Bob Dandridge, a true son of Virginia, never strayed too far from the commonwealth — before, during or after his illustrious NBA career. That makes Sunday’s announcement that the 13-year veteran was selected, finally, to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame all the more special.
The question is what took so long.
The smooth-shooting Dandridge could complement his teammates or be the star. He could shut down the opposing team’s best player. He averaged 18.5 points per game over his NBA career, but he tallied a little over 20 points during the playoffs, meaning he did even better when the pressure was toughest.
Dandridge, now 73, was born in Richmond and attended Maggie Walker High School. He then headed to Norfolk State, where he played from 1965 to 1969. He remains the university’s leader in single-season scoring average at 32 points per game.
He won two championships as a pro, first with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1970-71, and later with the Washington Bullets. He was a teammate with the Bucks of all-time NBA greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.
The exciting season with the Bullets, in 1977-78, is the franchise’s lone championship. The memories are still vivid because my father took me to the clinching game in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, at the since-demolished Capital Centre. That Bullets team featured Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld, but Dandridge probably was the all-around best player.
Here’s something you won’t hear often about the great Julius Erving, who by then soared for the Sixers: An opponent bested him during the playoffs.
Dandridge faced off against Dr. J that series and simply outplayed him. Dandridge’s strong fundamentals, ability to score at will, and capably defend his flashier opponent frustrated Erving the whole series. The Bullets’ forward had a turnaround jumper that was deadly accurate and virtually unstoppable.
The Bullets then went on to beat the Seattle Supersonics in seven games in the NBA Finals.
After he retired, Dandridge worked for the NBA Players Association. Thinking incoming players could use additional support and guidance, he helped set up the NBA Rookie Transition Program. “I consider that,” Dandridge said in 2013, “to be as great a contribution to the NBA as my basketball playing days.”
He was an assistant coach at Hampton University from 1987 to 1992. And since 1992, he’s called Norfolk home. Published reports say his residence isn’t far from his alma mater, and that the area and his friends there are continuing sources of comfort.
The longtime Virginian started the Dandridge Group in 1999, a nonprofit that’s taught life skills to young people in Norfolk.
I interviewed Dandridge a few years ago when the Bucks retired his jersey, but I couldn’t reach him Monday; maybe he was fielding scores of congratulatory calls. I did connect with Marty Miller, who’s synonymous with NSU athletics.
Miller has spent more than a half-century at NSU as student, coach, athletic director and senior administrative assistant to the university president. A year ahead of Dandridge at Norfolk State, he was the basketball team statistician for two of the seasons they attended the school together.
They’ve stayed in contact over the decades.
“Dandridge is a very nice person, easy to get along with,” Miller told me. “But he was a very competitive basketball player. He worked extremely hard to improve his skills” while at Norfolk State.
“He probably was our top basketball player of all-time.”
So why did it take so long for the classy, brutally efficient Dandridge to enter The Hall? “That’s the question a lot of people have been asking,” Miller noted. “A lot of people felt he should’ve been there sooner.”
It’s an oversight that’s now been remedied. It’s a fitting tribute to a champion who hails from Virginia, still lives here, and has always represented it well.