The Cincinnati Pacers? Thanks to Reggie Miller, No
by Mark Boyle
The Cincinnati Pacers. The Anaheim Pacers. Or even the Las Vegas Pacers.
Any of those sound good to you? No? Well, the way I see it, were it not for the efforts of five people during the Pacers NBA era, one of those locations – or maybe some other distant venue – would be home to the Pacers today. The Simon brothers are obvious; they've been fantastic owners for parts of four decades, and their devotion to Indiana and keeping the franchise here is well documented. But even given that considerable commitment, the Simons would have been hard pressed to keep the team in Indianapolis without Bankers Life Fieldhouse, and it's entirely conceivable that BLF would never been built if Donnie Walsh hadn't built a perennial contender in the 90s and Larry Brown hadn't made a pit stop here to guide the talent Walsh accumulated.
So you've got Herb and Mel Simon, Brown—who is in the Hall of Fame—and Walsh, who should get similar recognition somewhere down the road. That's four. And we all know who the fifth man is.
Reggie will go into the Hall of Fame this weekend, appropriately joined by Pacers ABA icon Mel Daniels, and it's an honor that is richly deserved. My first season with the franchise was Reggie's second, so I've had a front row seat for virtually his entire career, and watching him make the journey from a talented, trash talking wannabe to a talented, trash talking legend has been mesmerizing.
Have there been better players than Reggie over the last 25 years? Undoubtedly. He was never voted higher than third-team All NBA (and then just three times in his lengthy career), never finished higher than 13th in NBA MVP voting, and his team never won a championship.
But all of that misses the point.
He was a brilliant shooter; of the players I've seen over the years, the only player I might (and I stress might) place ahead of him in that category is Ray Allen. He was a great scorer, dependable, durable, possibly the single most professional and well-prepared performer the Pacers have had in my time, and with the exception of Michael Jordan, the finest clutch performer I've ever seen.
But even that misses the point.
What Reggie Miller represents, and the reason his inclusion among the greats of the game is warranted, has more to do with his impact on this franchise than any other single factor. When Reggie came to Indianapolis—much to the dismay of the majority of a Steve Alford obsessed fan base, if you'll recall—the Pacers were, generally speaking, an NBA bottom-feeder that would occasionally make the jump to mediocrity. But as Reggie developed, Walsh slowly but surely added the complementary pieces needed to contend, and Reggie took full advantage. When the talent around him dictated that he score, he did, averaging more than 20 PPG for four straight seasons as the Pacers struggled. When help finally arrived, he gladly tailored his game to the talent around him, seeking fewer shots and becoming an even more effective player as the team started to win. The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals six times during Miller's run and played in the NBA Finals once, accomplishments that would not have been possible without Miller's production, competitive spirit, and flair for the dramatic.
On top of that, Reggie was the right man at the right place at the right time. Indianapolis fell in love with him, and that love affair was a significant factor in getting a new arena built. His work in the community—most of it done under the radar with little or no publicity—set an example for everyone else. He was not a leader in the traditional sense, but his work ethic was incomparable, forcing players of lesser acumen and accomplishment to raise their effort, too. He represented himself and the franchise extremely well, finished his career strong, and left on his own terms.
And because of all that, Reggie Miller will go into the Hall of Fame as an Indiana Pacer. Not a Cincinnati Pacer, an Anaheim Pacer, or a Las Vegas Pacer. There may have been better players during Reggie's time, but there were very few that combined talent, charisma, and impact on a franchise the way he did. He is a Hall of Famer by any objective measure, and I admire what he's been able to accomplish.
Well done, sir. And thanks for taking us along for the ride.