Adrian Dantley had swollen and blurry eyes the morning he dragged his bags outside the Marina Del Ray Marriott for the first time as a Dallas Maverick. He was bitter and angry. He directed most of his anger at Detroit Pistons guard Isiah Thomas, who Dantley still believes to this day orchestrated the biggest trade in Pistons history that sent Dantley packing to Dallas, and brought in Isiah’s pal Mark Aguirre.
This isn’t to say Thomas had no hand in the trade. But the groundwork for this mid-February trade in 1989 was laid three weeks earlier during an 112-99 loss at Boston Gardens to the Celtics.
Pistons coach Chuck Daly fumed about the lack of ball movement, especially when the ball went to Dantley in the post. Daly wanted his team to whip the ball around the perimeter to find the open man. He also wanted to give promising super defender and rebounder Dennis Rodman more playing time. He knew Rodman could not score like Dantley, but he was willing to do anything the coach asked.
Late in the first half of that game Daly tried to remove Dantley from the game for Rodman. Dantley refused. During a time out, the two barked every four-letter word in the book at each other as the crowd cheered another Celtics surge.
Afterwards, Dantley and Daly brushed aside the argument as “heat of the moment”. There were no lingering problems between the two.
No big deal.
The Pistons were the first team in the NBA to use a private jet to shuttle them between cities for games. Usually, they headed straight to the airport after the games to their next destination. However, Boston’s Logan Airport had a regulation that said no planes could take off after 10pm.
The Pistons stayed the night in Boston.
I ran into Daly, still angry over the loss and still fuming over the fight with AD. He’d just left dinner at the team hotel when we met near the hotel lobby. His eyes blistered and his voice boiled over into nuclear anger.
“We’ve got to get that mother fucker the fuck out of here,” Daly said of Dantley.
Then he stormed off toward the hotel elevators.
That exchange occurred Jan. 22. Dantley was traded Feb. 15.
You don’t think fight night at the Garden had anything to do with the trade?
When news broke in Detroit, many believed Thomas had snuck behind the scenes and orchestrated this trade. My first thought was Daly and how badly he wanted this deal to happen. I thought about Rodman, and his high impact energy, that the Pistons desperately wanted to see flourish.
The Pistons gave no signs that a deal was near. The night before the announcement of the trade, they beat the Lakers 111-103 at the Forum to begin a four-game West Coast trip. After the game Booth Newspaper beat writer Dean Howe asked General Manager Jack McCloskey if anything was pending. His newspaper did not want to spend money on the entire trip and wanted to bring Howe back home to Michigan.
He was to cover the Lakers game and return home if no trade was pending.
Howe asked General Manager Jack McCloskey if he should continue on the trip or go home.
“No Dean,’ McCloskey said. “Nothing is up. Go back home.”
When Howe landed in Flint, news of the trade had broken. After landing, he took the next flight to Sacramento, the Pistons next stop.
The Pistons beat the Kings 94-85 despite being short-handed because Aguirre could not make it in time for the game. When he arrived he received a rude welcome from the Pistons. It was almost like a gang initiation. They knocked him down repeatedly during practice. Afterwards, Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and others barked the Pistons way to Aguirre, who came with a selfish reputation.
A few weeks later, Dantley confronted Thomas before the Mavs played their first game against the Pistons at the Palace. The two held hands in a hand shake as Dantley told Thomas he did not appreciate being traded so he could bring in his buddy.
At that moment, Thomas was shook.
His first shot was an air ball, but he recovered to finish with 30 points, six rebounds and five assists.
And then the Pistons would go on to win their first NBA title in franchise history.
Follow Foster on Twitter at TerryFosterDet.