Commentary

Dailey's legacy more than controversy

Former USF star and Bulls guard dedicated himself to helping others after rough start

Updated: November 16, 2010, 12:15 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

Some of the stories managed to squeeze it all into the first paragraph: talent and turmoil, substance abuse and sexual assault, the downfall of a college basketball program pinned to him.

[+] EnlargeQuintin Dailey
NBA Photos/NBAE/Getty ImagesQuintin Dailey got off to a rocky start in Chicago, and former Bulls general manager Rod Thorn said he could have done a better job preparing Dailey on how to deal with the media.

The obits of course were not what Quintin Dailey's family and friends wanted to read after the former No. 1 pick of the Chicago Bulls died unexpectedly last week at 49.

He was marked for life, and to a large extent, Dailey accepted that, say those who loved him. What he would not accept, however, was allowing it to negatively affect his job as a father, or to limit his ability to make a positive impact on people and to do good things.

And Quintin Dailey did good things.

That sentence alone might rattle people, particularly in Chicago, where opinions were shaped in large part 30 years ago by newspaper columns that had to be written, and yet created an indelible portrait of a 21-year-old unequipped to overcome it.

In Las Vegas, where Dailey's 23-year-old daughter, Quinci, found her father after he had died in his sleep from a heart ailment last Monday, very few people knew that the big guy with the big smile was an NBA player and once as rare a talent as any the game had to offer.

But he did not hide his past, either.

"At the funeral home, they asked what we wanted his death certificate to say as far as occupation, and my brother chose 'life coach,' " Quinci said of her younger brother, Quintin Jr., 20, a junior at Eastern Michigan where he is a starting guard on the basketball team. "When it came to basketball, he didn't talk about that, but he shared so much knowledge about life."

The streets of North Vegas, like the online message boards devoted to Dailey's memory, are filled with those who considered him their friend, and even their salvation; at-risk teenagers and senior citizens who accepted his companionship and his guidance over the past 15 years; old buddies from his childhood who talked about both his talent and his kindness with equal parts awe.

If Dailey's meteoric talents on a basketball court produced the lowest points of his personal life, there is no question that his years as a down-to-earth neighbor and caring father brought him his greatest joy.

"He was very bitter and very angry for a long time," said Dailey's ex-wife Angela Hart, the mother of his two children. "He loved basketball, but especially toward the end of his NBA career [his last season in the league was in Seattle in 1990-91, followed by a short stint in the CBA], he felt like he wasn't given a fair chance.

"But then we had children, and that softened him. He felt like he wanted to be a good person for them. He never had a real job, but he knew he wanted to work with kids, and he just excelled at it. We moved to Las Vegas and he started working for the Boys and Girls Clubs, and for a senior citizens center."

In his work with the seniors, said Hart, Dailey had someone to protect, and in the kids, someone to teach. And no one judged.

"They didn't know anything about his past, and he was so positive, so happy," she said.

Hart remarried and had a child of her own but included Dailey on every holiday and called him one of her best friends. Her son considered Dailey a stepdad, and her husband Keith called him "a great friend, someone I really respected."

"He helped hundreds of kids because he treated them like real people, and they knew he cared," Keith Hart said of Dailey. "Endless people have told us this week, 'I don't know where I'd be without Q; either dead or in jail.'

"I think people make mistakes. [Dailey] had a problem, and he spent the rest of his career trying to live that down. It's really too bad. But it didn't encompass his life. He put himself in a position to help others. And when all was said and done, the good outweighed the bad."

Life for Dailey, who grew up in Baltimore, was indeed a multipart act, the downs usually outnumbering the ups. At 13, he lost both parents within a month of one another, and with one brother in the army, one at West Point and one in jail, he moved in with an aunt.

Choosing the University of San Francisco from more than 200 schools that recruited him, Dailey immediately established himself as a star player and a down-to-earth, happy kid.

"We thought he just had the whole package when he came to USF," said Bill Fusco, then an associate athletic director who would become the AD. "He came from a Catholic high school, he was a B student, he was doing well in school with us and I don't think there has been a better offensive player at the university at any time before or since."

This was the school, mind you, whose alumni included Bill Russell, K.C. Jones and Bill Cartwright. But Dailey, said Fusco, "was just a machine." When and why Dailey met the "edgy types," in Fusco's words, that led to a drug habit that would plague much of his NBA career is not entirely clear.

