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King Of The Rocky Mountains
Douglas S. Looney
January 30, 1984
Dan Issel's regal career has not gotten its due, but Denver fans don't have to be told that he's worth his weight in gold
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January 30, 1984

King Of The Rocky Mountains

Dan Issel's regal career has not gotten its due, but Denver fans don't have to be told that he's worth his weight in gold

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Issel has been passed over again for this week's NBA All-Star Game, which will be played in Denver's McNichols Arena, but he's accustomed to getting no respect. In 1971 he tied for second-team All-ABA center with Zelmo Beaty, behind Mel Daniels. In 1973 he was second team at forward, behind Erving and Cunningham; in 1974 he was second team behind Erving and George McGinnis; in 1976 he was again the second-team center, this time behind Gilmore. His only first-team all-ABA year was 1972, when he finished ahead of Erving. And he was never ABA MVP, losing out at various times to Daniels, Gilmore, Cunningham, Erving and McGinnis.

Even when things look as if they're working out for Issel, they don't. In 1977 he was voted the NBA Western Conference's All-Star center—the only time he has made the team in the NBA—ahead of Abdul-Jabbar. But that was only because Denver fans, taking a cue from Democrats in Illinois' Cook County, stuffed the ballot box. Fans everywhere except Denver were furious. Even Issel says it's "asinine to think I was a better center than Kareem." In the All-Star Game in Milwaukee, where Abdul-Jabbar had played before being traded to the Lakers in 1975, Issel was booed. He played only 10 minutes, failed to score and was so distraught he asked to be taken out of the game. Not in pique, but because he knew the fans wanted Abdul-Jabbar.

Predictably, Issel doesn't demand celebrity treatment or trappings. He doesn't own a fancy automobile—his garage houses an Oldsmobile and a Datsun—but confesses sheepishly he once had a Mercedes. "That," he says, "was our flashy-car period."

So what happened?

"Well, after my wife put a couple dents in it...."

"I didn't put the dents in it," protests Cheri, a former cheerleader at Kentucky who married Dan between their junior and senior years. "Other drivers did."

Issel continues: "After Cheri put a couple dents in it, I worried about it. So we got rid of it. I'd much rather have a broodmare than a Mercedes anyway."

That's true. He's deeply involved in the horse business as president of the Denver-based Blue Grass Breeders, Inc. Last November, at the Keeneland Sales, Issel purchased a mare in foal to Seattle Slew for $1,075,000. His company owns seven mares, and he has three more in partnership with Kentucky horseman Tom Gentry. Issel's reading runs to the daily Racing Form (California and Chicago editions), The Blood-Horse, The Horseman's Journal and The Thoroughbred Record. At home or on the road, Issel utilizes a computer terminal that allows him to assess the breeding of any horse that interests him.

"Horses are like humans," he says. "Some have incredibly large hearts, but you don't know which ones they are until they run. If selecting good horses was solely looking at confirmation and breeding, that would take all the fun out of it. Nothing is prettier than a thoroughbred running."

After he quits basketball Issel plans to pursue the horse business even more vigorously, buying more mares with the breeding potential to produce offspring worthy of being sold at Keeneland. "I'm kind of anxious to get on to the next field and see if I can do anything else but play basketball," he says. "Maybe the only thing that would depress me is to find out all I can do is basketball."

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