Pace Setter

by August 29, 2011

Ever since KICKS 3 (summer 2000), each issue of the annual sneaker mag—KICKS 10 not included—has contained two or three new inductions into the KICKS Hall of Fame, where footwear legends past and present are honored. This may not be fresh material for those of you who’ve been copping the mag since before the new millennium hit, but for the younger heads, we’re posting the entire HOF online over the course of the next few weeks. (It’ll be archived under the KICKS tab above.) Enjoy, and don’t forget: KICKS 14 is on sale now! —Ed.

Originally published in KICKS 4

by Michael Bradley

Even if every ABA game ended 145-1444 and featured more high-flying excitement than a Tony Hawk video game, it wasn’t all fancy dunks and rainbow threes. There were some real bad-asses, too. Nobody wanted to mess with Warren Jabali or John Brisker, who were as mean as any NBA strongmen and most of the FBI’s most-wanted list. Artis Gilmore was the biggest thing wearing shorts pants—even without his six-inch ‘fro. Dan Issel wasn’t called “horse” for nothing.

And then there was Mel Daniels. He went 6-9, 225, which was plenty big for the ’70s, when ballers stayed away from the weights for fear of losing their strokes. And tough? Daniels loved setting headhunting back screens, or decking anybody dumb enough to challenge him in the lane. And when it came to fighting, Daniels was ready. The man was tossed from his first-ever pro game for going fists. Daniels had lit up Kentucky in the first half, so the Colonels decided it was time to get rid of the rook. Bobby Rascoe, a 6-4, 205-pounder, did the honors, bumping and pushing Daniels until the rumble was on. But Mel never did learn his lesson. “To survive the ABA, you had to be pretty tough,” Daniels said in Loose Balls, the ABA history by Terry Pluto. “In my case, it was 78 game and 78 fights.”

Daniels began his career with the Minnesota Muskie, but to anybody who knows, he’s an Indiana Pacer. He was a two-time MVP, a member of three title teams, and a vital part of a club that survived all nine years of the madness. He was the enforcer on a team that had it all—shooting, defense, guard play and coaching. Though he played less than one season in the NBA, with the ’76-77 New York Nets, Daniels was undeniably one of the top power players in his era.

He was also the first ABA baller to endorse a sneaker, the adidas Americana. Daniels was wearing adidas already, so when asked to appear in a print ad, he didn’t think twice. “It was a shot of me and [Nuggets Center] Julius Keye in a jump-ball situation,” he remembers. “They said they were gonna use it, and they sent me a poster: For my effort, I received a duffel bag, a clothing bag and an extra pair of shoes.”

Daniels came from Detroit, the son of an auto worker, and figured that was his destiny, too. He spent a year at Burlington (IA) JuCo, then went into exile at the University of New Mexico. UNM hadn’t been rated in the Top 25 until ’66-67, but an 11-1 start vaulted New Mexico to the No. 3 national ranking. The Lobos faded, but Daniels didn’t—he averaged 21.5 ppg and 11.6 rpg and was named the school’s first-ever All-American.

The Cincinnati Royals, grandfathers of the Sacramento Kings, chose Daniels ninth in the ’67 NBA Draft. The Muskies liked him, too, and the bidding war was on. Minnesota offered more money, and so Daniels was the first-ever NBA first-rounder to sign with the ABA. He made an immediate splash, winning the League’s first-ever Rookie of the Year award. He also fouled out 11 times.

Daniels lasted one year in Minnesota, until team owners, strapped for cash, sold him to Indiana. After six seasons with the Pacers, Daniels finished his ABA career with one year in Memphis, before his abbreviated trip to the NBA. His ABA numbers—18.7 ppg and 15.1 rpg—are impressive, and although there are no official stats kept for elbows thrown, punches tossed or picks set, Daniels was clearly a leader in those categories, too. Put it all together, and you have one tough dude.