Dan Issel

Born: October 25, 1948
Position: Center, Power Forward
Professional Career:
Kentucky Colonels (ABA): 1970-1975
Denver Nuggets (ABA/NBA): 1975-1985

Pat Williams, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, says of Issel, “He’s not a pro-type center, not defensive-minded, not an intimidator, and you can’t win a title with him. But when his career is over, he’ll be an immortal.”

Via “King of the Rocky Mountains” by Douglas Looney

The complaints of so-called dainty “big men” that prance around the perimeter are nothing new, basketball fans. Elvin Hayes and Bob McAdoo took their fair share of heat in the 1970s for not being “tough enough” and so did Dan Issel despite the evident utility of such big men then and now.

And by the way, Pat Williams, Dan Issel’s Kentucky Colonels did win the ABA title in 1975.

Ten years later on May 22, 1985, a great career came to end in Los Angeles. In the final game of that year’s Western Conference Finals, the Laker fans in attendance gave a rousing standing ovation as Dan Issel trotted off the court for the last time. Moments earlier Issel, a 6’9″ center, had nailed a three-pointer. It was one of just two field goals he made that night exhibiting the decline his body and skills had taken over 16 years of pro ball.

Of course, Dan Issel never played a single year, game, or minute for the Lakers. Still, the fans of Los Angeles and basketball worldwide had to give it up for a player such as Dan Issel.

As he retired, Issel possessed the following all-time ranks for pro basketball: 5th in games played, 6th in minutes played, 6th in field goals made, 4th in free throws made, and 15th in rebounds grabbed. Most importantly, only Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Julius Erving had scored more points than Dan up to that point. This was a basketball institution leaving the court for the last time.

Issel, simply put, was a scoring machine. He still remains the University of Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer despite only playing 3 years there. In pro basketball Issel did put up some highly impressive single season scoring averages, but his career scoring totals were heavily indebted to a remarkable longevity, consistency, and durability.

Issel only missed 24 of a possible 1242 games in his career.

The course he took to these points was unorthodox for a center. Like Hayes and McAdoo, Issel was a marksman from long-distance. His jumper extended nearly out to the three-point line, which invariably drew opposing centers out of their comfort zone. Issel would either calmly sink the jumper or deceive the defender with a pump fake and make his way toward the rim. Another favored method for Issel was scoring on the break.

He was by no means someone you could describe as fast, but neither were opposing centers in his era, for the most part, and Issel had the bonus of a motor that never stopped running. And he hit the ground running in his professional basketball career.


 

When he first entered the hardwood domain of the ABA back in 1970, Issel wasn’t yet an institution but he certainly had the framework. He led the ABA in scoring with 30 points per game that season and with the aid of little Louie Dampier, he took the Kentucky Colonels to the ABA Finals where they lost in seven games to the Utah Stars.

The Colonels beefed up their title chances the next year adding Artis Gilmore. The Issel-Dampier-Gilmore Colonels were a cornerstone of the ABA. Gilmore brought the intimidating inside defense, hook shots, and rebounding. Dampier brought the hot outside shooting and steady ball-handling. Issel brought a boatload of careening hustle, more rebounding, mobile offense from a big man, and easy fastbreak points.

The Colonels were a huge success during these years. In 1973, they lost another seven-game Finals series, this time to the Indiana Pacers. Then in 1975, the Colonels got revenge on their rivals in a 4-1 series manhandling of Indiana.

Amazingly winning the championship would be Issel’s last act as a Colonel. In the summer of 1975 he was traded first to the infamous Baltimore Hustlers/Claws, which quickly folded, and then to the Denver Nuggets. Moving back to center, Issel teamed up with David Thompson and Bobby Jones to lead Denver to the ABA Finals in 1976 (beating Kentucky along the way) before losing to the New York Nets in six games. Denver had the better overall team, but Julius Erving turned into a supernova for the Nets that series.

Merging with the NBA that summer, Issel and the Nuggets took their act to the NBA and there was no drama to their play. Despite roster changes (Thompson and Jones making way for George McGinnis and then Alex English and Kiki Vandeweghe in the early 80s) and coaching switches (Larry Brown for Donnie Walsh and then Doug Moe) the Nuggets always scored like Chicagoans voted: early and often.

