When Dantley was shipped to Utah in September he had been in Los Angeles for a season and a half, but some of his Buffalo mail was still catching up. When he was told that he was being traded to Utah, the prospect didn't thrill him. "It really didn't hit me until about three or four days later when I got to Salt Lake," he says. "Then it hurt. I was alone in my hotel room, and all of a sudden I had tears coming out of my eyes."
Unhappily for the Lakers, points were coming out of Dantley's fingers the second time L.A. and Utah played this season. Hitting 21 of 27 shots against an assortment of small forwards, big forwards and huge centers, Dantley scored 50 points—the second highest this season—in a 122-118 loss to L.A. "When I play against the teams that have traded me," Dantley says, "I take it kind of personal."
"There's no one player in the league who has shown me yet he can handle Dantley," says Nissalke. "He shows how meaningless this big-forward, small-forward stuff is. A.D.'s just so strong and so tenacious you can't stop him inside."
When Portland played the Jazz recently, Coach Jack Ramsay first put 6'9" Maurice Lucas on Dantley, then 6'8" Kermit Washington, next 6'8" Abdul Jeelani and finally, when the game went into overtime, 6'9" Jim Brewer. Dantley scored 10 of Utah's 11 points in the extra period and finished with a total of 34. Jeelani later described defending against Dantley as "a nightmare."
"A.D. may have the best body control inside of any player his size," says Seattle Forward Paul Silas. "Everybody else on their team plays a perimeter game, so Dantley not only scores a lot of points, he scores important points. Without him they wouldn't have any inside game. Without him they wouldn't have won the games they've won."
A fairly good outside shooter when he was a doughy 235-pounder at Notre Dame, Dantley has a sleeker look in the pros and he is quicker, but it's his great strength mat makes him so formidable in the heavy traffic underneath the basket. "He gets as good inside position as anybody," says Denver Forward George Johnson, "and once he gets the ball he's nearly impossible to stop because he's such a bull. It's like trying to stop Walter Payton."
Dantley disputes some of this, particularly the notion that he relishes being guarded by aircraft-carrier-sized players like Maurice Lucas. "I'm no power forward," he says. "It burns me up to hear people say I am. If I was 190 pounds you wouldn't hear that bull, but because I'm the strongest guy on the team, people expect me to be a power forward. I adjust my game to the opponents I play against. How much I can do depends on how Adrian Dantley's body feels; sometimes the body will, sometimes the body won't. One way or the other, I know those big forwards are going to give me a whooping if I go inside."
If his body can sustain the pounding he puts it through night after night, Dantley will continue to be the cornerstone of Layden's rebuilding plans for the Jazz. Since the benching of 31-year-old Pete Maravich nearly three weeks ago, Dantley has become an even more important cog in the Jazz' fortunes, and lately those fortunes have been good. Utah lost 19 of its first 21 games this season but then turned around and won six of nine. After that horrendous start, the Jazz appear to be on the threshold of respectability, and, having had 26 players in uniform since arriving in Salt Lake City, are happy to be there.
"We're like an expansion franchise," says Layden, "only worse. I'm going to get rid of the losers. We'll just keep changing until we get guys who can win. Adrian is that kind of player. The ironic thing is that Dantley is probably the guy most responsible for the demise of Pete. If we didn't have Dantley, we'd need Pete's points and drawing power. Having Dantley made Pete expendable."
For his part, Dantley is adjusting to his new role in his new town on his latest team. All he will say about Salt Lake City is that, "It's not L.A.," and then his shoulder begins to twitch. "It's nice to be in a winning situation," he says, "but usually you find out who the tough guys are in losing situations."