Don’t get it twisted. The 1984 NBA Draft changed the sport of basketball forever.
That was, after all, the draft that brought the greatest player the game has ever seen, Michael Jordan, to the NBA as he was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the third pick.
It was also Hakeem Olajuwon’s draft. Charles Barkley’s too. Then there’s John Stockton. Four NBA hall of famers in the first 16 picks and five overall.
225 places behind MJ and the very last member of that famed draft class was a 6’1 point guard out of Clark University.
With the 228th pick in the 1984 NBA draft, the Boston Celtics selected Dan Trant.
Here we chat to Trant’s family, coaches and opponents about his rise in college, getting drafted by the Celtics, playing in Ireland and his untimely passing.
“Dan was the best ballplayer I ever coached, ever,” says Tom Daley, former coach and principal at Massachusetts’ Westfield High School.
Under-sized and over-talented, Westfield is where Trant’s basketball journey begins. The third youngest in a family of nine siblings, Dan’s sister, Sally Trant remembers her brother as the apple of her mother and father’s eye.
“In a family, you’re not supposed to have favourites,” she jokes, “but everyone kind of knew Dan was the favourite!”
The son of a semi-pro baseball player, Daniel Trant was a dab-hand at the sport himself. He excelled at soccer too, but it was basketball that became his true calling.
“He was kind of a cocky kid, very self-assured,” Daley recounts.
“He was a great shooter but he was a better passer than he was a shooter. He played point guard and he always kept the other four kids involved in the offence. As a shooter, he worked at it.”
Work at it he did. Daley remembers a time when Trant would shoot so much on the asphalt courts across from the school that his hands were almost permanently raw.
During his time at Westfield, Dan became one of their most accomplished players of all time. His 47 point game still stands as the school’s record for points.
His stat-line that night read:
20 from 23 from the floor.
Seven from eight from the foul line.
Trant only played three-quarters of that particular game. Daley didn’t start the youngster as he was late for the team meeting. His girlfriend at the time, a cheerleader, was to blame, or so the story goes.
“With six minutes gone in the first quarter I walk down the bench and say to Danny, ‘Are you ready to play?’ and his answer was ‘I was ready six minutes ago.”
That’s the kind of player Trant was at that stage of his career. Talented, self-assured – a showman. It was those particular talents which caught the eye of Clark University’s Wally Halas.
“He was flashy and could score, but he was also a team player. He was someone who loved basketball more than anyone I’d ever known.”
After graduating high-school, Trant went to Suffield Academy prep school for a year before his arrival at Clark, who were an NCAA Division Three school. As Kieran Shannon puts it in his Hanging From the Rafters book, the point-guard was a ‘big fish in a small pond.’
Trant may have favoured style, but it was never without substance. In his four years at the university, he led Clark to the NCAA Division Three championship four-times, twice being recognised in the All-American team.
In his senior year, Trant left a profound legacy on Clark leading them to their first-ever National Championship game. “In the biggest games,” Halas recalls, “Dan stood out.”
It was also the year where Trant, whose grandparents hailed from Dingle and Salthill, first stumbled upon his love affair with Ireland.
Invited to take part in the Roy Curtis Invitational in 1983, Trant and Clark made their way to the Emerald Isle, to participate in the eight-team tournament.
Halas recalls the early impression Trant’s style of play on the court, and generosity off it, made on basketball fans here. Little did he know it would be a precursor for a pro-career to come.
“I remember we were on the bus to a practice one day and Dan says, ‘We’ve got to stop here’. Dan was the captain. He says he had candy and sweets for all the Irish kids watching practice, he was beloved from then on.
“We played in Inchicore, it was only a small stadium but whenever Dan would get the ball all the fans would chant in unison “Dan Trant, Dan Trant, Dan Trant.” They couldn’t wait for him to do something spectacular on the basketball court.
“You could say Dan was a bit of a legend in Ireland before he even graduated Clark.”
Graduate Clark he did, with a legacy left on the Rochester University. Attention though turned to what was next. In college basketball’s upper echelon names like Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon were thrown about as potential first picks in the 1984 NBA Draft.
Trant’s size would always be a hindrance to him. In today’s NBA, the undersized point-guard can excel. Steph Curry is a testament to that. In 1984 though the game was different.
His talent was still evident and enough for the famed Boston Celtics to select Trant with the 225th and final pick of the 1984 NBA Draft.
“It was like, ‘What?? No way!!,” Sally Trant remembers, of the night her brother was drafted.
“He was the last pick of the draft. We couldn’t believe it. Then to see the guys he was drafted with, (Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Hakeem Olajuwon) it was incredible.
“We went to Boston and watched him when he tried out with the Celtics and got to see him try out with Kevin McHale and those guys. It was a blast.”
Halas recalls that night fondly too, although he admits, the move came as a shock.
“It took me by surprise. The Celtics always drafted one or two kids from the area late in the rounds just to give them a chance and see how good they were. Dan was one of those. I think he really proved himself.”
In his tryout for the legendary Celtics of the mid-80s which included the likes of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge, Trant acquitted himself well, but his size ultimately cost him.