This style reached its zenith between 1981 and 1985 when the Nuggets never failed to average less than 120 points a game for a season. FIVE different times Issel was part of a troika of teammates that averaged at least 20 PPG a piece. That’s something that rarely happens – let alone happens that many times on one team.

Even with all that high-flying amazement, the Nuggets never got back to a Finals with Issel. The closest they came was the Western Conference Finals in 1978 (losing to Seattle) and in 1985 (losing to the Lakers). That ’85 series would see Issel score his final NBA points. Going out in style, Dan swished that 3-point bomb as the Great Western Forum crowd cheered him on.

A 6’9″ perpetually-balding center with a devilish grin is certainly not what we expect when thinking of ABA personalities and NBA legends. But Dan Issel was certainly one of the best and, indeed, he is immortal: his number is retired by the Nuggets, he’s a Hall of Famer, and to this day retains the most successful pro career of any Kentucky Wildcat. Eat your heart out, Ron Mercer.


Honors

ABA -
Champion (1975)
Rookie of the Year (1971)
All-ABA 1st Team (1971)
4x All-ABA 2nd Team (1971, 1973-’74, 1976)
All-Star Game MVP (1972)
6x All-Star (1971-’76)

NBA -
All-Star (1977)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (1218 games):
22.6 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, .499 FG%, .793 FT%
21.4 PER, .181 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (133 games):
22.1 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 2.1 APG, .487 FG%, .822 FT%
20.1 PER, .161 WS/48

Bob Feerick

Born: January 2, 1920
Died: June 8, 1976
Position: Forward
Professional Career:
Oshkosh All-Stars (NBL): 1945-1946
Washington Capitols (BAA): 1946-1949
Washington Capitols (NBA): 1949-50

Bob Feerick didn’t enjoy a lengthy pro career, but – as with so many things of the mid-20th century – you can blame that on World War II. Like so many men of military age, Feerick was in the armed forces. Luckily for Feerick, he wasn’t sent to fight, and possibly die, on the beaches of Normandy or the sands of Saipan.

Instead he was sent to the domestic naval station at Norfolk where he encountered the fiery oddball, Red Auerbach. Feerick, who’d been a standout college player at Santa Clara, was an ace of the so-called Norfolk Naval Training Station Quintet. The team barnstormed on the weekends to make some extra cash, but the relationship formed between assistant coach Auerbach and Feerick would pay dividends in the coming years.

After leaving the service, Bob Feerick found himself in little Oshkosh, Wisconsin, as a member of their NBL squad, the All-Stars. During his one season (1945-46) with the team, Feerick averaged 9.5 points and 82% free-throw shooting. Oshkosh would lose in a hard-fought five-game series against their bitter rivals, the Sheboygan Redskins, in the playoffs. The NBL title was absolutely legit, but back in the 1940s, the World Professional Basketball Tournament held in Chicago was the most prestigious title to win.

The All-Stars made that tournament and Feerick turned up his play. In the semi-final against the Chicago Gears (and their rookie center George Mikan), Feerick lodged 22 points in a 72-66 victory to put them in the Finals. The venerable Leroy Edwards, a mainstay of the All-Stars, made a valiant effort with 24 points and Feerick chipped in 19, but the All-Stars were defeated by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the third and deciding game of that Finals series. For Feerick, this brief stay in the NBL proved he was indeed one of pro ball’s best players.

A new pro league and an old acquaintance soon came calling for his help.

Red Auerbach, stuck coaching high school ball in DC, persuaded the owner of the Washington Capitols to make him the new coach of this new franchise in the brand new Basketball Association of America. Red immediately got together some of his old Norfolk buddies, Feerick and Fred Scolari, and a basketball powerhouse was born.

Feerick, aged 25 and at the peak of his game, was widely regarded as the BAA’s best all-around player that season and the next. He was good on the boards, good at passing, and could rifle in a set-shot with no problem. And despite Auerbach being the official coach, Feerick was a brilliant basketball mind and was the de facto coach on the floor. He often called timeouts to stem opponents’ runs and walked to the bench mumbling under his breath at how incompetent the 29-year old Auerbach was at times.

