SALT LAKE CITY — Ron Boone acknowledged it had been about 40 years since he last laid eyes on the hardware representing the state's only professional basketball title. On Thursday, though, Boone was able to give the 1971 American Basketball Association championship trophy more than a passing glance. The former Utah Stars guard gave it a good look before a luncheon at the Alta Club honoring the legacy of the late Bill Daniels, who owned the franchise.
"It brings back a lot of memories," said Boone, who played for the Stars from 1970-75.
The trophy, which is kept in mint condition at the Daniels Funds headquarters in Denver, was on hand for a scholar reception in downtown Salt Lake City that included the debut of a new 10-minute video presentation entitled "Principled Leadership: Bill Daniels and the Utah Stars." It chronicled the team's championship run and the integrity Daniels showed by refunding (with 8 percent interest) all debts owed — despite no legal obligation to do so — years after having to declare the franchise bankrupt. The ledger included season-ticket holders, employees and vendors.
"He was the best person that I ever worked for. Everything that he wanted to do, he wanted to do first class and he had integrity," said former Stars general manager Arnie Ferrin. "He paid everybody every penny that he owed."
Ferrin has fond memories of his time with Daniels. He said the cable television pioneer, who passed away in 2000, had impeccable integrity. Ferrin recalled getting a check from Daniels in the mail and sending it back to him.
"Working for you, you don't owe me any money. I didn't ever file a claim," Ferrin recalled saying. "I owe you money for the experience I had with you."
Daniels, however, was determined to pay his debt.
"He sent me back the check and said 'I said I wanted to pay everybody' (and) if you don't accept the check I can't say that," Ferrin noted.
Earlier in his career, Ferrin said Daniels sent him a check for $50,000 and asked that it be distributed to the players and employees. Ferrin called Daniels and told him that he didn't think it was necessary, expressing his view that the players and others were adequately compensated.
"He said 'Arnie, if it's my money, can I spend it the way I want?"
Like Ferrin, Boone praised Daniels as a man of integrity — a special owner, who was probably a little bit ahead of his time. He even showed up at Boone's wedding.
"He was a remarkable man," Ferrin said.
Daniels has left behind quite a legacy. The Daniels Fund, with assets in excess of $1 billion, has donated approximately $474 million in grants and scholarships since its creation in 2000.
When the Stars folded in 1975, Daniels' finances were stymied by regulatory battles associated with the growth of the cable television industry and an unsuccessful bid to become governor of Colorado. Attempts to sell the team didn't work out.
Despite the difficulties associated with the latter and the heartbreak of eventually having to shut it down, Daniels treasured his ownership of the franchise. He considered Utah's ABA championship as the brightest moment of his lengthy career in sports.
"That was special," Boone said. "The way the Stars came into Salt Lake City really educated this city as far as what professional basketball was all about."
Coming in with a bang, he added, set a tone that the Utah Jazz have since benefitted from. The Stars won the title in their first season in Utah after relocating from Los Angeles.
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