Wynoka Jones, whose older sister Wanda dated Dailey through high school and in the early stage of his NBA career, and whose family took Dailey in during times of need, was also a student at USF.

"I don't call Quintin a friend, I call him my brother, and he called me his sister," said Jones, also the niece of baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. "He protected and looked after me. He was a precious and giving man, the real deal."

Like many stars, Jones said, Dailey "had people grabbing onto his coattails. They surrounded him because he was such a phenom. Reggie took one look at him and said, 'That's a multi-million-dollar player.' He was surrounded by people who weren't good for him. I got in the middle of some of the things, trying to keep people away from him. But the real true Quintin was a tremendous blessing."

Hall, Dailey's ex-wife, said she thinks Dailey was "confused" at that point in his life. "And he didn't have a parent, aunt, uncle, somebody responsible who he could tell, 'I'm really hurting.' He was sad, and the vultures would say, 'Try this, it will make you feel better.' He was kind of na´ve, and he did follow the wrong people and try different things that weren't good for him."

The incident that would leave a woman assaulted and Dailey's reputation forever tarnished is still fraught with emotion. According to details disclosed in a 1982 Sports Illustrated story from a closed preliminary hearing, a female nursing student and resident assistant accused Dailey of coming into her room drunk in the middle of the night. She said he sat on her bed for several hours, asked for sex, forced her to touch him inappropriately and threatened to use a weapon, eventually grabbing her neck before falling asleep.

Just weeks before the NBA draft, on June 4, 1982, Dailey agreed to plead guilty to aggravated assault. The other charges -- including the most serious, assault with intent to commit rape -- were dropped. He avoided a trial that would surely have meant missing the NBA season, and at worst face a maximum prison term of more than seven years, as well as having to register as a sex offender.

He had a problem, and he spent the rest of his career trying to live that down. It's really too bad. But it didn't encompass his life. He put himself in a position to help others. And when all was said and done, the good outweighed the bad.

-- Kevin Hart, on his friend Quintin Dailey

On the day of sentencing -- four days before the draft -- Dailey's accuser called the judge from Hawaii to ask that he get probation and not jail time, according to Dailey's attorney, George Walker. Among other things, she told the judge that she did not believe it was in Dailey's character to behave violently.

"She was happy to cooperate; I know I didn't have to press her," Walker said. "We were negotiating with the prosecutor, and the judge and the alleged victim helped me. I wanted to resolve things and get him to Chicago as quickly as I could."

The woman's attorney, Joseph O'Sullivan, said his client was "satisfied and wanted to get on with her life. She was an altruistic individual. She did not want to sue." But later, at a probationary hearing, O'Sullivan said Dailey angered her by not admitting his guilt.

"He said it was all B.S., that no one ever listened to his side of the story," O'Sullivan said. "[Dailey] was not a magnanimous individual at the time."

According to O'Sullivan, the woman eventually reached a settlement with the university for less than $100,000.

Four days before the draft, Dailey was sentenced to three years probation. He was confident the matter was behind him and expressed as much in his first news conference with Chicago reporters.

"Basically, nobody heard my side of the story when it happened," Dailey said. "And I really don't want to get into it now. I have forgotten about the episode. When you've got other, greater things ahead of you, I can put it behind me. Right now, it's forgotten."

His perceived smugness set off a firestorm in the papers the following day.

Sun-Times columnist John Schulian wrote a particularly powerful piece, blasting what he called Dailey's lack of contrition. "If he doesn't think it's necessary to ask forgiveness after that," Schulian wrote, "he can rest assured he will get no forgiveness."

Less than a month later, USF president John Lo Schiavo announced that the university was discontinuing its troubled basketball program, citing Dailey's revelation in a parole interview that he accepted money for a non-existent job while in college.

Though Dailey's involvement was merely one incident among several that had the university going before the NCAA Committee on Infractions over the previous few years, he had now brought down his school's basketball program.

"To pin that all on him is absolutely unfair and ridiculous," said Cartwright, the former USF star who missed playing with Dailey with the Bulls by two seasons. "It just wasn't true."

Looking back, Fusco -- who is now the Sonoma State University athletic director -- said USF bears some responsibility for what happened to Dailey.

"In some respects, the university let him down because we didn't have a support system in place that a young man without parental guidance and 3,000 miles from home would need," Fusco said.

