One of the most notable personalities in Denver Nuggets history celebrated his 63rd birthday on Tuesday.
Dan Issel, nicknamed The Horse, not only spent all nine of his NBA season with the Nuggets – he also was the team’s coach for six seasons.
Issel started his playing days in the ABA with the Kentucky Colonels and would later end up with the Denver Nuggets in 1975. Issel was with the Nuggets when they moved to the NBA in 1977 and in his seven seasons in the NBA he averaged more than 23 points and nine rebounds. He also helped the Nuggets advance to the playoffs in seven seasons – including advancing to the second round in 1978 and then to the Western Conference Finals in 1985.
Issel was chosen to the 1978 All-Star game and retired as a Nugget in 1985. During his days in the NBA only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving scored more points.
He returned to the Nuggets organization in 1992 as the team’s head coach. And in 1994, he coached a Dikembe Mutombo-led Nuggets team to an unlikely first round upset in 1994 when the eighth-seeded Nuggets upset the top seeded Seattle Supersonics, which at the time was coached by current Nuggets coach George Karl. The Nuggets also nearly defeated the Utah Jazz in the second round, before losing the best-of-7 series 4-3.
He helped the Nuggets return to the playoffs in 1993, where they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Issel would quit the next season after being criticized for his coaching style.
He returned in 1998 as the Nuggets general manager and team president. The biggest move he made as the Nuggets GM was snag Antonio McDyess, which came with some controversy.
McDyess had a verbal agreement with the Nuggets, but had second thoughts and invited Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman and George McCloud of the Phoenix Suns to an Avalanche game at the Pepsi Center to talk about the decision. However, Issel got wind of it and told security not to let the three players in the arena. In the end, McDyess signed with the Nuggets.
A year later, Issel would step back in as the Nuggets coach replacing Mike D’Antoni as the team’s head coach. His squad was led by the highly volatile Nick Van Exel and McDyess. Issel would once again demand a lot of the Nuggets and drove his own team to boycott a practice after a long East Coast trip in December 2000. The boycott was led by team’s captains Van Exel and McCloud.
Issel would later admit it was his fault, saying, ‘It was my fault, because you should never call a practice as punishment.’
The Nuggets went on and finish the season with a 40-42 record, missing the playoffs by seven games.
Issel returned as the Nuggets coach the next season, but was dealt a big loss before the season when McDyess went down with a knee injury and end up missing most of the season (he came back and played 10 games but it was apparent he wasn’t completely healthy). Without his star player, Issel and the Nuggets started off with a dismal 9-17 record and drew taunts from fans. After a three-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Dec. 11, 2001, Issel responded with an ethnic slur to a heckler and would get suspended for two weeks due to the remark. He would later resign as head coach and Mike Evans would take over as the Nuggets coach.
Despite the controversial ending to his stoic career with the Nuggets, Issel remains a favorite among Nuggets fans and had his jersey retired by the Nuggets.
Tags: Antonio McDyess Charlotte Hornets Dan Issel Denver Nuggets Dikembe Mutombo George Karl George McCloud Jason Kidd Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kentucky Colonels Mike D'Antoni Mike Evans Nick Van Exel Phoenix Suns Rex Chapman San Antonio Spurs Wilt Chamberlain