How HBCU legend Bob Dandridge finally got ‘the call’ to join the Basketball Hall Of Fame
The 30-year wait for the Norfolk State and NBA hoops star is finally over
After three decades of waiting for the call from the Hall, Bob Dandridge is finally getting his just due. Dandridge, a Norfolk State University hoops legend who played 13 seasons in the NBA and won two titles, will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday in Springfield, Massachusetts.
Dandridge, 73, was voted in by the Veterans Committee (which requires at least 35 years since retirement for such a distinction) and will join a 2021 Hall of Fame class that includes Chris Bosh, Paul Pierce, Bill Russell (voted in as the first Black head coach in NBA history), Chris Webber and fellow historically Black college alum Ben Wallace, who attended Virginia Union University.
“It’s a shame that it took 30 years for Bob Dandridge to be voted into the Hall of Fame,” Charlie Neal, the longtime signature voice of historically Black college and university (HBCU) sports for Black Entertainment Television and ESPN, said to Zenger News writer Mark Gray in May after the inductees were first announced. “I’m glad the Veterans Committee made up for the sportswriters’ mistakes.”
Dandridge, who scored the most points in the NBA Finals in the 1970s (450), has often been regarded as one of the most underrated stars in NBA history and, up until now, was considered one of the best players not to be in the Hall of Fame. In May, he finally received “the call” he had long been waiting for. When he first saw the 413 area code appear on his phone, he didn’t recognize it. So, he Googled it. Once he saw that the area code was from Springfield, he remembered that it was time for the Hall of Fame committee to start calling nominees about their induction status. It was finally his turn.
“Everything happened so fast with the confirmation call and congratulations and me wanting to get off the phone so I could just absorb everything.”
For his induction, Dandridge will be presented by his former Milwaukee Bucks teammate Oscar Robertson, who is a two-time Hall of Fame inductee, having been inducted in 1980 as an individual player and in 2010 and as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team.
Of the hundreds of players and coaches in the Hall of Fame, Dandridge and Wallace are among only 12 who have come from HBCUs. “Hopefully, there will be more,” Dandridge said. “We [Black people] have made major contributions to sports. I think the one thing about guys who have gone to historically Black schools is that we don’t expect any sprinkle of favor. We just expect our dues to be recognized. Just because we didn’t attend one of the top 25 Division I schools does not mean that we shouldn’t be recognized.”
Recognition for HBCUs has continued to increase throughout the last year, especially in sports. “With myself and Ben Wallace going in [to the Hall of Fame] at the same time, I think that’s a big step forward. I just think more and more young Black players will begin to go to historically Black schools. Wherever I travel and go, I’m a big advocate for Norfolk State and HBCU schools, and people just know that when I show up, Norfolk State is going to be a part of my conversation.”
Nicknamed “The Greyhound” for his speed and all-court coverage, Dandridge grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and led what was then known as Norfolk State College to the 1968 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) championship in a game that many regard as the greatest in the conference and HBCU history, a 134-132 triple-overtime battle against North Carolina A&T State.
“During that time, the competition was great,” said Dandridge of his days as a Spartan. “The CIAA got the best of the best from the high schools up and down the East Coast. It may not have been the best conference in America, but it was certainly in the top 10.”
A 6-foot-6 small forward, Dandridge averaged 22.5 points and 13.0 rebounds per game, including 32.8 points per game as a senior. He remains Norfolk State’s all-time leader in single-season scoring average at 32.3 points per game (1968-69) and field goals made in a season (333). His No. 12 is one of three jerseys retired by Norfolk State.
Dandridge believes attending an HBCU was significant in his development because it allowed him to excel as an athlete and as a scholar when those opportunities were still scarce for African Americans.
“It was a time of segregation and very few Black athletes were going to major Division I schools,” said Dandridge. “Norfolk State has traditionally had a good basketball team [12 CIAA conference championships, two Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships], so I was going into a winning situation. I learned to be a champion while playing at Norfolk State from Coach Ernie Fears. Championship character was built from running four miles a day for two months and still going into the gym and practicing for 2½ hours every day. Still, the whole environment at Norfolk State was one of advancing young African Americans, teaching us or ingraining in us a sense of dignity and pride about being African American in this country, so the basketball tradition was very well supported by the academic community because excellence in all areas of our lives was stressed, not just in basketball.”
In 1969, Dandridge was taken in the fourth round (45th overall) of the NBA draft by the Bucks, where he played alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robertson, winning the 1971 NBA title after being named to the All-Rookie team during the 1970 season. He was the first of now four players from Norfolk State to appear in an NBA game. After the Washington Bullets acquired him from the Bucks in 1977, Dandridge suited up in the frontcourt next to Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes. According to NBA.com, Bullets owner Abe Pollin made the deal for Dandridge so that he could guard Julius Erving and finally have a shot of getting over the Philadelphia hump and beat the 76ers. The plan worked. In the 1978 Eastern Conference finals, Dandridge scored a game-high 28 points in a Game 6 win over the Sixers to clinch the series, and outscored Erving 22.8 to 21.5 points per game. The Bullets went on to beat the Seattle SuperSonics 4-3 in the Finals to win their first and only NBA championship. The Bucks retired his No. 10 in 2015. He was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the inaugural Norfolk State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983.