The theme for the 2023 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament is “Creating New Legacies.” But in order to create a new legacy, you have to understand the players who came before — the ones who left the soil fertile and ready for new growth.
The CIAA has produced Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famers such as Ben Wallace, Sam Jones, Al Attles and the incomparable former Baltimore Bullets legend Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.
And walking the corridors of CFG Bank Arena on Thursday evening, the venue formerly known as the Baltimore Civic Center, where Monroe once worked his considerable magic, was another CIAA legend and hoops Hall of Famer: Bob Dandridge.
After an outstanding career at Norfolk State, where he teamed up with New York City playground legend Pee Wee Kirkland, Dandridge — universally recognized as one of the best and most versatile pro forwards of the 1970s — played 12 years in the NBA, winning championships with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 and the Washington Bullets in 1978.
He sat down with The Banner to talk about his journey and why the CIAA means so much to him.
The Banner: When did you initially have the vision that you might have an opportunity to play in the NBA?
Dandridge: Probably by my second year at Norfolk State.
When you were dominating as a prep player in Richmond, you didn’t think you had a shot?
I did get blessed my senior year in high school because I had a teacher whose daughter was married to Hal Greer, who was named one of the NBA’s Top 75 players of all time. He came to the school a few times at the beginning of my senior year, and I had an opportunity to work out with him, to see what it took to be a pro.
How did those workouts go?
Every day, he’d end the session by shooting 200 jump shots and he never missed more than three out of 100. That set the tone for me in knowing what I had to do and the work I had to put in if I wanted to be a professional. I saw how hard he ran those drills and how committed he was to being excellent.
During your teenage years, were you conscious of what was happening socially in this country, specifically in the South?
Fortunately for me, my father was socially conscious. He always worked two jobs and that’s where I got my work ethic from. At the time, there was segregation, especially in the state of Virginia. We went to separate schools, there were separate All-State teams and Black and white players were not allowed to compete against each other on the same basketball court.
That’s insane. Did you guys ever put together your own games to play against one another?
Yeah, despite the larger racism and segregation, we always found a way to play against the really good white guys in the area. We would meet at certain places during the summer to test our skills against each other.
As a conscious, intelligent young man, how did you cope with the racism and discrimination? That had to wear on you.
Fortunately for me, I found a haven at Norfolk State. Schools in the area like the University of Virginia, Davidson, the University of Richmond wouldn’t recruit Black players back then. But that’s the reason why the CIAA was one of the best and strongest athletic conferences in the country.
I’m sure that outside of athletics, there were other aspects of the experience that nourished you.
It was such a blessing because not only was the level of basketball elite, but I got to grow in a caring educational environment. The teachers there insisted on me getting a quality education and that gave me a great foundation.
At Norfolk, you played with Pee Wee Kirkland. Unfortunately, the world didn’t get to see his gifts because he chose to go in a dark direction [he was eventually imprisoned for crimes related to drug trafficking] after college instead of playing for the Chicago Bulls, who picked him in the 1969 NBA Draft. But on the playgrounds of New York, his exploits are beyond legendary.
The thing about Pee Wee that people don’t understand was that he was an incredible team player. He could have averaged 70 points a game if he wanted to, but he understood the philosophy of being a true point guard and distributing the ball to everyone else.
He still averaged about 40 a game when we were in college, but he sacrificed his individual scoring numbers for us to be a dominant, winning, championship team.
As a young NBA player, you teamed up with an equally young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the remarkable Oscar Robertson, the Big O! How incredible was that experience, to walk into that situation and win a championship with the Milwaukee Bucks?
Kareem and I came in as rookies together and we grew in the knowledge of the pro game together. But the centerpiece of that championship was the Big O. He showed me how to be a pro, when to take over a game, when to blend in and when to force the action. Oscar was the premier influence in terms of what I turned out to be as an NBA player.
As you sit here at the tournament and reflect on your own journey, what does the CIAA mean to you?
It’s special to me, it’s being back at home where I can come and be comfortable, sit and think about the greatness of the CIAA, the experiences I had in the tournament and what Norfolk State meant to me as a student and a young man growing into adulthood. I can’t say enough about what that experience means and how it propelled me forward in my life.