Remembering Quintin Dailey

This past week two memorable players of the 1970s and 1980s passed away.  First, legendary tough guy Maurice Lucas died of cancer and then, shortly thereafter, Quintin Dailey died of a heart condition.  Both players were often discussed in their heydays but for different reasons.  While Lucas will eternally be remembered as the quintiessential tough guy and team player, Dailey is remembered as one of the 1980s NBA problems.  In his “Book  of Basketball”, Bill Simmons noted that Dailey ended up being a bust in the NBA and mentioned, in a joking matter, that he was one of many Bulls drafts busts: “They had just been burned by two questionable high draft picks:  Ronnie Lester (bad knees) and Quintin Dailey (bad soul).”

How bad a soul was Dailey?  He certainly had several bad moments but I thought we could focus on Dailey because he was an interesting character and more complex his problems that are our lasting memories of him.  In retrospect, Dailey’s career should be viewed as one of the first modern athlete careers, where the player had plenty of issues and problems of his own creation but was probably misunderstood and would’ve been treated much differently had he been 10-15 years younger.

Make no mistake about, Dailey was not worth the trouble for some of his career but his problems are much less shocking today than they were at the time.  The short version was that Dailey was a great college player, who was accused of sexual assault on a student.  He pled guilty to a lesser charge and received only probation.  He was initially ostracized for the plea deal.  Later, drug and weight problems consigned Dailey to the 1980s disappointment bin that so many other NBA players also fell into.  So, that’s the short story but let’s go through the history as it happened and see how accurate this story is.

Dailey At USF and the Incident

Dailey was a high school star in Baltimore before getting a scholarship with the University of San Francisco.  Dailey, a 6’3 guard who had a knack for scoring but was not necessarily a great shooter, led USF in scoring as a freshman in 1979-80 at 13.6 ppg and improved to 22.4 as a sophomore.  Dailey continued to improve as a junior to 25.2 ppg, drawing 232 free throws in only 30 games.  In that third year, Dailey started to get publicity for many different reasons.  Sports Illustrated did a feature on Dailey in early December 1981 which told us that both of his parents died within a few weeks of each other when he was 13 and that he was a great scoring guard.  We also learned that Dailey’s girlfriend/fiancée at the time was Reggie Jackson’s niece and that Jackson was now looking out for Dailey.  The article concluded a little ominously in hindsight.  Dailey’s coach at USF, Peter Barry, told Sports Illustrated that “[w]e would love to see Q stay here at USF….He has a great rapport with the community.  The big question is whether or not he can wait long enough for the megabucks.” 

Over Christmas break 1981, any such rapport was broken when a female student accused Dailey of sexual assault.  In February 1982, she filed a police complaint and Dailey was ultimately accused of several felonies, including rape.  Reportedly, Dailey failed a lie detector test in January 1982 and gave a statement to police implying that he may have done something wrong. 

Dailey took a plea deal that involved only probation, a sentence that the accuser also endorsed.  A few days later, Dailey declared for the NBA draft but now he was a national story.  Questions were raised as to whether he should even be allowed in the NBA.  Dailey, himself, showed little contrition, telling the media that he wanted to put the incident behind him and stated that he had done nothing wrong.  Despite the furor over Dailey, the Bulls were intrigued by the guard’s scoring ability and drafted him seventh overall in the 1982 draft.

The story didn’t go away though.  In August 1982, Sports Illustrated ran a transcript of Dailey’s interview with the police from the previous February.  The interview was offered by the police to support its position that Dailey had confessed to the crime.  The police first asked Dailey to waive his Miranda rights (the right to be questioned with his own lawyer present), which he did waive.  He also told the police that “intended no harm against [the alleged victim] or anyone.”  The police then asked Dailey if he made a “mistake” that night.  Dailey stated that “unconsciously” he did make a mistake.  He then professed to have no memory of the details but that he didn’t mean any “harm to the young lady” and hoped that she “accepts my apology” and still maintained that he did not harm anybody.

The accuser later filed a civil suit, which was settled in early 1983 for an apology and a $100,000 payment.  Thereafter, Dailey made no admissions and any other article I have seen since Dailey denied ever assaulting the accuser.  Dailey’s guilty plea, combined with his denials, however, led to tons of bad publicity and women’s rights advocates followed him around and picketed outside his games much of his first year in the NBA.  During this investigation, Dailey also admitted to getting illegal payments that helped put USF on probation with the NCAA and ultimately led to the termination of the program for a few years, making him a total pariah at USF.

Was Dailey guilty?  It’s not clear.  Having not reviewed any other evidence, the transcript is not, to me, a slam dunk admission on Dailey’s part, though his guilty plea/settlement seem to indicate he did something wrong.  On the other hand, with so much to lose, Dailey would have been foolish to go to trial if he knew he could walk with only probation.  Of course, guilt and innocence don’t matter as much the fact that Dailey was one of the first  prominent athletes to be publicly accused of sexual assault (early 1900s boxer Jack Johnson was charged with violating the Mann Act for transporting a prostitute across state lines).  In more modern times, Dailey was a lightning rod and it was impossible for him to have a normal career after that point.

Would Dailey’s incident resonate the same way today? I don’t think so.  We have become a bit more desensitized as a society about such issues.  Athletes have been routinely accused of violence against woman and sometimes the charge creates outrage with the public and sometimes it does not.  Kobe Bryant’s own similar troubles went away much the same way that Dailey’s did (though Kobe never pled guilty, he paid an unspecified sum in a civil court action) and the matter was all but forgotten within a few years. 

In a less ambiguous case a few years earlier, NBA role playerRuben Patterson pled guilty to attempting sexual assault of a nanny that worked for him.  His career lasted several more years and despite a suspension, Patterson did not suffer the same stigma that Dailey did earlier.

