In the 1980s, as the National Basketball Association began its shift to the exemplar of sport, several men began to separate themselves from the heap of stars in the league. These men, of course, were (among others) Julius Erving, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Dominique Wilkins, Isiah Thomas, and Michael Jordan. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, the reader will get the general point. In the midst of this stardom, there was also a batch of highly talented individuals who didn’t quite make the mark. It was not a question of talent; Rather, it was a question of character. This writing will profile one of the forgotten elite players, Quintin Dailey.
The “Don” of Baltimore
As a teenager, tragedy seemed to follow Quintin Dailey. In 1975, while starring in high school, his parents died a month apart. Emotionally, Dailey would never recover. However, on the basketball court, he was dominant enough to earn a scholarship to the University of San Francisco, home of K.C. Jones ( one of Dailey’s final NBA coaches) and the great Bill Russell. Dailey, basketball-wise, would star just as his predecessors had a quarter-century before him. He would average almost 21 points for his career and 25 as a junior. The future looked bright as Dailey eclipsed Bill Cartwright’s single-season scoring mark as he drew rave scouting reviews in the NBA. He looked to be a high pick in the upcoming 1982 NBA draft and James Worthy of North Carolina( who would declare his eligibility later). Then tragedy struck, as his off-court issues became very public knowledge overnight.
On the evening of December 21st, 1981, a nursing co-ed would accuse Dailey of assaulting her. The woman would state that a drunken Dailey had threatened her with a weapon and then strangled her when she threatened to call the police. Dailey took a polygraph(which indicated deception) and then plea-bargained down to 3 years probation. But, it doesn’t stop here. The charges were serious enough that San Francisco terminated its basketball program for three years. And, unbeknownst to the general public, Dailey also developed a cocaine addiction. This would have serious ramifications for his burgeoning basketball career. We will now examine how.
The Erratic Draft Pick: Dailey goes to the Windy City and the start of “Cancel Culture.”
The plea bargain took place three days before the draft, and an unrepentant Dailey expressed virtually no remorse for his notoriety. In fact, he claimed that he bargained “to get it over with” so he could be drafted. This was disastrous for two reasons. First, Dailey would be going to the Chicago Bulls, home to some of the largest women organizations in the U.S. These groups were hardly going to excuse the charges against Dailey, and so they protested his selection. It was also criticized in the sports pages, so obviously, Dailey was an extremely unpopular pick. But these Bulls were “dysfunctional,” the post-Jerry Sloan and Pre- Jordan edition of the franchise. Sloan, the popular player, had done a stint as a coach ( and was fired); their best player, Reggie Theus, had awesome all-star talent(among the best pre-Jordan shooting guards) but was a rumored recreational cocaine user. Orlando Woolridge, the top pick in the previous draft, was himself a serious cocaine abuser. In short, the organization was “toxic,” and then trainer Mark Pfeil had tried to warn the players of their mischievous habits. Dailey, still unrepentant, would state memorably, ” I can make more money in the street than I can playing basketball” ( Of course, the astronomical salaries in the NBA today have all but eliminated this excuse). The league was in the early stages (partly because of the chaos of teams like the Bulls) of mandatory drug testing, but this did little to help the Bulls with their dysfunction. The team would soon add Ennis Whatley, and by Dailey’s second season(1984), the team had become “Unwatchabull.” Theus would get himself traded after an infamous incident in which he would refuse to suit up for a game in the second half, choosing to eat hot dogs instead. Dailey would follow suit, but he would be unable (for now) to get himself traded. That is until a certain superstar would show up in the fall of 1984.
The arrival of Jordan: Quintin and Mike
Several years into his career, Jordan, in fact, would tell Dailey’s hometown paper that Quintin “taught me a lot ” and that he was “competitive in practice.” However, Dailey would claim the Bulls “liked Michael better” and “I like to shine as well.” While Dailey would average 16 points in two seasons alongside Jordan, incoming GM Jerry Krause had zero interest in his rosters shenanigans. Starting in the summer of 1986, he would unload virtually the entire roster, finding a sucker for Dailey in new LA Clipper GM Elgin Baylor. The Bulls would immediately begin to reconstruct both their image and their popularity. Dailey and his new team? Let’s deal.