As Daley remembers it he was the last player cut from the eight or nine selected by the Celtics in that particular draft. “He was the last player picked and the last player cut.”
A local kid from Westfield MA done good. When he left the Celtics, the team presented him with a Spalding ball signed by the players. A fitting gesture.
Kieran Shannon put it eloquently when he remarked of Trant; “The story of that summer wasn’t getting cut by the Celtics, it was getting to play with them.”
The end of Trant’s whirlwind Celtics experience meant that his options were open. In the end, he chose to go back to his roots. A career in Ireland awaited.
“I think it was a combination of his Irish roots and the opportunity,” begins Sally Trant of her brother’s move to Ireland.
“He was very proud of his Irish heritage and he got his dual citizenship and when he got to Ireland he loved it, he really just fell in love with Ireland. He met some great people here and made some great friends. I think it was a combination of being a good opportunity for him.”
Trant began his career with Marian Basketball club in Dublin in the summer of 84. The year previous they had been impressed by his heroics in the Roy Curtis Invitational.
“He was an exceptional talent, he genuinely was,” says Tim McCarthy, the former Ireland basketball captain who came up against Trant during his time in Ireland.
“He was a point guard, but a lot of the Americans playing in Ireland at that time tended to be taller, they tended to be forwards. So, Dan Trant was unusual coming out here because he was a pure point guard. He was exceptional.”
Exceptional he was. Upon his arrival, Shannon remarked that he took up the mantle of “the best shooter in the country.” Averaging 33.2 points per game that first season, it was difficult to argue.
Trant would also represent Ireland and guest for a number of Irish clubs in international tournaments. He famously scored the first three-pointer in an international game at Neptune Stadium against England in 1985.
The flashy Trant and Ireland were a perfect match.
By his second season though, teams became wise to Trant’s abilities, now playing with Sporting Belfast, he struggled against the size and power of many defences.
McCarthy, however, has fond memories of Trant’s stint in Irish basketball, with his off-court influence often as impressive as on the court.
“You used to hang around with players after games back then and he really was a guy who was very comfortable to talk to in that sense and he’d mix well with everyone. He genuinely was a nice guy and I can’t say that about every player I’ve played against in that era.
“I know he loved his time in Ireland. Because he was entertaining and because he was a scorer he was someone Irish fans loved watching.”
After a brief spell in Cork, Trant would return to the States, and when his career finished he secured a job at a bond firm known as Cantor-Fitzgerald.
On the morning of September 11th 2001, Dan Trant was on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center.
“In our hearts, we probably believe Danny died very quickly,” begins Sally Trant.
“I’ve spoken to some firefighters who were there and they said because of where he was on the 104th floor that where the plane hit the building he probably would have died very quickly from the fumes of the plane.
“That gave me a little bit of peace because you saw all the awful things like people jumping out of windows and I didn’t want to think of him that way, having to make that choice or watching other people doing it.”
9/11 was a dark day for millions of American’s but for the Trant family, the attacks on both the World Trade Centre buildings and the Pentagon felt almost chillingly personal.
“My youngest sister is a flight attendant for American Airlines and nobody knew where she was that day. My brother Tim worked at the Pentagon when that got hit but he was in an annexe next to the building so he wasn’t in the actual building.
“My brother Matt worked right down the street from the White House, my sister-in-law worked in downtown DC.”
“My mother always said I felt like my family was being attacked that day.”
The tragedy of Trant’s death was felt far and wide. The city of Westfield lost three young people that day, all of which were of Irish descent.
Back in Ireland, Tim McCarthy became aware of Trant’s passing a few weeks after the tragedy. The famed commentator explained that whenever he visits New York, he always makes time for ‘Dan the Man.’
“It was very sad, I was in New York last year and I’ve been there on a few occasions and I’d always go down to ground zero and find his name and say a prayer next to it in remembrance of him.”
The night before his passing, Trant and his two sons along with their friend Lance Faniel, went to watch the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
Halas continues the story;
“The game was rained out. That meant Dan and Lance and the boys came home early that night.”
“If they stayed for the whole game, Dan would likely not have taken the early train into New York City on 9/11, he likely would’ve had a couple of Guinness the night before and taken a later train in and maybe wouldn’t have been in the building.”
The death of Dan Trant was indeed a tragedy, but in his short life, the Irish American kid from Westfield MA left a huge impression, wherever he went.
At Westfield High School, they’ve retired his number 12 jersey, “No one will ever wear number 12 in the city of Westfield again,” says Tom Daley, proudly.
At Clark University he is still revered, in Ireland still remembered. To Sally and Pat Trant he is and always will be their brother Danny, the apple of their parents’ eye.
“He was a true son of Ireland. His heritage is obviously Irish. Massachussets was his home but he loved Ireland. He loved the people, he loved the enthusiasm they had for basketball, he was made to play in Ireland.”
Daniel Trant may have been the last pick, in the last round, but in his life, he left a lasting impression, no matter where he went.
Originally published on May 10, 2020.