Dailey in the NBA

A.    Dailey and the Bulls

While many of the obituaries focus on Dailey’s career as primarily a failure, the substance of his career was a bit more complicated.  Dailey started off solidly as a rookie, scoring 15.1 ppg and scoring in 27 mpg.  In the 1984 Pro Basketball Handbook, Zander Hollander called it a “traumatic year”  and that the scrutiny had affected Dailey but noted that he played well.  In 1983-84, Dailey continued to improve, scoring a career-high 18.2 ppg.  In the 1985 edition, Hollander stated that the rape incident had been ostensibly forgotten and that Dailey was good enough to lead to the trade of incumbent starter Reggie Theus.  Hollander also noted that the Bulls had rebuffed trade offers for Dailey.

In 1984-85, things started to go downhill for Dailey.  He missed a game because of drug problems but continued to play well when he did play.  It was also reported that he did some strange things on and off the court.  According to “Basketball’s Nastiest” by Kerry Banks, in a game against the Spurs in March 1985, Dailey “instructed the ball boy to borrow five dollars from a reporter and run to the concession stand for a slice of piazza.  When the ball boy returned, Dailey took the pizza and ate it at the end of the bench, much to the amusement of his teammates and the astonishment of coach Kevin Loughery.”   Dailey also complained off Loughery, telling reporters that “If he (Loughery) stays, I’m gone. . . . I’m tired of the personal vendetta part of it. You can see it. I’m not going to be Kevin Loughery Jr. I’m Quintin Dailey.”  Dailey’s complaints seemed to stem from the suspension and the fact that he wasn’t getting as many shots now that the Bulls had drafted a kid named Michael Jordan before the 1984-85 season.

Things only got worse in 1985-86.  Dailey’s drug problems came to a head and he was suspended and missed a huge opportunity since MJ missed much of the season with a broken foot. 

Between the drug issues and Jordan, this was the end for Dailey as a potential star player.  Jordan did not make life easier for Dailey and they saw each other as competition for shots.    They battled in practice and Jordan saw Dailey as an obstacle to MJ’s own success and treated him accordingly.  In Jordan’s own book, “Driven from Within”, MJ wrote that “I could never be good friends with Orlando Woolridge [the team’s leading scorer pre-MJ] or Quintin Dailey because I was stealing some of their thunder.  But I was doing it with effort and work.  I wasn’t asking anything from anyone.” 

I cannot find the quotes anywhere but I do recall Dailey complaining about losing playing time to Jordan back then, a fact that seems a little funny in hindsight.  Still, teammate Dave Corzine did attest that Dailey “held his own against Michael Jordan in every practice.”   In 1994, Dailey admitted that Jordan had him beat: “When I saw him as a rookie, I said he was God’s gift to basketball…He had cat-like quickness, big hands and could jump out of the gym. And he studied defenses. Just the best ever. My thrill of all time was to be on the same floor with him.”

In 1985-86, Dailey also began to gain weight and the drug problems persisted.  He played in only 35 games and had definitively been written out of the Bulls plans because of MJ’s success and Dailey’s own problems, entering drug rehab and being suspended.  The Bulls did not re-sign him after that season and he had gone from top ten pick to fringe NBA player.

B.    Post-Bulls Years

Dailey opened the 1986-87 in the CBA until the Clippers gave him a shot.  He had no drug or attitude issues again.  In February 1986, Sports Illustrated did a feature on the futlie Clippers and called Dailey “one of the most likable players on the team” but noted that he 25 pounds overweight.   He did not play great his first year in L.A. but he was still a scoring machinge (he had 10.6 ppg in only 18.9 mpg but shot only.407%).  Dailey lasted two more years with the Clipps and continued to be an efficient scorer (scoring 25.3 points per 36 minutes in 1987-88).

The Clipps were undergoing a youth movement after the 1988-89 season and let Dailey go to let the youngsters play.  That summer, Dailey was offered a guaranteed contract to be the scorer off the bench from the Lakers but missed the flight to Hawaii and then was not in shape enough to make it through Pat Riley’s brutal training camp when he did arrive.  Dailey was cut and had to return to the CBA. 

His career was not over though.  The Sonics gave Dailey a chance to as a role player in February 1990.  Dailey started with a 10-day contract in Seattle but ultimately lasted three season as a scorer off the bench and logged 12-15 mpg most of the time and could still score in short spurts, though he was too heavy to play much more then that.  In mid-1992, Dailey was finally cut after shooting 24% and his NBA career ended at age 31.

After his career, Dailey moved to Las Vegas and spent his time working as a counselor working with at-risk kids without any public incidents before his untimely passing this week at age 49.  What have we learned from Dailey’s story?  Whether Dailey was innocent of guilty didn’t matter.  The matter was resolved with the victim and the courts.  His drug and weight problems hurt his career but the story of Dailey the monster was overblown.  He made many mistakes from ages 21 to 25 and did ruin much of his chance to be a very good NBA player.  Based upon his skill set, Dailey had a chance to be a good starting NBA guard, a la Otis Birdsong, but he would never be a star.  This makes him a qualified disappointment but nothing more.  While his behavior did let the Bulls down, his time was over even if he was clean and sober once they got MJ.

After the Bulls  years, by all accounts Dailey was a well-liked person and contributed to society.  While in our minds as NBA fans, he could forever be the troubled person of the early to mid-1980s, Dailey effectively moved past those problems by 1986.  People will never forget Dailey’s problems, and perhaps they shouldn’t.  But we should also remember that people have the capacity for growth and that Dailey ended up being a much better person in the ensuing 24 years.

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