When you’re listening, it sounds like two sage hoops fans talking in the living room, maybe at a family reunion. The conversation shifts from legendary summer playground games to their firmly held belief that a college-aged Elgin Baylor would dominate Duke freshman RJ Barrett.
On this particular Sunday morning in early April, on the “In and Out of Sports” radio show, it is a reunion, but between two qualified basketball minds.
The show’s host, James “Butch” McAdams, is the former varsity basketball coach at D.C.’s Maret School, where he worked from 1978 to 2009. He is joined by Adrian Dantley, a frequent guest on the show, former NBA All-Star and coach, and a living local legend—part of McAdams’ D.C. Basketball Mount Rushmore.
“A lot of people say, ‘Man that’s the most I’ve ever heard Adrian talk!’ Adrian is not an outgoing person,” McAdams says. “But that’s my job. On my show, it’s just two people talking ball.”
It’s not all basketball, though. He also interviews a local representative of the United Negro Fund, because part of his goal is to inspire and inform the community. Former longtime Georgetown assistant coach Mike Riley, a local high school star in his own right who is now the head coach at the University of the District of Columbia, joined the show that week as well.
“My mission then and now is to tell the story of the DMV,” McAdams says.
After wrapping up his recording, he can’t walk a few steps outside the building without running into a local sports celebrity. A cheery Kevin Blackistone, an ESPN panelist and University of Maryland professor, sees McAdams and runs up to say hello.
Some in the media who chronicle the history of a particular sport or time period haven’t lived it. McAdams, 68, is different. He’s played alongside D.C. playground legends in the 1960s. He attended UDC and was deep in the coaching sphere during the ‘70s and ‘80s. He can still rattle off starting lineups from championship teams at Dunbar High School or the now-closed Spingarn High.
He wants to make sure that the greatness of that era is not lost on the residents of a drastically changing city. Like with the District’s music culture of the 1970s and 1980s, D.C.’s urban basketball culture was a defining element that newer residents may not be familiar with, or fully appreciate.
“I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve been around and I’ve seen and read a lot,” McAdams says. “Washington is a very transient town, and you have a lot of people who are not native Washingtonians or they haven’t been around long, and they don’t know the story.”
After 40 years of molding young minds coaching sports at the high school level, McAdams is sharing his knowledge of D.C.’s rich basketball history on his radio show on 1450 WOL. He credits Cathy Hughes, the founder of the station, as a key figure in his second career. The man they call Butch also names Bernie McCain and Harold Bell as sources of inspiration and mentorship for his radio efforts.
The other three players on McAdams’ D.C. Basketball Mount Rushmore in addition to Dantley are Baylor, Kevin Durant, and Dave Bing. He’ll challenge anyone—or any city—to contest it. But his show and its purpose goes beyond on-court excellence and into social impact.
Just as important as those four greats are the trailblazers who broke color lines across different sports and sports-related professions locally, regionally, and nationally, McAdams says. He mentions that it was a D.C. native, Dr. Edwin B. Henderson, who is credited with bringing basketball to African-Americans in the early-1900s as a vehicle for physical education and to encourage engagement with academics.
McAdams doesn’t feel any need to deliver this information in an antagonistic manner. He recognizes that plenty of D.C.’s newest residents are basketball fans, and sees an opportunity in blending the cultures of past and present, a lesson he learned in his decades at Maret School in Northwest.
“That was a melting pot of various cultures and was a very diverse school,” he says. “The school embraced my culture … They wanted to hear my stories about growing up in Washington D.C. and being 18 years old in the midst of the 1968 riots. … You learn from other people, and that’s what makes society better.”
McAdams expresses relentless optimism for the district’s mid-major Division I programs at American University, George Washington, and Howard, simply because of the local talent pool they can draw from. As proof, he offers how D.C. has seen collegiate champions at the Division I (Georgetown), Division II (UDC) and Division III (Catholic University) levels.
“Any school in this area, if they really put a priority on having a competitive basketball program but don’t want to hurt academics they can,” he says. “Because there are so many tremendous student-athletes here.”
At the high-major Division 1 level, he sees lots of potential in Georgetown, but isn’t very optimistic about Maryland, which he says doesn’t have “a strong culture.”
“I saw a lot of improvement under Patrick Ewing,” McAdams says. “They played hard, didn’t always play well but they played hard … Now Patrick needs to recruit a couple more players.”
“Under the ownership of Ted Leonsis, from what I see, I think his No. 1 baby is the Capitals,” McAdams says. “Look at the Capitals and how they’re run versus the Wizards, and you tell me? … How could Ernie Grunfeld keep his job for 16 years and be 200 or more games under .500? That wouldn’t happen in L.A. That wouldn’t happen in Boston.”
With college basketball season over and the Wizards out of the playoffs, it may seem like local hoops fans have nothing to look forward to, but summer basketball is typically where legends are made, and this year will be no different.
“I like to go to the summer league games and watch the high school players and teams that don’t normally get to play against one another,” McAdams says. “Then you get a chance to see who’s really [a Washington Post] All-Met player.”
The Kenner League, hosted at Georgetown University’s McDonough Gym, is a summer hoops hot spot. Last year, it gave Hoya basketball fans their first chance to see incoming freshmen Mac McClung and James Akinjo. In years past, McAdams got his first look at Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, and even Julius Ervingat the Kenner League’s historic games.
While he points out names like DeMatha’s Hunter Dickinson and Earl Timberlake, and Paul VI’s Jeremy Roach as high school players to keep an eye on this summer, McAdams adds the area player he’s most excited to watch is Azzi Fudd, who wrapped up her sophomore year at St. John’s by winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award. Fudd tore the ACL and MCL in her right knee two weeks ago and is out indefinitely.
“When I saw her play, I said this is one of the best basketball players that I’ve watched in a long time,” he says. “I didn’t say [for a] girl.
“I love her because she’s efficient. Doesn’t have a lot of the herky-jerky, dipsy-doodle moves. She’s a clinic, and last but not least, she can shoot the rock.”
McAdams recently walked in front of his old neighborhood near the U Street corridor and reminisced about playing football or basketball in the backyard or back alley. While so much has changed over the years, that same magic of seeing hyped players for the first time and watching them prove themselves in a humid, cozy arena, can still be part of the city’s hoops culture for years to come.
“You should never leave or totally forget your culture,” he says.