Miller, Daniels Gain Immortality

by Mark Montieth

September 7, 2012

Reggie Miller, who built a career on having the last word on the basketball court, got it again Friday night at the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame ceremony.

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The unofficial headliner of the event, Miller went last among the inductees in Springfield, Mass., mixing heartfelt sincerity with his trademark humor. Former Pacers center Mel Daniels—"Uncle Mel," according to Miller—accepted his honor earlier in the evening via a videotaped message because of illness.

Miller's most emotional moment came when he thanked his sister Cheryl, a fellow Hall of Famer who was one of his presenters, along with Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley.

"Cheryl, a lot of people wish they could be in the house with the greatest of anything," Miller said, choking back tears. "I just so happened to live across the hall from absolutely, positively the greatest women's player ever. I'm proud to say I'm not on this stage without you. We as a Miller family are not held to such a high standard if not for you. We rode your shoulders all the way here."

Miller thanked Johnson and the other NBA veterans who invited him to their summer pickup games at UCLA while he was in college. Magic, Miller said, taught him to win "by any means necessary" in their games, even if that meant cheating.

Miller made use of those lessons in two of his memorable playoff moments.

The first came when he shoved New York's Greg Anthony to steal an inbounds pass and hit a second consecutive three-pointer, part of his legendary eight points over an 8.9-second period to lead a startling Pacer comeback.

"Yeah, I pushed," Miller said. "I'm sorry. The ref didn't call it, I went with it. Like Magic said, by any means necessary. So I apologize, OK?"

He also admitted to shoving Michael Jordan to hit a three-pointer in the final seconds of a playoff game at Market Square Arena in 1998.

"Yeah, Michael, I did push you, too," Miller said. "But I've seen you do it so many other times to so many other players … I figured it was OK."

Miller recalled a preseason game against Jordan and the Chicago Bulls his rookie season in a small city. At teammate Chuck Person's urging, he engaged Jordan in trash talk during the game, and at halftime had outscored Jordan 10-8.

"I remember Michael looking at me coming out for the third quarter," Miller said. "Michael ended with 40 and I ended with 12. That's when I knew I needed to step up my game." Miller also thanked Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who drafted Mille—to a chorus of boos from Pacer fans, who wanted Indiana University All-American Steve Alford – with the 11th pick in the 1987 draft.

"Thank you for taking a gamble on a skinny kid with big ears from Riverside, Calif.," Miller said.

Miller also thanked his former coaches, the Pacer fans and his former Pacer teammates who were in the audience, and asked them to stand. The NBA TV cameras caught Travis Best, Jeff Foster, Austin Croshere and Chris Mullin.

Mullin, in an interview before the ceremony, talked of how his opinion of Miller changed from the time he played against Miller to his three seasons as a teammate of Miller's with the Pacers.

"He talked trash and he backed it up," Mullin said. "I'm so happy I got to play with him. If I didn't I wouldn't have liked him. He's one of my all-time favorite teammates."

Steve Kerr, another NBA opponent of Miller's and now a fellow TNT commentator, echoed Mullin's change of heart.

"What I didn't realize until later was that he was literally willing himself to become a great player (by trash talking)," Kerr said. "He needed to do all that stuff to get to a high level. It was about creating a frenzy for himself. Once you get to know Reggie away from all that stuff you realize he's one of the nicest people, unbelievably humble."

Miller made special mention of Daniels, who watched the proceedings from home. Daniels was released from St. Vincent's hospital Friday morning, after being admitted with a urinary tract disorder on Tuesday.

"Mel was the second face I saw when I was drafted in 1987," Miller said. "I'm here to say this, without him, Roger Brown, Slick Leonard and those great ABA Pacers, they set the standard for what all Indiana Pacer teams have achieved."

Daniels, who recorded his speech on Wednesday from his hospital room, dressed up from the waist up in a coat and tie. He said earlier in the day he was "sweating like a pig" because of a fever.

Daniels thanked the people influential throughout his career, also making special mention of Walsh, "who takes the heat when it goes wrong and never the credit" when things go well. He also promoted the Hall of Fame induction of fellow players from the American Basketball Association. Citing Miller, he said "perhaps we can hold the doors open for these great players."

Julius "Dr. J" Erving, who began his career in the ABA, had great praise for Daniels in a recorded conversation before Daniels' speech was played.

Erving noted the strength of Daniels' legendary handshake, and recalled him as "the first guy I heard growl on the basketball court."

Daniels played six seasons for the Pacers, helping the franchise to ABA titles in 1970, '72 and '73. He was voted the league's Most Valuable Player twice and was named to seven All-Star teams, including his rookie season with the Minnesota Muskies.

More than anything, his competitive spirit fueled the Pacers throughout their ABA glory years.

"The consistency of his performance made the Pacers the ABA's most successful franchise year in and year out over its nine-year history," Erving said.

Bird said he watched Daniels and the Pacers on television while growing up in French Lick. Daniels was an assistant coach at Indiana State during Bird's senior season, when the Sycamores reached the final game of the NCAA tournament.

"It only helped progress me as a player," Bird said. "I was very fortunate to watch him play and also be coached by him."

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