Famed Influences

by David Benner

September 6, 2012

My colleagues at the highly-acclaimed Pacers.com website asked about something from yours truly regarding the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which Friday justly inducts former Pacers Mel Daniels and Reggie Miller. I had to think on this one, which at my advanced age can be a daunting task.

But finally it came to me. Three important stages of my life have Hall of Fame influences. Big Mel is obvious. I grew up in Indiana, followed the Pacers from a young age and fondly remember occasional trips to the Fairgrounds Coliseum with my dad and brothers to see the Pacers play. An affection for the Pacers came early and, without a clue at the time, the fact they would influence me later in a couple of ways is a strange irony. As I recall, Mel was a helluva player and looked like a very mean man. Later, when I met him, and overcame the crushed bones in my hand from his handshake, and got to know him, I found the exterior Mel hid a pretty darn nice guy inside. Opinionated? No doubt. Volatile? Had his moments. But if you are on his side, he’ll do anything for you. I fully expect at some point during his acceptance speech Friday night, the mean man I perceived as a youth will shed some tears showing the insides of someone who is deeply honored for this long overdue recognition.

It had slipped my mind, as many things do, that another Hall of Fame induction will take place Thursday night. My good friend Sam Smith, former beat writer for the Chicago Tribune who covered the Bulls, will enter the hall as a Curt Gowdy Media Award winner. In my previous life, i.e. my newspaper days, I covered the Pacers for the Indianapolis Star. That’s how I got to know Sam and learn to admire his ability to cover a circus that had Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and many others. While Sam made a nice paycheck from his book, “The Jordan Rules” and its sequel, he never lost his objectivity and had a way of gaining the trust of some of the most high-profile players in NBA history. He’s a helluva writer and when I first heard he was going into the Hall, I was thrilled. The interesting thing will be if Sam owns a suit/tie since all anyone has ever seen him in is a sweater vest with a golf course logo on it.

One of the guys who Sam had a great relationship with was this guy, Reggie Miller. It is fitting these two will be sharing this weekend. The third important stage has been my employment with the Pacers. As a writer, I remember sitting down with Reggie for his first “one-on-one” interview in Indianapolis in one of the Turn Two Suites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was humble, charming and not anything like I had read/heard about: a brash, cocky kid from UCLA had drawn fans’ ire for various reasons as a collegian. The thing I remember best from that initial meeting was this skinny kid wouldn’t last physically in the NBA. He would get beat up on a nightly basis.

Maybe that’s why I got out of sportswriting is due to errant thoughts such as that. He turned out to be one of the most durable players in franchise history.

After a three-year intermission between covering the Pacers and coming to work for the Pacers, I was around Reggie for the rest of his career, starting in 1994. Like most professional/personal relationships we had our battles. I grew to respect his wishes, he grew to ignore mine and thus, I credit him for turning my beard from a healthy color to an aging gray.

In the past few weeks, I’ve been asked what my main memories of his career with the Pacers were. There are a couple among many.

Beating the Knicks in Madison Square Garden to reach the NBA Finals in 2000. The joy on his face when the Pacers won, the celebration in the lockerroom before the media arrived and the quiet moments after the media left.

His professionalism. Guys will watch tape, but are they really seeing anything? Reggie studied it, trying to gain an edge any way he could. His approach to practice, in practice, his approach to games, in games, was first class. He was never late for practice, never late for games, but he always stayed late after practice. He was all business, he was all about winning and was always working on his game. Yes, he has many highlights, last-second heroics, but the key was he prepared for those moments. Without the study, the practice, the discipline, the extra shooting, the work, those highlights and heroics never happened.

Like Mel, I think we could see some tears Friday night from the trash-talking, finger-pointing, allegedly macho Reggie Miller. Regardless, it will be a great night for the Indiana Pacers. Recognition for one of their greats from the franchise’s humble beginnings and recognition for another one of their greats who put the franchise on a national stage.

For Pacers fans, heck for anyone who lives in Indiana, this will be must-see TV.

What are some of your favorite Miller moments? Share your memories on the Pacers Facebook page.