Mel Daniels Elected to Hall of Fame

Daniels 1st of ABA Pacers elected to Hall, and he hopes not the last

By Conrad Brunner

Mel Daniels will be the first representative of the ABA Pacers in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He sincerely hopes he is not the last.

The anchor of three championship teams in the 1970s, Daniels was elected directly into the Hall Friday, and he may not be alone with enshrined in September. Fellow franchise icon and close friend Reggie Miller was announced as one of the 12 finalists.

"That would be special," Daniels said. "I think that would be probably a first, a combination of old school and new school as it were. Reggie epitomizes the ferocity, the dedication, the passion for the game. I've been fortunate enough to see early ballplayers like Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and later ballplayers like Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, those guys. But as a clutch player like Reggie was, no one could match some of the things he's done. It would be a great, great honor for me to go into the Hall of Fame with Reggie."

In addition to his three rings, Daniels was a two-time ABA Most Valuable Player and finished as the league's all-time leading rebounder (9,494) and fourth-leading scorer (11,731).

"I never thought I would be selected as a Hall of Famer," Daniels said. "I just played basketball because I enjoyed it. This honor is truly a special feeling, a special moment for me."

If there is anything bittersweet about the moment, is that Daniels is the only member of those teams so honored. He hopes his selection will open the door for his former teammates and especially Coach Bobby "Slick" Leonard.

"I don't think one would exist without the other," Daniels said. "Bobby Leonard deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He should've been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago. Without question, Roger Brown, George McGinnis, Fred Lewis, Bob Netolicky and a host of other guys. Hopefully, hopefully the recognition will come them as it has come to me.

"I think they're finally recognizing the fact that there were two professional basketball leagues and there were some very good basketball players in our league. They see the value of what we brought to the table in the American Basketball Association, especially the four teams that became NBA cities. After the merger, 15 of the 24 all-stars were from the American Basketball Association. So we're getting our dues -- not toally, but they're coming.

"It's kind of tough to be patient but they are recognizing that there were some good basketball players in the American Basketball Association. Further down the line, a few years from now, it would be gratifying to see Willie Wise and Jimmy Jones and Louie Dampier and some of those guys come in along with my teammates."

Daniels is the second player selected from the ABA Committee, following Artis Gilmore.

"Boy, it took a long time, didn't it?" Leonard said. "It took a long time but it's just great for him to get in. He had a great career and he's been around basketball a long time."

Leonard shares Daniels' strong feelings about blazing a trail for his former teammates.

"You know, I feel pretty strongly about that front line," Leonard said. "George McGinnis, in his prime, was as good a power forward as ever played. And Roger, well, Roger was just in a class by himself. That was a great front line we had and I'm so happy that Mel's in and I hope I live long enough to see Roger and George get in. I hope this opens the door because would have never won those championships without those guys."

Former Pacers President Donnie Walsh was Daniels' boss for most of his post-playing career as a scout and assistant coach.

"Not only Mel but some of the Pacers who were on the ABA teams really deserved it so I'm really happy, both for Mel and for the franchise that it gets this recognition," Walsh said. "I think it's an honor for the way he went to work as a player. Obviously Mel has been around the NBA for a long time now so I think it speaks well for his career."

The rest of the Class of 2012 will be announced on April 2 at a news conference in New Orleans prior to the NCAA’s Men’s Championship game. A Finalist needs 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for election into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The Class of 2012 will be enshrined during festivities in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 7.