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Utah's pro basketball pioneer dies
Bill Daniels, 79, was a man of great character, integrity

Bill Daniels, who brought pro basketball to Utah in 1970 with the ABA's Stars, wouldn't make himself out to be a saint. That's even if he were looking down and fashioning his own obituary.

But people, who have worked for him, his friends and acquaintances would put him into sainthood. They would knight him, crowning him with the highest regard. The 79-year-old Daniels, who passed away Wednesday of pneumonia in Rancho Mirage, Calif., wouldn't want it that way."I'm just plain old Bill, and I want you to remember that," he would say.

Daniels isn't an easy person to forget. And I never will. He was a kind and gentle man, with such a huge heart it stretches from coast-to-coast across this great country. In 1980, Daniels returned money Stars season-ticket holders had seemingly lost when the franchise folded midseason nearly five years earlier. He said he didn't want to leave the face of the earth owing one dime.

Smallish in height. Not stature. Two men, Daniels and my father, James, have had the greatest impact on my life. My dad was only 5-foot-6, and Daniels was hardly any taller. At 6-foot-3, 200-pounds, and a bullheaded Irishman, which I am, I'm still no match for either. Neither were egotistical, but both would scold me. Not for my journalistic views. But for some of life's growing pains or wrongdoings. I haven't been a saint. And don't I pretend to be one. And each would put a hand around my shoulder when I needed it. I dearly miss that . . . Dad passed away in 1979, and I hadn't seen Bill since 1979. But we kept close through what Alexander Graham Bell created -- the telephone. One would be surprised on how much he liked to hear news from Salt Lake City. Actually, Bill would send complimentary notes to me about my columns I wrote, concerning his beloved Utah Stars, in the Deseret News, Basketball Weekly or The Sporting News. They meant more than I could say.

Once again, Daniels is not easy to forget. A natty dresser, not a strand of his silver-gray hair out of place, attired in a white shirt, striped tie, blue double-breasted sports coats and beige pants, he looks the essence of old-school corporate conservatism. The essence of class. Bill would always say, "You're always selling yourself. And you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression.

"That way," Bill used to say, "people will always remember you."

The Bill Daniels' story is one of vision, entrepreneurship and humanitarianism. His contributions to the cable business are legendary. His cable communications empire has been likened to those of John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan. After all, Daniels served as the earliest leader of the fledgling cable trade association, founded the first cable brokerage company and launched the first cable investment banking business. He has owned and operated hundreds of cable television systems, created dozens of innovative sports programming companies and cultivated a new generation of industrial leaders.

For example, in 1994, Daniels sold his Prime Ticket Cable Sports Network, which featured sports team and events serving 4.5 million people in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii markets, for $233 million. Yes, Daniels is listed among The Forbes Magazine 400 Wealthiest Americans. And before he sold Prime Ticket, he was listed among the top 100 most powerful sports people in The Sporting News. Bill, who upon his death still owned part of the Los Angeles Lakers, figures his greatest accomplishment and biggest thrill of his life came on May 18, 1971, when his Utah Stars captured the American Basketball Association's championship.

"Absolutely! It was the biggest thrill of my life," said Daniels. "No question about it. Vince Boryla did an excellent job of assembling the team. I loved those guys. I still love the Utah people. They were always great to me and our team. "They really supported my club from day one. We set all-time ABA attendance records, and won the league championship in our first year. We had the best arena (The Salt Palace) in the league, and for that matter, in the NBA at that time.

"Still," Daniels added, "I lost $500.000. I said to myself, 'I've got a problem.' Vince had done a helluva job selling our product. I always thought that Utah people were very knowledgeable about the sport. Our situation in Salt Lake City and our relationship with Utah people was like a Camelot affair. I loved it."

And it was my Camelot, too, Bill. The Utah Basketball Hall Of Fame brought back the most integral part of Camelot -- Zelmo Beaty -- and inducted him into the charter class a few months ago.

"That's great! That's a classy move for the Utah people to do that," said Daniels, while straining to holding back a cough in his throat. "Without 'Z' and Ann, there wouldn't have been a Camelot."

This is how he became one of the best owners in basketball. A genuine difference-maker in a profession with its share of self-promoting myths. Bill has always had an outstanding temperament. He never wavers in his voice. He excels at managing people. He surrounds himself with outstanding people and lets them do their jobs. He's a tremendous human being. And his players always loved playing for him. After all, Bill was King Arthur, a fearless, self-made man. His players knew it.

Former Deseret News sports writer Dan Pattison, who was the Utah Stars beat writer, is now the executive director of the Utah Basketball Hall of Fame.