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Pacers legend Mel Daniels passes away at age 71

The heart and soul of the ABA Pacers championship teams passed away on his ranch just before going to meet a former teammate.

Jim Rogash/Getty Images

"What? You don't know who that is," the Fieldhouse security guard said to a younger colleague.

"He's a basketball legend and not just for the Pacers. All time!"

"That's Mel Daniels!"

I was on my way out of the Fieldhouse last night when I heard this exchange about 50 yards after passing Mel Daniels on Thursday night, the Pacers legend still presenting a strong presence on opening night for the Pacers.

So to hear the news this afternoon that Daniels passed away less than 24 hours later is both shocking and sad. According to friend and NBA reporter Peter Vecsey, Daniels passed away in the early afternoon, found dead in his truck by teammate Bob Netolicky after not showing up for a scheduled lunch.

Daniels' legendary career with the Pacers included two ABA MVPs, seven ABA All-Star selections and more importantly a big role on the 1970, 1972 and 1973 ABA championship teams. All of this led to his basketball Hall of Fame induction in 2012.

Our sincere condolences to his wife Cece and family. Rest in peace, Mel.