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HELLER: Adrian Dantley’s recognition among D.C. icons richly deserved

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

This was in January 1970 at Maryland's Cole Field House, and spectators were being treated to a prequel version of Bryce Harper minus five years. The chubby, 14-year-old DeMatha High School freshman was so strong that whenever he ascended for a rebound, opponents from Cardozo and Eastern flew off him hither, thither and yon.

Thus was Adrian Dantley introduced to this area's basketball faithful. Sterling careers ensued at Notre Dame and for 16 admirable if ringless seasons toiling for seven NBA teams. Now a leaner, older and presumably wiser Dantley was claiming his just due Sunday night at Nationals Park as he and five other inductees entered the D.C. Sports Hall of Fame.

Two of the plaques went posthumously to sportscaster/jokemeister Glenn Brenner and journalist Sam Lacy. Dantley was joined among the living recipients by longtime Redskins favorite Darrell Green, renowned St. John's High School coach Joe Gallagher and superb tennis player/women's coach Bessie Stockard.

Considering how matters evolved afterward — the Nats losing to the Phillies, outfielder Jayson breaking his wrist and Cole Hamels using Harper for target practice — the brief induction ceremony clearly was the evening's highlight for local eyewitnesses. As it should have been.

Dantley already had more hardware than your neighborhood Home Depot as a first-team All-American, NBA rookie of the year, six-time All-Star and two-time scoring champion. But as he cradled his latest award, it obviously meant a great deal because "this is home, and it's a great honor," he said.

Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame has not been treated very well by athletic movers and shakers hereabouts. D.C. luminaries such as Walter Johnson and Sammy Baugh might have strode the earth as giants, but the only place you can read their names is on the side of a parking garage beyond an outfield wall at Nats Park — and then, for most of us, only with the aid of high-powered binoculars.

Incongruously, such former Montreal Expos stars as Gary Carter and Andre Dawson are hailed prominently on the mezzanine inside the ballpark although their connections with D.C. seem tiny or nonexistent. The Lerners, Ted and Mark, are local guys who should remedy this situation immediately if not sooner - perhaps by providing space inside the ballpark for displays worthier of the honorees.

Dantley, for one, deserves all the acclaim we can muster. He was only the second freshman (after Sid Catlett) to start for one of Morgan Wootten's DeMatha powerhouses and promptly bolstered his coach's growing reputation as a hoops genius.

"Everybody knew Adrian was a budding superstar when they saw him play those games against Cardozo and Eastern at Cole Field House," said Wootten, himself a member of the D.C. shrine. "He was a great competitor, and nobody ever had a better work ethic, not even Michael Jordan. You couldn't ask for a better guy to put in the Hall of Fame."

These days, shamefully, Dantley has no connection with the sport he played so well. He spent nine seasons as an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets and was acting head coach in 2010 while George Karl battled throat cancer. By way of showing his gratitude, Karl fired Dantley last June when A.D. refused to switch seats behind the bench during a game. Talk about nitpicking.

Has Dantley been in touch with the Wizards, who need all the help they can get?

"Yeah, I've put feelers out, but their coaching staff is pretty well set."

For the moment, at least, Adrian Dantley will have to bask in the knowledge of what he has accomplished in basketball and the respect he has gained while doing so. But at age 56, as at 14, he should be putting his mind and body to use somewhere preferably not far from his roots.

For more of the author's columns, go to dickheller.wordpress.com

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