Ask a Milwaukee Buck fan about Bobby Dandridge and he probably would tell you about a strong-willed, arrogant man who talked back to coaches, wanted more money than he was worth and dared to speak his mind about subjects most athletes tend to avoid.
Ask a Washington Bullet fan about Bobby Dandridge and he'd probably describe a marvelously gifted small forward who has quietly gone about the task this season of strenthening a position that has plagued the team for years.
The contrast in descriptions isn't co-incidental. In this conservative, predominantly while northern community. Dandridge was a controversial celebrity who bucked the Milwaukee management and would up an unpopular figure by the time he left the club after last season.
In Washington, Dandridge has deliberately tried to be low-key and easy going. He says he has had enough of controversy, although that doesn't mean he's mellowed very much.
"It's just that at age 30, who needs it?" he said. "I've learned from experience how to avoid flareups. I'd like to finish my career without the problems I had in Milwaukee."
On Friday night, Dandridge will play his first game in Milwaukee since joining the Bullets (WDCA-TV-20, 9 p.m.). Today he discussed his career as Buck, why he became a free agent and the adjustments he has made in his playing habits and life style since arriving in Washington.
Dandridge is a happy man these days. For the first time in his career, this intelligent, complex, sometimes moody, sometimes mischievous man says he is being respected "as an individual" as well as a player.
"In Milwaukee, they tended to see me as an arrogant black athlete and they looked at the villians side of me," he explained. "I was under the impression that if I played basketball to the best of my ability, they had no right to infringe upon my personal and private life.
"But I was wrong. They wanted to know everything about me and everything I was doing. It got so bad in the last years that I wound up communicating with few people outside the team."
So Dandridge was determined his Washington image was going to be different. No more bad-attitude label and no more remarks about how he plays without emotion and enthusiasm. And no more talk about him being a troublemaker.
"I was aware that the Bullets did an extensive personality check on me before they signed me," he said. "Whatever they found out, it must not have been all bad. I wanted to show them they hadn't made a mistake."
The Bullets wanted a multi-talented forward who would compliment Elvin Hayes and take some of the scoring load off his shoulders. And they wanted someone who would play consistently strong defense against the likes of Julius Erving, David Thompson and Jamaal Wilkes. Dandridge, they felt, fulfilled those requirements, even at cost of $200,000 compensation to Milwaukee and $250,000 a year to Dandridge.
With the season one-fourth gone, this expensive marriage is still going through a blissful honeymoon.
Dandridge, the club's leading scorer (18.1), has been in coach Dick Motta's words, "everything we wanted and more.We figured he'd score his NBA average and he has. His defense has been so consistent. He's given Thompson and Billy Knight and everyone else a hard time. Last year, we used to almost concede points at his spot, now we don't.
"And he's so intelligent. He's been around and he knows how to get open for shots. He's not afraid to take the pressure shots. It's like he's been here for years."
Dandridge wishes he had been in Washington that long. "I feel so comfortable," he said. "It makes me feel good that I've been accepted quickly and that people recognize now that I can do other things than score.
"When I came to Washington, I knew my role would be different. I didn't want to have the scoring pressure every night and I don't. My role some nights is more involved with defense. That's never happened before."
He has blended in so quickly and so efficiently that Motta sees his forward combination "having the potential of going down as one of the best in NBA history. Elvin and Bobby are still learning how to play with each other, but every night they get better."
That's something Motta wouldn't have said in October. Hayes was confused about what was expected from him and Dandridge had words concerning their respective roles during a game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden.
"But we worked it out without help from anyone," said Dandridge. "We both like to post low and we had to understand that we both couldn't be doing it on the same side. Elvin never had to worry about that before from a small forward.
"Now we have both given up something from an ego standpoint to accommodate each other. We've learned to respect each other's talent. He's probably given up more than I have to make this work.
"I'll tell you this, I've gained a lot of respect for Elvin the past two weeks. When he's going good, we are devastating. That's what I hoped would happen when I came here."