With Feerick leading the BAA in FG% and finishing 2nd in PPG, the Caps set a blistering pace that year with a 49-11 record, which included just one home loss.

The torrid regular season pace came back to haunt the Caps in the playoffs. Their fastbreaking style and Auerbach’s insistent use of just seven players left them worn out. It also didn’t help the BAA inexplicably pitted its two best teams in an opening round playoff series. The second seed Chicago Stags upset top-seed Washington 4-games-to-2.

Over the next two seasons, the Caps continued to be regular season powerhouses. They placed first in their division 1949 season and finally reached the BAA Finals where they tangled with the Minneapolis Lakers losing in six games. Feerick, however, wasn’t around. He was out with injury for all but two of the games that postseason.

After a brief stint in 1949-50 as the Caps’ player-coach in the newly-formed NBA, Feerick retired from professional basketball to coach his alma mater, Santa Clara.

Feerick’s starring role on one of pro basketball’s best teams of the 1940s is his crowning achievement. The 1947 Caps’ win percentage of .817 was never bettered by a BAA team, and no NBA team did so until the 1966-67 Sixers won 68 games, a percentage of .840.

That success came as a result of Feerick’s all-around play at forward. His career is also as a reminder of an awkward time in pro basketball’s history. A grand basketball career of possibly 12 years gets cut to a career of just five years thanks to war, drafts, and jobs that paid better with half the hassle. Despite that reduction in career length, Feerick obviously made the most of it in his short time as a pro ball player.


 

Honors

BAA -
2x All-BAA 1st Team (1947-’48)
All-BAA 2nd Team (1949)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (242 games):
13.0 PPG, 2.0 APG, .362 FG%, .805 FT%

Playoff Career Averages (14 games):
10.2 PPG, 1.4 APG, .311 FG%, .795 FT%

Adrian Dantley

Born: February 28, 1956
Position: Small Forward
Professional Career:
Buffalo Braves (NBA): 1976-1977
Indiana Pacers (NBA): 1977
Los Angeles Lakers (NBA): 1977-1979
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1979-1986
Detroit Pistons (NBA): 1986-1989
Dallas Mavericks (NBA): 1989-1990
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1991


 

Adrian Dantley

One of the most unstoppable post players in the history of basketball stood a mere 6’5″ on a good day… in an extra thick pair of high knee socks.

That truth seemed like a doubtful assertion back in the 1970s when Adrian Dantley was routinely told time and again that he was too short to keep playing in the post. Or that he was too heavy and chunky to be any good in college, let alone the pros. And, yet, Dantley proved the naysayers wrong his entire career.

During his final two seasons at Notre Dame, AD dropped a shade under 30 points a night to go along with 10 rebounds and 56% shooting from the field. As his professional career unfolded, it turned out that Dantley’s rebounding would diminish but his scoring and, more remarkably, his FG% would not take a hit.

Despite winning Rookie of the Year in 1977, Dantley bounced from Buffalo to Indiana to the Lakers during his first three NBA seasons. His NBA per game averages to that point were 19.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, .515 FG% and .816 FT%. Not bad, but apparently not good enough for any team to retain.

Finally, though, Dantley found a home in 1979. The Lakers traded him to the Utah Jazz in exchange for Spencer Haywood. With the Jazz Dantley was given the freedom to fully unleashed his devastation upon the NBA.

From 1980 to 1986, Dantley averaged an absurd 29.6 points a night. Despite the increase in usage, his FG% actually rose considerably to an insanely high 56% for those seven seasons.

He rarely dunked and yet he maintained that percentage on a series of shots around the rim.  He’d have remarkable control of his body no matter how much pounding or twirling he’d do in the paint. And heaven help you, if you wound up fouling Dantley. He’d still probably make the shot thanks to his stocky strength and with his 80+ percent shooting from the foul line you were just giving him free points. Indeed, he led the NBA in free throws made four times in this span, in addition to winning the scoring title twice.

Dantley’s white hot streak peaked in 1984 when he led the league in scoring, win shares, PER, and WS/48.

As often happens, though, a player’s most prodigious statistical seasons don’t coincide with his most successful seasons from a team perspective. The Jazz only made the playoff three times during these seasons, but they managed to win two playoff series.

