Saturday, October 29th, 2011 at 11:00 am  |  4 responses

Original Old School: A Man Called Horse

You thought Patrick Ewing was the first center to step out and shoot the jumper? You never saw Dan Issel.

SLAM: Was it hard to maintain the same level of intensity and love for the game as a professional?

Issel: A little bit, because you’re playing so many more games, and it was a business, but I tried to play my entire career with that same spirit. You know, I couldn’t rely a whole lot on my talent to get me through. I really think that it was my work ethic that enabled me to achieve whatever I achieved in the game.

SLAM: I’m going to throw out some names and I just want to get your initial reaction. Artis Gilmore.

Issel: The strongest player I ever played against.

SLAM: Dr. J.

Issel: Probably the best player I ever played against. The one thing I remember about Dr. J is his huge hand. He held the basketball like the rest of us would hold a volleyball.

SLAM: George McGinnis.

Issel: The Backsmith. I saw George McGinnies play a high school all-star game, the Kentucky High School All-Stars against the Indiana High School All-Stars, and he looked like a man playing with a bunch of boys. He was really something.

SLAM: Doug Moe.

Issel: Doug’s a good guy, and he had the unique ability to be two very different people. When the game was being played, he was the most intense, foul-mouthed human being I have ever met, and when the game was not being played, he was the most laid-back, laziest guy I ever met.

SLAM: Did it ever bother you that he always referred to you as “my big stiff?”

Issel: [Laughs] No. I knew Doug loved me, so that slid off my back.

SLAM: Bill Walton.

Issel: Bill was probably the most complete center I ever saw: offense, defense, passing, ball-handling, rebounding, he did it all. Let me tell you my favorite Bill Walton story. There were seven people inducted into the Hall of Fame my year. They gave us each three minutes to speak. A few of us went a little over, some didn’t get to the three-minute mark. Bill Walton took 22 minutes.

SLAM: Alex English.

Issel: The most deceptive player that I ever played against or with. At the end of the game you would think, “Well Alex had a pretty nice night. He must have had 20, 20 points.” Then you’d get the stat sheet, and he’d have 36. He was so smooth on the court that you would never realize how many damm points he was scoring.

SLAM: Adrian Dantley.

Issel: Adrian was a very, very strong player who had a unique ability to get to the free-throw line. He was only about 6-4 playing power forward, and he couldn’t jump, but he never got his shot blocked. He always got his shot away, and more often than not, got to the free-throw line as well.

SLAM: Calvin Murphy.

Issel: Calvin was a water bug, and he was a great scorer. There was no way you could cover him with one man.

SLAM: Elvin Hayes.

Issel: I didn’t play against Elvin much, but he was probably the prototype power forward. Until Karl Malone came around. Big E was the way power forwards were supposed to play.

SLAM: Connie Hawkins.

Issel: Connie was gone by the time I got to the league—he had moved on to the NBA—but in the first ABA game I ever saw, when I was still in college, I saw him block a shot by catching it in mid-air. I’ll never forget that as long as I live. Connie Hawkins was amazing.

SLAM: In 15 years you missed less than 25 games. Are you proud of that, or do you look back and go, “What was I thinking?”

Issel: I’m very proud of it. They were paying me good money to play basketball, and I wanted to be out there. Some nights were good and some nights weren’t so good, but I was always there playing. And I was pretty fortunate. I never missed two games in a row, because I was banged and bruised but never had anything too bad. I think the worst was one night when I played with 103-degree temperature.

SLAM: What was the emotional highlight of your professional career?

Issel: Two things are my biggest thrills in basketball: winning the ABA championship in ’75, and coaching the Nuggets in the ’94 playoffs when we beat Seattle in the first round. We basically took a bunch of young kids who really had no business winning and beat the team with the best record in the NBA. And remember that in the next series, we were down three-zip to Utah and came back and took it to a seventh game. That whole run was a big thrill.

SLAM: It really looked like you were building something with the Nuggets. Then, BANG, you were gone, and it sort of fell apart. That must have been frustrating. And now you have to pick the pieces back up.

Issel: Yeah, it was frustrating to look back on, but a lot of that was my own choosing. Unfortunately, there were some factors that I really couldn’t control. It certainly makes you wonder what would have happened had I stayed and the team remained intact. But that’s the part of history now. We have to move forward.

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  • http://www.bulls.com Enigmatic

    Comparing Ewing to Issel is so misleading though.
    Issel was 6’9″, 235, or about the size as many modern day small forwards.

  • http://djfklf.com Jukai

    ^^^ It is more than that, but there are better comparisons.
    Issel is literally the image of a poor man’s Dave Cowens. Ignoring the obvious pigmentation matches, both rarely ever posted, started their offense anywhere past the top of the key, had killer 18-footers, and used that 18-footer to pump fake defenders out and drive to the basket at will. Both also couldn’t block a shot even if they were anchoring the post against a Div II woman’s team. The only difference is offensive IQ vs athleticism: Dan Issell was very careful to pick his shots and made the L purely on his basketball IQ. Dave Cowens was super quick and often times just charged the basket haphazardly and threw up crazy sh*t, but was so fast, strong, and had such crazy hops that he got away with it. Both players started playing basketball AT THE SAME TIME, yet you will read articles crediting either one for turning a center into an outside shooter. Kind of funny. That is besides the point though, since the Ewing comparison was probably used because the article is given to fans who know nothing about basketball outside of the 90s.
    Issel probably would be playing in Europe if he evolved in the 90s, but the centers in today’s league are so piss poor, he probably could do some damage given the right team…

  • http://www.slamonline.com Max

    Never ever heard of him.

  • RussM

    People reading this article not old enough to have actually seen him play are going to get the impression that his game was played strictly brlow the rim. Dan Issel could dunk his ass off! People (including Dan)were shocked when he wasn’t invited to the ABA’s famous first dunk contest. Clearly remember reading an article about how diiappointed he was.