It all started back at the University of Kentucky under the coaching of legend Adolph Rupp. Back in those days a freshman couldn’t play varsity ball, but the next three years would be concluded with SEC championships. When all was said and done, Issel had set 23 records at Kentucky (including becoming the all-time scoring leader) and was ready to make the jump to the pro ranks.
He would get his start with the local ABA Kentucky Colonels. He would play five years with Kentucky and one with Denver during his years in the alternate league. During that time he would capture Rookie of the Year in 1971, All-Star MVP in 1972, and win a championship with the Colonels in 1975. It was a now time for the Nuggets to be absolved by the NBA and Issel to take his game with them.
While continuing to play for the Nuggets for the rest of his career, Issel only missed 24 games in 15 pro seasons. Because of this feat and his blue-collar style of play it was only fitting that his nickname be, “The Horse.” Issel was a throwback guy. A guy that came to the gym everyday knowing that his only chance was to work twice as hard as the next guy with more talents and his work ethic to the game was a credit to that. Furthermore, and just as fitting, Issel owns a racehorse breeding ranch in Kentucky and is tightly linked to the sport.
Issel ranks seventh on the combined ABA/NBA career-scoring list with 27,482 points with a 22.6 point per game average. When he retired he was the all-time leading scoring in Nuggets history (Alex English surpassed him a few years later) and his name was littered all over the NBA record books. He is still the all-time rebounder (6,630) and leader in free throws made (4,214) in Nugget history. He was an NBA All-Star in 1977 and was the first Nugget to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame in 1992. Prior to his entrance into Springfield, his jersey number 44 was retired to the rafters of McNichols Sports Arena on April 5th, 1985. He would later coach and broadcast for the Nuggets and remains one of Colorado’s most recognizable sports legends and personalities.
As a coach he is most commonly remembered for leading the eighth seeded Nuggets against the number one seed Seattle Supersonics and becoming the first eight seed to ever upset a number one in 1993. No one will ever forget Dikembe Mutombo clutching the ball over his head while lying on the floor after that historical win. And no one will ever forget Dan “The Horse” Issel either.