However, a trade to Detroit for the 1986-87 season gave Dantley a chance to be on a true contender. His scoring average dipped to 20 points a night, but with the Pistons having Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson, no one man needed to take a massive offensive load.

In 1987, the Pistons came within a mere three points of making the NBA Finals, but fell to the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals by a score of 117 to 114. Dantley was an uncontrollable monster for the series averaging 23.6 points on 57.7% shooting,

The next season Detroit dispatched Boston and advanced to the NBA Finals. In Game 1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers, Dantley was a man possessed scoring 34 points on 14-16 shooting from the field and 6-7 shooting from the charity stripe. The Pistons won that game and eventually took a 3-2 series lead. They likely would have won the Finals if not for Isiah Thomas severely sprained ankle in Game 6. The Lakers pulled out that game by a single point and eked by in Game 7 with a three-point victory.

Unfortunately for Dantley he’d be traded midway through the 1989 season to Dallas in exchange for Mark Aguirre. The Pistons new high-scoring 1980s forward would capture two titles, while Dantley’s career wound down on mediocre, losing teams. Sadly, that’s the way basketball bounces sometimes.

One man’s lucky break is another’s bad misfortune. Still, Dantley’s career was a marvel. What he did control, he controlled with an ability rarely seen. And he did it with fantastic style: gorgeous knee-high socks, awesome chops on his face, and a great corkscrew free throw shot.


 

 

Honors

NBA -
Rookie of the Year (1977)
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1981, 1984)
6x All-Star (1980-’82, 1984-’86)
All-Rookie Team (1977)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (955 games):
24.3 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG, .540% FG, .818% FT
21.5 PER, .189 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (73 games):
21.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 2.3 APG, .525 FG%, .796 FT%
19.3 PER, .172 WS/48

Bob Love

Born: December 8, 1942
Position: Power Forward
Professional Career:
Trenton Colonials (EPBL): 1965-1966
Cincinnati Royals (NBA): 1966-1968
Milwaukee Bucks (NBA): 1968
Chicago Bulls (NBA): 1968-1976
New York Nets (NBA): 1976-1977
Seattle SuperSonics (NBA): 1977

Bob Love’s road to NBA stardom was a long one. Drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in 1965, Love wound up spending his rookie professional season in the Eastern Professional Basketball League. Turns out the 4th Round pick of the Royals was not deemed good enough for the NBA, but with the Trenton Colonials in the Eastern League, Love soared and took home of Rookie of the Year honors in 1966.

With a second shot at the NBA, Love made the Royals roster, but languished as a reserve in 1967 and 1968.  The Royals left the unimpressive forward unprotected for the Milwaukee Bucks’ expansion draft. The Bucks snagged Love but traded him after just 14 games to the Chicago Bulls. He continued to ride the pine and averaged a career-low 5 points for the Bulls.

That’s two leagues and four teams for Love in his first four seasons.

Finally, in his fifth pro season at age 27, Love began to soar. Averaging 21 points a game in 1970, Love then notched 25 points per game in 1971, and peaked in 1972 with 26 points a night. Overall from 1970 to 1976, the forward would maintain a 22.6 PPG and 7.1 RPG average with the Chicago Bulls.

The smooth-scoring forward earned the nickname “Butterbean” for his effortless and gossamer shots. Love could turn baseline and nail tough fade-aways, go middle and knock down turn-arounds, curl off picks for catch-and-shoots… if there was a way to make a jump shot Bob Love knew how to do it and do it well.

Teaming with Jerry Sloan, Norm Van Lier, Chet Walker, and Tom Boerwinkle, Love formed the core of a highly successful Bulls team in the early-and-mid 1970s. The squad perennially pushed deep into the playoffs, but never quite got over the hump. For his efforts, though, Love was recognized as one of basketball’s best forwards in the era with a combined 8 All-Star, All-NBA, and All-Defensive team selections.

But with such a late rise to greatness, Love’s peak didn’t last extraordinarily long. By his 10th NBA season he was already 34-years old. He endured a quick, precipitous decline. In 1976, his field goal percentage plummeted to 39% and the next year (1977) he played briefly for the Bulls, New York Nets, and Seattle SuperSonics. For those trio of teams, Love averaged only 7 points in what would be his final season.