Rod Thorn, then the general manager of the Bulls and now president of the Philadelphia 76ers, said the Bulls could have been better in that respect, as well.

"He just came in, we met with him and the PR person took him to various interviews and he came off as very smug and not very caring, when in fact, I don't think he even thought about it," Thorn said.

"His thought was, 'I'm going to put this behind me.' But it came off to the media in Chicago as, 'I don't care. The heck with it.' He got off to a real bad start, and it just ballooned from there."

Women's groups picketed Chicago Stadium and opposing arenas. In an interview with the Tribune, Dailey described opponents spitting at him. Opposing fans -- and even some at home -- typically booed him every time he touched the ball.

On Dec. 8, 1982, just a month into his rookie season, Dailey requested a leave of absence from the Bulls to seek psychiatric help, according to Dailey's late agent Bob Woolf, who told the New York Times his client was so depressed that he considered suicide.

''Quintin has gone through an awful siege -- harassment and abuse on a daily basis,'' Woolf told the paper. ''He's been in extreme depression. It's been more and more difficult for him to cope with things. He told me he had seriously considered ending his life. He's lost hope.''

Coaches and teammates said Dailey had tried to soldier on.

"He was very saddened about [the protests], because he'd say, 'Man, I didn't do anything,'" said Wallace Bryant, who played with Dailey's at USF and with the Bulls. "I remember him being very depressed about that and not wanting to go out."

Teammate Dave Corzine said the reaction of the media and public to the news conference was out of proportion.

"In my mind, it was way overplayed," Corzine said. "I'm not going to defend what he did. I don't know what he did. But I don't remember his statements being particularly inflammatory. He was just a kid with no guidance trying to put it behind him, saying 'I'm just here to play basketball and that's in the past.'

"And I remember feeling really badly for him."

Paul Westhead was hired as the Bulls head coach just days before the '82 draft, and he was fired after the season. But he remembers relying heavily on Dailey early.

"He was exceptionally gifted," Westhead said. "We had a team with a blend of players [led by Reggie Theus and David Greenwood], and 10-15 games into the season, he was shining as potentially our best player. It didn't take me long when I was running a need-play to call on Q."

Trouble was, Q wasn't always there. But Corzine said his teammates were supportive, even when he once missed a game without an excuse. "I clearly remember sitting in the locker room saying, 'God, I hope Quintin shows up. He doesn't need this,' " Corzine said. "But I don't think any of us felt he was letting the team down."

Thorn said it was evident by then that Dailey had a drug problem, but that teams simply did not perform the due diligence on prospective players that they do now. The team narrowed its choices for the seventh overall pick to Dailey and Clark Kellogg before choosing Dailey.

[+] EnlargeQuintin Dailey Jr.
AP Photo/Terry GilliamQuintin Dailey Jr., a starting guard for Eastern Michigan, said his father always taught him that there are consequences to his actions.

"You scouted guys at that time and got all the information you could, but you weren't by and large doing close background checks on guys at that time," Thorn said. "It was just another era. If it was today, I'm sure it would have been common knowledge that he had problems other than the case he had with the nursing student. In those days, it just wasn't looked at as it was today. And I don't think he was a bad guy."

Corzine thought Dailey cracked under the pressure of high expectations. But when the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan in '84, then-Bulls coach Kevin Loughery said Dailey had a difficult time.

"He couldn't accept Michael, honestly," Loughery said. "Michael came in and got all the attention, deservedly so, and [Dailey] couldn't accept it."

Corzine disagreed.

"I don't care who you are," Corzine said, "when you're averaging 18 points per game and they draft a guy at your position, you're going to fight for your spot. But I don't remember any locker-room discontent. I remember us laughing about it as players on the side, watching them scrimmage and saying they were going to kill each other, but there was no personal dislike."

Jordan would later credit Dailey with helping toughen him up, and Dailey's son said the two would often discuss Jordan.

"He said Michael Jordan was the best athlete, but he had to teach Jordan how to shoot, and once he did, he didn't stop," Quintin Jr. said with a laugh. "They had a love-hate relationship. They were so competitive, and they would battle it out. But now I can say: Who better to take my dad's position on the Bulls but Michael Jordan?"

For a long time, young Quintin was unaware of just how talented a player his father was.

