Issel played college basketball at the University of Kentucky under legendary coach Adolph Rupp. Issel was at UK 1966-1970 and scored 2,138 points (an average of 25.7 per game) while being named an All American for two of the three seasons he was eligible for the award. His career points total remains the highest among UK men’s players.
On February 7, 1970, Issel scored 53 points in a 120-85 victory over Mississippi, breaking Cliff Hagan’s single-game Wildcat record of 51. Issel’s mark held for almost four decades, finally falling to Jodie Meeks’ 54 in a win against University of Tennessee on January 13, 2009. A three-year starter for the Wildcats, Issel led his team to three Southeastern Conference titles and set 23 school records in the process.
Upon Issel’s graduation in 1970 he was drafted by the Detroit Pistons of the NBA and the Kentucky Colonels of the ABA. Issel signed to play basketball for the Colonels and the ABA.
In his first season, Issel led the ABA in scoring with an average of 29.9 points per game, and pulled down 13.2 rebounds per game. He played in the 1971 ABA All-Star Game and was selected to the All-ABA Second Team. Issel shared ABA Rookie of the Year honors with Charlie Scott of the Virginia Squires.
The following season, Issel played in 83 of 84 games and raised his scoring average to 30.6 points per game. He was named the MVP of his second All-Star Game for scoring 21 points and collaring nine rebounds. Issel made the All-ABA First Team of that season.
Led by dominating 7’2″ center Artis Gilmore, the 1974–75 Kentucky Colonels won the 1975 ABA championship, with key support from Issel and sharp-shooting guard (and fellow ex-Kentucky Wildcat) Louie Dampier. In six seasons, Issel led the league in total points three times (including a record 2,538 in 1971-72) and was an All-Star each year.
Prior to the 1975-76 season, the Colonels traded Issel to the Baltimore Claws (formerly the Memphis Hustlers) for Tom Owens and cash. With Claws folding before the season’s start, Issel was subsequently traded to the Denver Nuggets for Dave Robisch and cash.
Issel remained with the Nuggets following the ABA-NBA merger in June 1976, and represented Denver in the 1977 NBA All-Star Game. He remained productive, topping 20 points per game five of his remaining eight years. Retiring following the 1984-1985 season, he received the NBA’s J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award in 1985 for his outstanding service to the community.
Wearing number 44, Issel is the Nuggets’ second all-time leading scorer. He accumulated over 27,000 points in his combined ABA and NBA career, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Julius Erving upon his retirement. Issel currently ranks #9 on the all time combined ABA/NBA scoring list. He missed only 24 games in 15 seasons, earning him the moniker, “the Horse. He was part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 1993.
Smallthoughts: Old school Tuesday salutes …Dan Issel
Kentucky Colonels (ABA)
Denver Nuggets (ABA and NBA)
Career highlights and awards
ABA Champion (1975)
6× ABA All-Star (1971–1976)
ABA All-Star Game MVP (1972)
NBA All-Star (1977)
All-ABA First Team (1972)
4× All-ABA Second Team (1971, 1973–1974, 1976)
ABA Rookie of the Year (1971)
J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award (1985)
ABA All-Time Team
No. 44 retired by Denver Nuggets
Consensus first team All-American (1970)
Consensus second team All-American (1969)
Career ABA and NBA statistics
27,842 (22.6 ppg)
11,133 (9.1 rpg)
2,907 (2.4 apg)