Bobby Dandridge was part of an NBA “Big Three” before anyone called them that.
And he did it twice.
Early in his career of 12-plus pro seasons, Dandridge was a lithe scoring threat at small forward for a Milwaukee Bucks team built around Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Nine years in, he joined a Washington Bullets front line that was anchored by Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
Dandridge – whose jersey No. 10 was to be retired Saturday night by the Bucks during a halftime ceremony of their game vs. Washington at the BMO Harris Bradley Center – was an integral part of those teams that went to a total of four NBA Finals, winning titles in 1971 (Bucks) and 1978 (Bullets).
The outsized reputations and achievement of the terrific tandem with whom he teamed at each stop might make Dandridge, by comparison, seem strictly part of the supporting cast. But the 6-foot-6 product of Norfolk State and 45th player picked in the 1969 Draft earned four All-Star selections from 1973 to 1979, averaged 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 839 games and was even better in the postseason (20.1 points, 7.7 rebounds, 3.7 rebounds in 98 appearances).
“I think Bobby was more significant than a role player,” Jon McGlocklin, a guard on the ’71 and ’74 NBA Finals teams and a longtime analyst on the Bucks’ broadcast crew, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Bobby could do everything. He was as good defensively as he was offensively.”
McGlocklin remembered Dandridge as a great locker-room guy, helping to keep the team loose by teasing the other players (“everybody except Oscar”). He also provided material for the Bucks’ creative play-by-play announcer, Eddie Doucette. Dandridge’s jump shot, which he often released on the way down, was dubbed the “pancake jumper,” while he himself was called “The Greyhound” by Doucette.
Dandridge didn’t like the nickname then and still doesn’t. But he told the paper Friday: “That had to do with speed and quickness and endurance. I was a superbly conditioned guy even though I was 6-5, about 175 pounds. I was fortunate to come to a team like Milwaukee that was looking for quickness.”
Arriving in Washington in 1977, Dandridge joined a team seeking a match-up for scoring stars such as Julius Erving and George Gervin, whose teams (Philadelphia and San Antonio) the Bullets had to beat en route to their 1978 championship vs. Seattle.
“Bobby came in, he knew the offense, he had already won a championship, he was experienced,” Washington coach Dick Motta said a few years ago for a story on that team. “It was always nice when we had Bobby Dandridge and we were going to play Dr. J or George Gervin. He basically neutralized all of the small forwards in the league.”
Dandridge, 67, spent four seasons with the Bullets before returning to Milwaukee for 1981-82. He made some headlines with the unusual free-agent contract he signed there; having played in just 68 games his final two seasons in Washington, he agreed to a Bucks deal that paid him a base salary of $40,000 plus per-game rates of $2,750 if he suited up and played vs. just $275 if he wasn’t available that night. It sounds like a contract that would be illegal under current CBA rules and it didn’t last long back then; Dandridge was waived in late November.
Here’s another little-known factoid about Dandridge: He’s the one who suggested that NBA newcomers could use some help navigating the league. That idea led to the league’s rookie transition program, which enables young players to go to school on their predecessor’s experiences.
Dandridge, who worked for a while with the NBA players’ association, told the Virginian Pilot in June 2013: “I consider that to be as great a contribution to the NBA as my basketball playing days.”
Dandridge was expected to be joined at Saturday’s ceremony by his wife, Debra; daughters Shana, 39, and Morgan, 21, and son Sivad, 36.
He becomes the eighth Bucks player to have his number retired. Those who preceded him: Robertson (1), Junior Bridgeman (2), Sidney Moncrief (4), McGlocklin (14), Bob Lanier (16), Brian Winters (32) and Abdul-Jabbar (33). He wore No. 10 in Washington too, but that subsequently was retired in honor of Earl Monroe.