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Issel, circa 1970–75
October 25, 1948|
|Listed height||6 ft 9 in (2.06 m)|
|Listed weight||235 lb (107 kg)|
|High school||Batavia (Batavia, Illinois)|
|NBA draft||1970 / Round: 8 / Pick: 122nd overall|
|Selected by the Detroit Pistons|
|Position||Center / Power forward|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Career ABA and NBA statistics|
|Points||27,482 (22.6 ppg)|
|Rebounds||11,133 (9.1 rpg)|
|Assists||2,907 (2.4 apg)|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
|Basketball Hall of Fame as player|
College Basketball Hall of Fame|
Inducted in 2006
Daniel Paul Issel (born October 25, 1948) is an American retired Hall of Fame professional basketball player and coach. An outstanding collegian at the University of Kentucky, he was twice named an All American en route to a still school record 25.7 points per game. The ABA Rookie of the Year in 1971, he was a six-time ABA All-Star and one-time NBA All-Star.
Collegiate playing career
Issel played college basketball at the University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Issel was at UK 1966–1970 and scored 2,138 points (an average of 25.7 per game) while being named an All American for two of the three seasons he was eligible for the award. His career points total remains the highest among UK men's players.
On February 7, 1970, Issel scored 53 points in a 120–85 victory over Mississippi, breaking Cliff Hagan's single-game Wildcat record of 51. Issel's mark held for almost four decades, finally falling to Jodie Meeks' 54 in a win against University of Tennessee on January 13, 2009. A three-year starter for the Wildcats, Issel led his team to three Southeastern Conference titles and set 23 school records in the process.
Professional playing career
In his first season, Issel led the ABA in scoring with an average of 29.9 points per game, and pulled down 13.2 rebounds per game. He played in the 1971 ABA All-Star Game and was selected to the All-ABA Second Team. Issel shared ABA Rookie of the Year honors with Charlie Scott of the Virginia Squires.
The following season, Issel played in 83 of 84 games and raised his scoring average to 30.6 points per game. He was named the MVP of his second All-Star Game for scoring 21 points and collaring nine rebounds. Issel made the All-ABA First Team of that season.
Led by dominating 7'2" center Artis Gilmore, the 1974–75 Kentucky Colonels won the 1975 ABA championship, with key support from Issel and sharp-shooting guard (and fellow ex-Kentucky Wildcat) Louie Dampier. In six seasons, Issel led the league in total points three times (including a record 2,538 in 1971–72) and was an All-Star each year.
Prior to the 1975–76 season, the Colonels traded Issel to the Baltimore Claws (formerly the Memphis Hustlers) for Tom Owens and cash. With Claws folding before the season's start, Issel was subsequently traded to the Denver Nuggets for Dave Robisch and cash.
Issel remained with the Nuggets following the ABA–NBA merger in June 1976, and represented Denver in the 1977 NBA All-Star Game. He remained productive, topping 20 points per game five of his remaining eight years. Retiring following the 1984–1985 season, he received the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1985 for his outstanding service to the community.
Wearing number 44, Issel is the Nuggets' second all-time leading scorer. He accumulated over 27,000 points in his combined ABA and NBA career, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving upon his retirement. Issel currently ranks #11 on the all time combined ABA/NBA scoring list. He missed only 24 games in 15 seasons, earning him the moniker, "the Horse". He was part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 1993.
ABA/NBA career statistics
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|†||Denotes seasons in which Issel won an ABA championship|
|*||Led the league|
After his playing career Issel retired to his Courtland horse farm in Woodford County, Kentucky. He spent a year doing color commentary for Kentucky basketball games then became a Nuggets broadcaster from 1988 to 1992.
Even with no coaching experience, Bernie Bickerstaff recruited him as Nuggets head coach in 1992. In 1994, Issel led his team to the playoffs with their first winning record in four years, after only winning 44 games in the previous two years. That year, the Nuggets pulled off the biggest upset to that date in National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff history, knocking off the Seattle SuperSonics in five games (the first ever 8th seed to beat a 1st seed in the first round). He resigned 34 games into the 1994–95 season after facing criticism for his coaching style, saying he didn't like the person he'd become.
He returned in 1998 as president and general manager, naming himself head coach again in December 1999, yielding his general manager's title to Kiki Vandeweghe. His second tenure was far less successful; the Nuggets did not post a winning season during this time. He was hampered in part by a drawn-out effort to find a new owner; two deals to sell the team collapsed at the last minute. Just before the start of the 1999–2000 season, he told reporters that there were several decisions he simply couldn't make due to the unstable ownership situation.
In 2000, Issel faced a team mutiny after angering his team for criticizing them after a winless four-game Eastern road trip. The Nuggets' team captains called a boycott of their next practice, prompting interest from CNN and other news outlets. The team saw some improvement later in the season, but missed the playoffs with a 40–42 record.
His tenure ended on a rather sour note in December 2001. On December 11, after a close loss to the Charlotte Hornets, Issel heard a fan taunting him as he walked off the court at the Pepsi Center. Issel taunted back, "Go drink another beer, you Mexican piece of shit." The incident was captured on Denver's NBC affiliate, KUSA-TV. Issel was suspended four games by the team. Issel publicly apologized the next day, and on Friday met with Hispanic chamber representatives, who accepted his apology. However, several members of Denver's Hispanic community thought the suspension was insufficient punishment, and called for him to be fired. Hours before he was due to return, Issel took a leave of absence to decide whether he wanted to return. Issel decided to resign on December 26.
Head coaching record
|Regular season||G||Games coached||W||Games won||L||Games lost||W–L %||Win–loss %|
|Post season||PG||Playoff games||PW||Playoff wins||PL||Playoff losses||PW–L %||Playoff win–loss %|
|Denver||1992–93||82||36||46||.439||4th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Denver||1993–94||82||42||40||.512||4th in Midwest||12||6||6||.500||Lost in Conf. Semi-finals|
|Denver||1999–2000||82||35||47||.427||5th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
|Denver||2000–01||82||40||42||.488||6th in Midwest||—||—||—||—||Missed Playoffs|
Issel filed for bankruptcy in 2009, claiming a $4.5 million debt to at least 34 creditors. To defray his debts, he sold off his 1969 Look All America Kentucky All Star Ring, 1970 Kentucky class ring, a 1975 25th anniversary ABA All-Star ring, and a 1989 NBA All-Star ring.
- Kentucky downs Tennessee behind Meeks' 54 points ESPN. Retrieved on January 13, 2009.
- Nuggets roster moves put on hold. ESPN, November 11, 1999.
- Spears, Mark (March 4, 2011). "Issel finds peace after turmoil of NBA". Archived from the original on November 19, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2016.
- Moss, Irv (February 3, 2014). "Colorado Classics: Dan Issel, former Denver Nuggets player, coach". Denver Post. Archived from the original on November 19, 2014. Retrieved September 18, 2016.