If anyone had expected Dandridge to back off in his dealings with Hayes, it would have been a poor prediction. Even when he was a young player and Oscar Robertson joined the Bucks to team with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dandridge wasn't about to take a back seat.
"I wanted to remain the team's No. 2 scorer and rebounder and I did even with Oscar," said Dandridge about the 1971 championship squad, you set goals and you want to be recognized when you travel around."
Dandridge has matured into one of the game's most fluid artists. He runs the wing on the fast break as well as any forward in the league. His one-on-one moves, especially in the low post, have been refined to where he will back in and challenge anyone near the basket.
He rarely forces anything. If he feels pressure from a defender, he'll back off and shoot a quick jumper or he'll make one of his efficient passes to an open player. He says it's all a matter of survival.
"At my size (6-6, 200 pounds), you can't be pushing people around," he explained.
Motta says Dandridge plays with "at least three speeds. The smart ones all do. He probes and explores and flows with the flow. And he's his won policeman out there. He takes care of himself."
He always has. There may not be a more strong-minded, independent person in pro basketball than Dandridge, which is what got him in trouble in Milwaukee.
Dandridge and Abdul-Jabbar were both rookies the same year (1969-70) at Milwaukee. Until thenM the city's outstanding black athletes had been Hank Aaron and a few Green Bay Packers. But none of them were from what Dandridge calles "the modern era of black athletes.
"You know the new breed of black athlete who wasn't overly grateful for just being part of a pro sport. They weren't used to the semi-intelligent black athlete who spoke what was on his mid instead of being totally humble."
Dandridge had grown up in a predominantly black environment and had gone to a predominantly black college (Norfolk State). He was proud of his heritage and when he didn't think he was being treated properly he said so, to Buck coach Larry Costello.
The local news media sided with Costello, and Dandridge says he was portrayed "as a radical who wanted to change the system Costello wanted to construct."
Later, Dandridge complained about what he considered an insufficient salary and he continued to comment on controversial subjects, much to management's displeasure. Finally, he was told by team president James Fitzgerald "that I wasn't as valuable to the Bucks as I thought I was."
Dandridge was stunned. "I had been the big scorer on the team ever since they broke up the championship team we had," he said. "Now I was told I wasn't needed.
"So I decided to get out. Last year became very frustrating. I spent half the season in negotiations with management and I was still trying to play well enough on the floor to keep my value up when I became a free agent.
"They still don't really know me. The last thing (Bucks coach) Don Nelson said about me was he regretted that I said what was on my mind. How about that? A man can't say what is on his mind."
But his departure from Milwaukee after eight seasons involved more than money and personality conflicts. He had reached a point in his life, he said, where the community couldn't satisfy his personal needs.
"I needed to go somewhere where I could go to a play or to a concert or to a museum when I wanted to. My daughter is 2 1/2 and she can go to a multi-racial skating class or we can take her to a doll show or an African museum in Washington. We didn't want her to enjoy these years," he said.
Dandridge's childhood was spent in family: wife of Barbara and daughter Shana (Swahili for beautiful black child).
"My daughter is at a stage where she can recognize my picture on television and she knows what basketball is all about. When I leave for games now, she says I'm going to work. I want her to enjoy these years."
Dandridge's childhoold was spent in Richmond where he had an unremarkable high school career before getting a scholarship to Norfolk State on the recommendation of a college referee.
"I think," he said, "my college coach was making sure he didn't make an enemy of the ref." Dandridge was only 6-3 and 155 pounds then. He was still a skinny 6-5. 175-pounder when he was drafted in the fourth round by the Bucks after a small-college All-America career.
Dandridge first wanted to become a pro after working out one day with Hal Greer (whose mother-in-law was Dandridge's English teacher and he became convinced he could survive in the big time after holding his own during summers on the Washington playgrounds.
"That's the irony of all this," he said."The Washington playgrounds gave me confidence and now I'm back there again. And things are still working out well."