It was an abrupt, unceremonious end. Given how his basketball career began in a similar unceremonious fashion it was somewhat fitting for Love. But the splendor of what occurred in between shouldn’t be discounted. The Butterbean was one smooth shooter.

Honors

NBA -
2x All-NBA 2nd Team (1971-’72)
3x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1972, 1974-’75)
3x All-Star (1971-’73)

EPBL -
Rookie of the Year (1966)

Statistics

Regular Season Career Averages (789 games):
17.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 1.4 APG, .429 FG%, .805 FT%
14.9 PER, .096 WS/48

Playoff Career Averages (47 games):
22.9 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.9 APG, .431 FG%, .776 FT%
15.1 PER, .082 WS/48

Billy Paultz

Born: July 30, 1948
Position: Center, Power Forward
Professional Career:
New York Nets (ABA): 1970-1975
San Antonio Spurs (ABA/NBA): 1975-1980; 1983
Houston Rockets (NBA): 1980-1983
Atlanta Hawks (NBA): 1983-1984
Utah Jazz (NBA): 1984-1985

In a 1972 game against the Squires, [Paultz] hit his first eight shots, and finished with 13 field goals in 15 attempts. Rick Barry scored 43 points and John Roche 37 points that same evening. “I get 33 and I’m the third high scorer on the team,” complained Paultz. “Are you kidding me?”

Via Complete Handbook of ProBasketball by Jim O’Brien

Now there’s an insightful quote into both, Billy Paultz and the ABA. The league was about flash and pizzazz, glitz and glamor. On a night where Paultz goes a-wreckin’ for 33 points on 13-15 shooting, he’s still not the brightest light shining on the court. Nonetheless, Paultz revealed his affable, self-effacing and humble personality in discussing his misfortune. Barry and Roche may have overshadowed him that night, but for someone with no organized basketball experience until his senior year in high school (1966), Paultz was doing quite well for himself.

Drafted by the NBA’s San Diego Rockets and the ABA’s Virginia Squires in 1971, Paultz opted for the ABA and was soon traded by Virginia to his hometown New York Nets. What the Nets got was an uncoordinated heap of man that would be nicknamed “The Whopper” for his well apportioned waistline and the hamburger that kept it so.

Nets teammate Rick Barry quipped “I didn’t believe he could possibly make it…” and Jim O’Brien added his two cents: “An ardent surfer, but the way he moved at the outset of his rookie season it was hard to envision him keeping his balance on shore let alone sea.” The off-balance Whopper nonetheless averaged 14.7 points and 8.4 rebounds during his rookie year.

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Penny Hardaway

Born: July 18, 1971
Position: Point/Shooting Guard, Small Forward
Professional Career:
Orlando Magic (NBA): 1993-1999
Phoenix Suns (NBA): 1999-2004
New York Knicks (NBA): 2004-2005
Miami Heat (NBA): 2007

During the last half of the 1990s, Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway was on top of the basketball world.  Playing on a fresh new franchise and arriving just after the retirements of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan, Hardaway promised to escalate the NBA’s popularity with a style that melded many of the talents of the aforementioned legends. His raw athleticism trumped Bird’s, his scoring outbursts surpassed those of Magic, and his passing was more deceptive than MJ could ever consistently hope for.

The aesthetic beauty of Penny Hardaway’s basketball game is still hard to imagine decades later. A long, lanky and tall point guard gliding up and down the court. Probing defenses for thunderous dunks or slick dimes. Anfernee’s distinctive nickname, “Penny”, gave a much-deserved trademark to the on-court festivities.

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Saying Goodbye to the Twitter

After much personal deliberation, I’ve decided to shutter the Twitter account for Pro Hoops History for a few reasons.

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done all that I can for this topic through that medium. Maybe if I got paid to do this, it’d be a different story. Oh well. I’ll still maintain my personal Twitter account @curtismharris, where I blabber more about funk music, politics, and Abraham Lincoln. So, if you care about any of that follow me there, I suppose.

More importantly, though, this website will stay up as a source for basketball history. I don’t make much new material anymore, but I do tinker with the posts already made. So, bookmark it and enjoy, if you like.

– Curtis Harris