Dysfunctional mutation: Dailey and the Clippers
The Bulls had a very dysfunctional environment that took several years to overturn. The Clippers would (no joke) take two generations to overturn fully. Its owner Don Sterling was a bigoted cheapskate. Still, he was also always bringing in talented names in a desperate effort to overshadow his business acquaintance Dr. Jerry Buss of the crosstown Lakers. As a result, he was always firing coaches and trading players, and the very good players (like Norman Nixon, Derek Smith) suffered cast atrophic injuries. This misfortune was compounded by abysmal on-court play, which resulted in high draft picks. Unfortunately, the high picks were either underachievers (Benoit Benjamin, Ken Norman) or suffered a devastating injury(Danny Manning). This was hardly the environment for a gifted, troubled man like Dailey. As a result, he continued his drug use (more readily available in LA) as his on-court game declined. He would spend three years with the Clippers; then Pat Riley came knocking on the door. Let us find out what happened.
Dailey blows it: Final opportunities.
In 1989, the Los Angeles Lakers were in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time since 1975, their legendary center Kareem Abdul Jabbar was not on the team roster. In addition, with their MVP Magic Johnson now 30, the franchise wanted a quality reserve to allow him to rest more. This was year two of expansion, so the Lakers had lost Tony Campbell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and super-sub Michael Cooper was now 33 (and hardly the impact player of the past). Since the team’s first draft pick was used to grab Yugoslav Vlade Divac, the team was willing to give Dailey a chance. The previous year, in fact, the Lakers signed the troubled Woolridge, and he was a valuable role player as the team returned to the Finals for the 3rd straight year. He would vouch for his old buddy, and Riley (along with GM Jerry West) loved to advertise the Lakers as a big, happy family. But there were problems. For one, Dailey was about 25 pounds overweight, and unlike Woolridge, had yet to enter rehab. Despite that, the Lakers gave him a guaranteed, 1 year 400,000 contract. Dailey signed it, was late for practice, and then overslept a meeting( Riley by now was near-psychotic in his preparation expectations. This overcoaching would months later backfire on him). After a week, West came to his senses and cut his losses. Finally, Dailey would sign with Seattle; this was his final NBA stop, and he would last there for parts of three seasons. He, of course, never lived up to his talent, but his tenure in Seattle would have a memorable scene. Let us find out what that was.
What time is practice?
As we conclude this writing, it is now time to reveal the motivation for it. Dailey’s experience(he would pass away in 2010) was the periphery of the NBA. He was one of a few men blessed to have played with Jordan and the opportunity to play with Magic, which he blew. For this writer, Dailey is something of an avatar. He is a signal not only of what was but what could have been (80s style). Not everyone is willing to live up to their enormous potential, and in every generation, we see multiple examples of this. This usually can be for professional, personal reasons, or a combination of both. So it’s fitting that two of the last coaches to interact with Dailey were Riley and K.C. Jones, this writer’s choice for best coaches of the decade. Riley, of course, went on to fame and respect, and Jones was largely forgotten. But the following should make readers realize just how good Jones was at managing difficult personalities. In November 1990, Jones was in a hotel talking with two New York-based writers. He saw Dailey and asked, ” Quintin, what time is practice”? Dailey replied with the correct time. Jones continued his conversation. The two reporters looked at each other as if to ask,” What kind of coach would ask Quintin Dailey, one of the most troubled men in the NBA, what time practice was”? If anything, he would be the LAST person anyone should ask. But then, it hit both men. Jones was asking so that Dailey would answer, so later there would be no excuses if he wasn’t present. The two writers would conclude that Jones had handled this brilliantly. That the mistake had been their own. Soon, Riley and Jones and their fascinating rivalry will be the topic of a write-up.