Nuggets coach suspended four games for remarks to fan

Posted: Thursday, December 13, 2001

DENVER -- Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel was suspended for four games by the team Wednesday for shouting a profanity and insensitive ethnic remark at a fan.

Issel made the remarks as he walked off the court after a 99-96 loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday night. The coach responded to a taunt from the fan by yelling back, ''Go drink another beer, you Mexican ... ,'' adding an expletive at the end of the sentence.

The exchange was caught on videotape by KUSA-TV.

Team general manager Kiki Vandeweghe called the penalty ''very severe.''

''We take this very seriously,'' he said. ''Does it fix the situation? I think only time fixes the situation.''

Issel makes just over $28,000 a game, so the suspension will cost the coach more than $112,000, Vandeweghe said.

At a news conference attended by several members of the Hispanic media and Hispanic community, a visibly upset Issel apologized. He called the confrontation ''very stupid and regrettable.''

''I apologize to the fans, to the Nuggets organization and the people of Denver for that uncaring and un-Christian-type comment,'' Issel said. ''I take full responsibility for my actions and I'm sorry for the embarrassment it's caused my team, my family.''

Choking up for a second time, he abruptly left the news conference, leaving Vandeweghe to answer questions.

At a press conference Wednesday, Veronica Barela and other members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce demanded Issel be fired. ''Dan Issel is a public figure and a role model in our community and this demands some sensitivity for the public and a higher standard,'' she said.

John Calipari was fined $25,000 by the NBA in 1997, when he was coach of the New Jersey Nets, for making a similar comment to a Hispanic reporter.

''We took this many steps beyond what happened with John Calipari,'' Vandeweghe said.

The fan shouted at Issel as he left the court after the loss to Charlotte, the Nuggets' fifth defeat in a row and 14th of 21 games this season. It was unclear what the fan said.

Nuggets point guard Nick Van Exel tried to steer Issel away from the confrontation, but the coach stopped and shouted at the fan before he was hustled into the arena tunnel by assistant coach Mike Evans.

It has been a difficult week for the Nuggets. Besides the losing streak, they played their first game Tuesday night since Van Exel, their leading scorer, went public with his demand to be traded, saying he was sick of losing.

While noting that Issel's remarks were made ''in the heat of the moment after another loss at the buzzer,'' Vandeweghe said the remarks were ''obviously regrettable.''

Before announcing the suspension, Vandeweghe spent much of the morning on the phone with Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, league officials and state Sen. Robert Hernandez. The NBA asked the Nuggets to handle the matter internally.

''Mr. Kroenke feels very strongly about any type of racial comment,'' Vandeweghe said. ''He let it be known it won't be tolerated.''

When asked by reporters why Issel wasn't fired, Vandeweghe said:

''This guy has given his whole life to this organization. We did not think that throwing away 25 years invested in this league and this team was warranted. Do you forget about 25 years of service over five seconds?''

Issel has been a player, general manager and president of the Nuggets in addition to coach.

The money he will lose will go into the Nuggets' Community Relations Fund, Vandeweghe said, to be distributed to the Denver-area community.

Evans will take over the head coaching duties in Issel's absence, with consultant John MacLeod joining the bench.

Issel will be barred from the arena during the four games but will be allowed to coach at practice.

Van Exel, who has been critical of the Nuggets' coaches, urged that Issel attend practices, Vandeweghe said.

''I spoke with the players, and Nick said in front of everybody, 'Hey, listen, Dan will still be at practice, can't he? We need him at practice,''' Vandeweghe said.

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