The Indiana Pacers Friday mourned the passing of former center Mel Daniels, a stalwart on the team’s three American Basketball Association championship teams and a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Daniels died Friday in Sheridan, Ind. He was 71. He is survived by his wife, CeCe, a son, Mel Daniels Jr., granddaughters Trisstan and Chloe, and sisters Vivian and Wanda.
“The tremendous outpouring of prayers being sent our way is overwhelming,” said CeCe Daniels. “We are so grateful for all the love. His charisma, poise and passion for life — be it horses, basketball or friends - is a template for us all, his family and his fans.”
“I join our extended Pacers family in offering my sincerest condolences to CeCe and Mel’s family,” said Pacers Sports & Entertainment Owner Herb Simon. “We will miss him greatly, but when we look at that Hall of Fame banner in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, we will be forever reminded of what he meant to this franchise.”
“We’ve lost a great one,” said Bobby “Slick” Leonard, who was Daniels’ coach on the three ABA Champions and joined him in the Hall of Fame in 2014.
“Mel was a great friend of mine the whole time I’ve been in Indiana,” said Donnie Walsh, longtime Pacers President and current Pacers Basketball Consultant. “He was a big part of the history of the Indiana Pacers. You always knew where Mel stood. He was a great competitor and poet. He was just getting ready to release a book of poems. I loved Mel. I will miss him.”
“Words cannot express the depth of my sadness today,” said fellow Hall of Famer and former Pacers great Reggie Miller. “Mel Daniels was a father figure, brother, consigliere, but most of all ‘MY UNCLE MEL.’ He helped raise me into the man I am. I hope I made him proud in everything I tried to do on, but more importantly off, the basketball court. My heart goes out to CeCe and the Daniels family.”
“I am saddened by the news that Mel Daniels has passed away,” said Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird. “I have known him since I was in college and he was one of my coaches. His competitive attitude reflected his success on the floor with the Pacers and the ultimate recognition, a well-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame. I offer sincere condolences to CeCe and his family."
Known for his strong-willed demeanor with a handshake to match, Daniels, who wore #34, was twice named the ABA’s MVP (1969 and 1971). He played six seasons with the Pacers, averaging 19.4 points and 16.0 rebounds per game.
A four-time All-ABA selection, Daniels was named to the First Team in 1969, 1970 and 1971, and was a Second Team pick in 1973. He also was named the ABA All-Star Game MVP in 1971 and was the ABA’s first Rookie of the Year in 1968 while playing with Minnesota. He is the Pacers’ all-time leading rebounder in the ABA (7,643) and he holds the Pacers’ ABA record for rebounds in a single season (1,475 in 1970-71).
Daniels attended Detroit Pershing High School. The 6-9 center then played for the University of New Mexico Lobos basketball team from 1964–67. He was the ninth pick of the 1967 NBA Draft, selected by the Cincinnati Royals, but was also drafted by the Minnesota Muskies of the ABA. He chose the Muskies and was acquired by the Pacers in a 1968 trade for a first-round draft choice.
With the Pacers, Daniels joined the likes of Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, George McGinnis, Bob Netolicky and Darnell Hillman in making the Pacers the ABA’s flagship franchise, winning titles in 1970, ’72 and ’73.
Following the end of his playing career, Daniels joined the coaching staff of his former college coach, Bob King, at Indiana State University, where he coached Bird. Daniels joined the Pacers front office in 1986 and was the team's Director of Player Personnel until October 2009.
He also was an avid horseman.
His jersey number was retired on Nov. 2, 1985. In September 2012, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Arrangements are pending. There will be a tribute and moment of silence before Saturday’s Pacers game with Utah at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.