In 1987 Adrian Dantley chased after a loose ball at the same time as his teammate Vinnie Johnson, resulting in the worst non helmet head-to-head collision I have ever witnessed in sports. It was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics. The old Garden was a sultry 80 degrees, the “bad boy” Pistons were pushing Larry Bird and company to the brink of elimination.
With 8 seconds left in the third quarter, Johnson lost the ball and chased it hard. Dantley came in from the opposite direction. The result was a full force head on collision that changed the face of the game. Dantley was down and out for a good 5 minutes. The Piston’s top scorer was done for the night and off to Mass General Hospital with a concussion. Vinnie Johnson spent the rest of the game on the bench with an ice pack on his head.
Bird said after the game that the incident “helped us out tremendously. It really hurt them.”
The Celtics were on their way to the NBA Finals versus the Lakers, and would lose the series four games to two.
All these years later, Dantley is a retired Hall of Famer and Olympic gold medalist. He lives with his family in the same house he bought in 1990. After a long and successful pro career with several teams, Dantley did not have to worry about money upon retirement.
What the former star did not have was health benefits.
Dantley now works as a school crossing guard in Silver Spring, Maryland for $14,685.50 a year. The salary includes medical benefits.
“A lot of people talk about the benefits, but I’m basically doing it for the kids,” Dantley told CNN. “You know, the NBA, even though you make a lot of money, they don’t pay for your health premiums. I told my wife, I don’t care how much money people think I have, I’m not gonna spend $17,000.00 on health insurance.”
Now the same guy that guarded some of the best players in the NBA, is guarding children as they cross the street.
“I’m at two intersections that’s pretty dangerous,” he said. “Two kids almost got hit twice. I almost got hit once at the beginning of September. I was a rookie and all the crossing guards were kind of kidding me a little bit.”
The 6’5” Dantley, now 58 years old, says he enjoys giving the kids high fives and encouragement.
“It’s pretty fun, especially with the little ones,” Dantley told WTOP.com.
Dantley, who grew up in the Silver Springs area said that he also was looking for something to do.
It’s win-win. Get the kids safely across the street, and save 17 grand on health insurance. The medical insurance is something Dantley will really need if he gets hurt on the job.
“I think it’s more dangerous out here than me playing one on one or me taking a hard foul from an NBA player.”
The hardest blow Dantley took as a player did not come from an opposing player, but his team mate, Vinnie Johnson. Long time Celtics and Pistons fans will remember the head on collision as a series changer.
The little school kids he’s helping now to cross the street will need a history lesson.
When something like this happens, it’s hard to know what to say.
When something like this happens, it’s hard to find a way to ease your own grief, to decide whether to follow the coverage religiously or attempt to distract yourself with something else.
When something like this happens, everything else seems insignificant.
On Friday, this world was changed when a gunman entered an elementary school and slaughtered 26 innocent people – 20 of them children — shortly after murdering his own mother. This is a crime that is unfathomable, making it that much harder to know how to react.
Think back to elementary school. It’s a place where you read stories, eat lunch together with your friends, play on the playground and the classroom, and learn in an environment where it is actually fun to learn in. It’s a place where you’re carefree. It’s a place of bright colors and laughter and smiles.
It shouldn’t be a place of gunshots, of blood, of terror, of death.
An elementary school should never experience something so tragic that our president cries when talking about it on live television.
But this is the reality this world is waking up to. This is what people across the world are now trying to fathom.
When something terrible happens, I turn to sports or music to comfort myself. On Friday, there was no escaping the tragedy by diving into the world of sports. Every team, every league, every athlete was talking about Newtown, Conn.
On Sunday, the NFL will hold a moment of silence before all of its games. On Friday night, NBA teams observed a moment of silence as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, a player whom the cameras are constantly trained on, wrote “Newtown, CT” on his sneakers, knowing the town’s name would get all kinds of TV time during the game. It was clear where his mind was on Friday night.
Cleveland Cavaliers coach Byron Scott was thinking of the same thing as Durant. “I think it affects everybody,” Scott said as he addressed the tragedy Friday night.
“It puts everything in the right perspective as well. As much as we love this game, this [game] doesn’t mean nothing.”
Even ESPN, the largest sports media conglomerate there is, was silenced by grief. Newtown is just 30 miles from the ESPN headquarters in Bristol. Many ESPN employees live in small, picturesque Connecticut towns just like Newtown. It undoubtedly hit very close to home there.
As a result, ESPN decided to show its grief and sensitivity by stopping all tweets reacting to sports, opening each segment with acknowledgement of the tragedy by coaches and athletes, refraining from using the word “shooter” or other sensitive verbiage, and eliminating inappropriate sales ploys and commercials for the rest of the weekend.
It’s surreal to see ESPN do something like this. I was nine years old when the Columbine massacre happened and 11 years old when the 9/11 attacks occurred. Maybe I was too young at the time, but I don’t remember ESPN ever going silent in this manner.
It speaks to the unprecedented horror of this crime, of the pure devastation that comes from the needless deaths of young children in a place where they are supposed to be safe and happy and starting their lives. It speaks to the horrific loss of brave teachers and administrators who threw themselves in front of a loaded gun in an attempt to protect the young children in their care.
In a way, it is comforting to see this, comforting to see the president cry and ESPN go silent. The deep loss and confusion and grief I feel is so clearly mirrored in everyone and everything around me, and knowing I’m not alone, knowing that the depth of my feelings is shared by others, helps.
Normally, I turn to sports as an escape. Now, I turn to sports as a part of a community. All of our worlds have been shattered. I can’t escape the horror of the Newtown massacre — nobody can – and so we grieve together. We grieve with our friends and family and sports teams and media outlets and president.
Because when something like this happens, it’s hard to know what to say. All we can do is come together and, as a community, acknowledge our pain.