Celebrating Miller, Daniels All Week Long

by Jeff Tzucker

This week, we have the honor of watching as two Pacers greats, Reggie Miller and Mel Daniels, are inducted in to Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

To many eyes, the nod for Daniels has been long overdue. While he was the anchor on those great Pacers ABA Championship teams, players from the ABA have found themselves oft-overlooked in regards to Hall consideration. Exclusion from the Hall has been particularly true for those that spent the vast majority of their playing career in the ABA.

Such was Mel's fate.

Daniels' career coincided exactly with the birth, rise, and fall of the ABA. He was drafted in 1967 (the year the ABA was founded) and by the time he played briefly with the NBA's New York Nets in 1976 (the year the ABA folded), his career was all but wrapped up.

Make no mistake, though: Mel was a mountain of a player. His career averages of 18.4 points and 14.9 boards per game stand the toughest tests of time. His rookie year with the Minnesota Muskies, he averaged 22.2 pts and 15.6 rebs. His fourth year (third with the Pacers), he averaged 21.0 pts and 18.0 rebounds per game. It wasn't until his sixth year that blocks were kept as a statistic. That year, he averaged 1.9 blocks per game.

But those are just numbers.

Daniels was also the key player on three ABA Championship teams, a seven-time All-Star (game MVP once), Rookie of the Year, and was league MVP twice.

Yet, for a guy like me who was born the year the ABA folded, somehow I still find it difficult to fully grasp how good Mel must have been. There's just so very little footage and photography that remain from the ABA, much has to be left to the imagination.

So, that's what I do: I imagine being a kid in the early 70s, looking at the box score before school and having my Dad ask me as he pours his coffee, "What did Mel do last night?" I reply by rote, "22 points, 24 rebounds, 3 blocks... and the Pacers won by 17."

"Just another day at the office." My Dad would reply wryly.

If that doesn't get the basketball fan in you juiced, nothing will.

As for Reggie, all but the youngest of Pacers fans have a favorite—a seminal—Reggie moment. Or two... or three. Or maybe, for some, it's just a feeling. For me, I tend to take my Reggie memories a bit aged.

Why? I have a bit of a soft spot for aging athletes. I have often found myself rooting for players (and teams) I used to root against simply because it's interesting to watch the recently-great use their guts, moxie, and Zen-like mastery to pull out one more memorable moment. (Call me a softie, it's fine.)

Accordingly, my favorite moments of Reggie's career:

The first is when he hit the 38-foot 3-pointer against the Nets in the 2002 Playoffs. (Boyle's call on that game is simply fantastic.) I was living in California and I had to rush after work to a local sports bar to catch the second half. Safe to say, I was the only Pacers fan there.

But, by the end of the game—largely spurred on by a certain exuberant transplant from Indiana—and because of Reggie's heroics time and again, the whole bar was rooting for Reggie and the Pacers. Even though the Pacers eventually lost that game in 2OT, Reggie provided hope when even the craziest among us wouldn't, or shouldn't, dare.

It's hard to put a price on that.

My second favorite memory was late in the 2004-05 season, the last season of Reggie's career. A decimated Pacers team, one that was expected to be a title contender, needed a leader down the stretch. After having elected to be a second or third option on offense for the prior two seasons, the 39-year-old Reggie ("Uncle Reg") dusted off his spindly legs one more time and started scoring like it was 1998. Beginning in mid-February through the end of the regular season, Reggie scored more than 20 points eleven times and scored more than 30 points four times. He then helped carry that Pacers team through a first-round upset of the Celtics before bowing to the Pistons in Round 2.

With all the drama that surrounded the Pacers that season, the privilege of seeing Reggie step up one last time and prove he could still take care of business was, well... a gift. It was a reminder of how great he once was and we were treated to one more glimpse of how good he still was. Past and present aligned perfectly, poetically even. To this day, it makes me smile.

Over the course of the week, we here at Pacers.com will be covering and celebrating the induction of these two Pacers legends in to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. We will have extensive photo galleries, written features, and video celebrating this fantastic week for Pacers fans everywhere.

For Mel, we hope to bring to life how great of a basketball player he was. For Reggie, we hope to bring those great memories rushing back one more time.

We hope you check in with us often and share in the good cheer. Be sure to follow us on twitter at @Pacers and on facebook for all the latest.