It seemed evident from his introductory press conference in July, but it's beyond doubt now. The Pacers haven't played a game that counts, and won't for another two weeks, but Malcolm Brogdon's position as team leader is secure. Not a leader, the leader.
This doesn't qualify as a breaking news alert to those familiar with him. Brogdon's status was established before he arrived in Indianapolis, and everything that's happened since has been mere confirmation. It's not just what he says in every conversation with the media, it's what he does without saying much behind the closed doors of practice.
"I haven't seen anybody like that in practice since Reggie," said assistant coach Dan Burke, whose employment with the franchise goes back more than 20 seasons.
That would be Reggie Miller, whose serious and focused approach to the drudgery of practice provided the counterbalance to his flamboyance under the spotlight of playoff games. Brogdon doesn't talk as much as Miller did, but the impact is similar.
"All business," Burke said. "He wants to win every drill.
"It's mostly by example, with a couple of good barks. 'We're not messing around! C'mon Blue, c'mon Blue! He'll even coach (the coaches). 'C'mon D.B., let's go! Let's keep this going!'
"Reggie had intensity every drill, every scrimmage, every shooting game. It almost came to the point of anxiety because he was so loud. Malcolm is stoic and all seriousness. 'I'm not going to laugh at your jokes.'"
Brogdon will in fact crack a smile occasionally, Burke said, but any hint of frivolity is the exception rather than the rule. It's only a natural outgrowth of his upbringing and personality. Miller grew up in relative comfort in Riverside, Calif. and reflected the dual nature of a father who made his career in the military but had also been a jazz musician. Brogdon's bloodlines run to ministers, lawyers and educators and developed a hardened perspective by the poverty he witnessed on a trip to Africa when he was nine years old.
Different style, similar substance.
Brogdon was dubbed "The President" by teammates at the University of Virginia, and it carried over to Milwaukee during his three seasons with the Bucks. It relates to the poise and maturity he displayed amid veteran players as a second-round draft pick who became Rookie of the Year. A more official and relevant title would be his appointment as vice president of the National Basketball Players Association's executive committee.
Brogdon floated between both backcourt positions in Milwaukee but embraces his uncontested role of starting point guard with the Pacers. He's tall, athletic and versatile enough to play anywhere on the perimeter, but running the point tightens his grasp on a leadership role.
"You can look at my three percentage, you can look at whatever people want to say, but I think it's my IQ and my ability to win and bring people together that's my strongest asset," he said matter-of-factly at his introductory press conference.
Nobody can appreciate those qualities more than Pacers coach Nate McMillan. He is a former second-draft pick who became such a respected leader in Seattle that he was dubbed "Mr. Sonic" and had his jersey retired despite spending most of his career as a backup point guard.
In Brogdon, McMillan sees an extension of himself on the court, something every coach longs for in a point guard.
"He's doing a good job of coming in and competing and getting the guys to compete," McMillan said "He understands the position he's in and what's required of that. He's communicating with all of our guys. He communicates with the guys he's playing with and the guys he's playing against (in practice). He's been really good with (backup point guard Aaron Holiday)."
"It just comes natural for him."
Brogdon doesn't limit his communication to point guards, though. He has preached "egoless basketball" since the start of training camp, and talked Wednesday of building trust with all of his teammates. Asked who has surprised him in training camp, he singled out Edmond Sumner. And, he has gone out of his way to praise Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis as they transition to a starting tandem.
"I just went over to Myles and Domas and told them how much I enjoy playing with bigs who can catch, that are tough, physical," he said recently. "They can finish, they can shoot, they can pass - so skilled, smart. Just super excited to be with these guys.
"I think they're the two best bigs in the league as far as playing on one team. It's pretty unreal playing with them. It's going to be fun."
Playing with Victor Oladipo after the Pacers' lone all-star returns from his rehabilitation could be fun as well. Miller had a unique chemistry with Mark Jackson, and Brogdon and Oladipo could have a similar connection if their yin and yang can merge. Oladipo is the loud one who loves the limelight, even while watching scrimmages from the sideline, while Brogdon appears capable of knowing what to say and when to say it to bring out Oladipo's best.
"Malcolm doesn't need everyone to know he's here," Burke said. "You know he's here and he knows he's here.
"You have to let Vic be Vic. That's a good spirit. Vic will learn. We have guys who will say, 'You're over the top right now. You aren't even out here.' But they appreciate that Vic's out there cheering them on.
"That's going to be a real good combo."
It will need to be.
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Mark Montieth's book on the formation and groundbreaking seasons of the Pacers, "Reborn: The Pacers and the Return of Pro Basketball to Indianapolis," is available in bookstores throughout Indiana and on Amazon.com.
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