center Bill Laimbeer. "People said he couldn't go the extra step. But they were wrong."
Not only has he gone the extra step, he's gone through Buffalo, Indiana, Los Angeles and Utah to get here. But if people think he's going to use the NBA Finals to say I-told-you-so to all those teams and cities, they're apparently wrong. As the series heads into Game 2 Thursday, the former property of the Braves/Pacers/Lakers/Jazz is talking about where he's going, not where he's been.