When Kawhi Leonard won the Finals MVP award in 2014, somewhere Bob Dandridge was smiling. The former NBA star, who played 13 seasons in the league, could appreciate a two-way demon who excelled on the sport's biggest stage.
"I was glad [Kawhi] was able to be the [2014 Finals] MVP because he played an all-around game," says Dandridge. "[It was] a salute to all the versatile guys who've played in this league. I felt good about that award."
Four decades earlier, Dandridge was an indispensable part of perennial contenders, winning two championships and appearing in two other NBA Finals in the 1970s. In 1971, Dandridge was part of the Milwaukee Bucks' championship squad that featured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. In 1978, he won a title alongside Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld.
All four of his star teammates have since been inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Dandridge, meanwhile, after the 2017 class was announced Saturday, is still waiting for his day to come.
Dandridge burst onto the scene in 1969 when the Bucks drafted him with the 45th pick -- 44 spots behind their No. 1 overall pick Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor). He proved quite the surprise as he rose to prominence alongside Kareem and Robertson, who arrived in Milwaukee for Dandridge's second season.
Dandridge's first two Finals appearances came with the Bucks, who won it all in 1971 and narrowly missed another title in a seven-game loss to the Boston Celtics in 1974. He gave the Bucks a dangerous third option, which was devastating for teams who were focused on stopping Kareem and the Big O.
"Bob made it very difficult for our opponents to guard us because of his quickness," says Abdul-Jabbar. "He could hit the open midrange jump shot and he was a very good defensive player."
"I really don't think Bobby knew how good a basketball player he was," says Robertson, who played a role in Dandridge's scoring average increasing from 13.2 points per game in 1969-70 to 18.4 PPG in 1970-71.
"He was a very, very efficient basketball player." His success in Milwaukee led him to join the Washington Bullets in 1977 as one of the first free-agent signings in NBA history, and the first free agent to eventually help his team win a title.
"We had been trying for several years to get him," says Bernie Bickerstaff, an assistant coach with the Bullets from 1973 to 1985. "[He] was the guy who solidified and brought everything together."
The acquisition of Dandridge created a big three in the front court with Hayes at power forward and Unseld at center. But Dandridge remembers things didn't get off to the smoothest of starts.
"One day we were in training camp, about the second day, I twisted my ankle, and Wes Unseld walked past me and said, 'Oh, you supposed to be the savior, and you hurt already.'"
Dandridge realized at that moment that "these guys are looking to win a championship." Knowing he had gone from the third option in Milwaukee to a primary offensive weapon in Washington, Dandridge relished the opportunity to lead the Bullets to a title.
"Washington was what I considered to be my team, and every player at some time wants it to be 'your team,'" he says. "I'm the guy that you're going to depend on for these victories."
Dandridge delivered. In the 1978 playoffs, the Bullets ousted Julius Erving and the reigning Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers, then won a bruising Game 7 on the road against the Seattle SuperSonics in the Finals to capture the title.
Dandridge followed that up with his finest season yet, at age 31, earning his first All-NBA selection, his first All-Defensive selection and a fifth-place finish in MVP voting. In the 1979 playoffs, Bobby D proved his clutch credentials with a pair of titanic Game 7s, including in the East finals versus the San Antonio Spurs when the Bullets stormed back from a 3-1 series deficit and Dandridge finished Game 7 with 37 points.
In the game's closing moments, the Bullets ran a play for Dandridge, who swished a fallaway jumper, giving Washington a 107-105 victory and a return trip to the Finals. Although the Sonics won the Finals rematch, Dandridge averaged 22 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists per game in the series.
"I played on teams with superstars," Dandridge says, "and I was supposed to be just a throw-in in the package. But I always managed to make myself a significant part of the package."
Injuries relegated the four-time All-Star to just 79 games total during his final three seasons before retiring from the NBA at age 34 in 1982. He finished his career averaging 18.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG.
But it's what he did in the postseason that stands out. He scored more points in the Finals during the 1970s than any other player. He is also one of 23 Hall of Fame eligible players who have averaged 20-plus points per game in at least three different Finals, and the only one not in the Hall. That list includes the likes of George Mikan, Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan. It also includes often overlooked greats like Cliff Hagan, Bill Sharman and John Havlicek.
It's hard to find a player who played that key of a role on that many winning teams who's not in the Hall of Fame.
Dandridge, who later worked with Dr. Joe Carr in the late '80s to help create what is now the NBA's Rookie Transition Program, makes no secret that he believes he's deserving of Hall of Fame induction.
"I've been fortunate to play with some great guys," Dandridge says, "but I think that my performance has also made their lives a lot easier when we played as teammates."
Still, he has learned to be patient, saying "things happen in God's time."
His former teammate, Hayes, on the other hand, thinks the honor is way overdue.
"The Hall of Fame should be ashamed for not having included Bobby Dandridge long, long ago," says Hayes. "He is one of the greatest, finest players from the small forward position to ever play this game."
Hubie Brown, an assistant coach with the Bucks from 1972 to 1974, agrees, recalling how crucial a role small forwards like Dandridge played in the '70s.
"At that time in the league, you had to have an outstanding small forward ... not only score, but defend. And Dandridge was an outstanding defender as well as a big-time scorer."
But Hall of Fame worthy?
"If I say a guy is an 'excellent professional player,' that's the highest compliment that I can say about a player," Brown continues. "That's Bobby Dandridge because he was complete. Athletically, offensively and defensively. In the pressure moments he could deliver at both ends of the court and then he was an excellent teammate.
"That, to me, completes the pro."