Walsh: Retiring No. 31 Rare, Cherished Honor
I've always believed one of the most cherished honors in sport for a player is to have his jersey retired. It is only for the truly rare and special. You can't just be a good player, or even an All-Star, to qualify. Your career has to be the stuff of legend.
Roger Brown, probably the best one-on-one player ever to wear a Pacers uniform and one of the great clutch scorers in the game, qualified. Mel Daniels, a dominating force whose productivity was almost as prolific as his intensity, qualified. George McGinnis, an explosive scorer and mold-breaking forward who helped re-define his position, qualified. And Bobby "Slick" Leonard, not only a coach with three championship banners, but a beloved man who still represents the franchise with honor, qualified.
Tonight, into their midst will step Reggie Miller, a living bridge between two eras of Indiana Pacers basketball, the symbol of a modern era of success made possible thanks to the foundation laid by his aforementioned predecessors.
The NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made and attempted ranked 12th on the league's all-time scoring list. The only guards to score more points in the history of the game were Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson. And his career was about a lot more than numbers. His competitive spirit, professionalism, class and leadership by example helped elevate this franchise to a whole new level in the NBA.
Before he got here, the Pacers had been to the NBA playoffs twice in 12 seasons, eliminated in the first round both times. He leaves here not only with 15 playoff trips in his 18 seasons, but six trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and our only NBA Finals berth ever.
He also made himself a big part of this community, putting down roots here and choosing to remain in Indiana when he could've taken opportunities to play on bigger stages. Very few players in the history of any sport of shown that kind of loyalty to a team, a city and its fans.
Tonight, we reward that loyalty with the ultimate honor a franchise can bestow. No Pacers player will ever wear No. 31 again. It will hang in the rafters along with Brown's No. 35, Daniels' No. 34, McGinnis' No. 30, and Leonard's No. 529 (representing his total coaching victories with the Pacers).
Make no mistake. Reggie qualified.
Enjoy this night, because, like Reggie, there may not be another like it around here for a long, long time.