Born in Washington, D.C. in 1955, Adrian attended DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, where he played under fellow Washington Metropolitan Basketball Hall of Fame member, coach Morgan Wootten. Dantley went on to a storied career at Notre Dame (1973-76, first-team All-American in 1974–75 and 1975–76, 2nd all-time scorer, scoring leader in 1974-75, 30.4, and 1975-76, 28.6). As a freshman, he played an important role in one of the biggest games in college basketball history, Notre Dame's 1974 upset to end UCLA's record 88-game winning streak. He was also the leading scorer on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team that captured the gold medal in Montreal.
He was drafted sixth overall by the Buffalo Braves in the 1976 NBA draft and won the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. Traded to Utah in 1979, he reached his peak as a prolific scorer (NBA's leading scorer in 1981and 1984, averaging over 30 points per game each season between 1981 and 1984) and finished his career with an average of 24.3 points per game. He was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.