"I heard some stories and saw some tape but I haven't seen a lot," he said. "I know he was good though. Two summers ago, when I was in high school, Magic Johnson was here [in Las Vegas] and I was introduced to him and he told me himself, 'Your dad was a bad [expletive].' Hearing that from him was like hearing the truth."

Most of the time, father and son did not focus on basketball.

"He taught me basketball," Quintin Jr. said, "but it was always compared to life lessons. Being late to school, to games, to dinner, he never wanted me to do anything bad. But he wasn't one to make excuses. If you do something wrong, he'd tell me, there are always consequences. And if you don't want to deal with the consequences, then you shouldn't have done it."

He was the father figure whom friends of Quinci and Quintin would talk to when they had problems, the one who was drawn to kids who needed help, and they were drawn to him.

Quinci's friend, Jamilla Kebede, lived with Quintin and Quinci for several months.

"Stuff happened, I fell on hard times, pretty much lost everything, and he welcomed me in with open arms, stood in for me like a dad when my dad didn't," Kebede said. "Not many people are willing to do that. He was a total sweetheart. He told me when he was younger, things weren't easy, but he didn't want to stay down. He said that just because hard times happen, you don't quit."

Michelle Allen, who knew the Daileys in Seattle and Las Vegas and considered Dailey her "best friend" for the past 20 years, observed his work close up and said his formula for success was a genuine likability.

"He didn't hide anything, he was very up front with everything, and he treated all the kids like they were his," Allen said. "He had this friendly smile and warm personality that made people feel comfortable enough that they could get close to him, and they trusted him and his guidance and judgment.

"Because of where he had been, he was never above anyone else. He could relate to people on so many different levels. He gave good advice and he listened. That was the most important thing, I think. He didn't so much preach as listen and coach people along to figure out the answers for themselves."

Quinci, a self-described "daddy's girl" who moved in with her father for a few years after her mother remarried, said she had long talks with her father about why he loved helping at-risk kids. "He said he wanted them to know about the mistakes he went through so they wouldn't make the same mistakes," she said. "They could relate to him. He let them know that he wasn't proud of some of the stuff that went on, but he'd say, 'Yes, I did this but I had to shape up. It wasn't the right thing.' "

It is a Quintin Dailey with which Chicago and the NBA community was wholly unfamiliar. By age 30, one of the most gifted basketball players in the world was out of the league. He was drug-free to the best of his wife's knowledge, since his second rehab stint in Chicago. And years later, he shouldered the responsibility.

"He didn't feel sorry for himself," said Quintin Jr. "He would say, 'There's always a better way. You can't take shortcuts.' He blamed himself because he knew if he didn't get into as much trouble as he did, he'd be in the league five more years."

He promised his son he would see him play at Eastern Michigan this season.

"I didn't want him to come see me in my juco games in Wyoming," Quintin Jr. said quietly. "That's why it's so tough. He came to all my high school games. He was always in a corner by himself, not yelling or anything, just watching. But I could always find him, even in a big crowd.

"I'm just glad I had him longer than he had his parents."

Dailey had high blood pressure, for which he took medication, and he was moderately overweight. Part of that was attributable to a lifelong fondness for fast food, which he ate the day before he died. But he was still physically active, refereeing a basketball game the week before and helping run his business -- 3DZ -- that provided officials for tournaments, camps and league play. His kids would occasionally act as scorekeepers to make extra money.

"If a ref told us his air conditioning went out, Q would say, 'Make sure to put [him] down for a game every day this week [so he could earn extra money],' " said Debora Crowley, who helped operate the business for the past four years. "When my air conditioning went out, he paid for a hotel room for me. He was very, very generous."

Crowley was expecting him on a basketball court last Monday at 6:15 p.m. At 5, she received the phone call telling her that he was gone. Upon discovering her father, Quinci had called Jamilla, who rushed over to comfort her friend.

"He didn't look like he was under any stress, any pain, he looked so peaceful," Jamilla said.

Angie believed he was at peace.

"I do. He was," she said. "He was very proud of his children. I think he was happy he and I got along so well and that we were together for our kids.

"He kept wanting to do more for the other kids. I think that's the pleasure he got out of life, and that's what kept him going. I think he looked forward to it. His kids were grown, he wanted grandkids so bad. He loved children, and that's what kept him going, though he always said, 'I could do more.' "

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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