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Kragthorpe: Bill Daniels' Utah Stars legacy lives on

Published July 19, 2013 11:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Stars and I moved to this state in the same year, so I remember everything about the pro basketball team's beginning in Salt Lake City.

And now I know more about the ending.

The bankruptcy that forced the Stars to fold in the middle of the 1975-76 season is not really the conclusion of the story. The part that should be remembered came nearly five years later, when Stars owner Bill Daniels personally made efforts to locate and repay vendors and season-ticket holders.

That's just part of Daniels' legacy, celebrated Thursday in downtown Salt Lake City, a couple of blocks from the old Salt Palace arena site. Former associates including Stars player Ron Boone, general manager Arnie Ferrin and staff member Grant Harrison attended the Daniels Fund's event that featured a new video, "Principled Leadership: Bill Daniels and the Utah Stars."

The video captures Lex Hemphill's 1980 story in The Salt Lake Tribune, detailing how Daniels counted "four years, seventh months and eight days" since the team folded. His repayment plan — with 8 percent interest — would cost him about $750,000.

It took him that long to get in a position to settle his debt, Daniels (who died in 2000) said at the time. He went on to build an empire in the cable television industry and launch charitable efforts, leading Denver-based Daniels Fund administrators to award more than $360 million in grants and more than $114 through scholarship programs. Several Utahns in the Daniels Scholars program also joined in Thursday's event.

In a speech to Casper (Wyo.) College business students, Daniels once said, "Boy, I suffered when the Stars went bankrupt. I had no legal obligation to do what I did, but it bugged my conscience. … I had to look myself in the mirror every morning and face head-on what happened."

That story is told in a chapter about ethics in education in "The Life & Legacy of Bill Daniels," a book that explains his business and philanthropic efforts. That legacy includes an ethics initiative at the University of Utah.

As a 10-year-old fan, the Stars' 1971 ABA championship meant everything to me. At the other extreme, the team's demise was very disappointing. But I feel a lot better about the Stars' legacy now, having learned more about what Daniels went on to do in Utah and beyond.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt