Indiana has long positioned itself as THE place for basketball. It was not where the game was invented — that would be Springfield, Mass. — but it is where the game has part of its soul. It is the sport played on the rural farms and by the little schools. It is where Hoosiers was set and where the legend of Larry Bird was born.
There is a special kinship between Indiana and basketball. It was noted in the documentary Winning Time about how the two souls of basketball — Indiana and New York City — clashed in an epic war for the souls of basketball fans.
For whatever reasons, Indiana's lone professional basketball team had not reached the hallowed halls of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Until Friday, that is.
The Pacers sent two of their best — perhaps their two best ever — to Springfield and finally entered the Hall of Fame.
Reggie Miller and Mel Daniels came to represent everything Pacers basketball is about — scrappy, hardworking, the underdog, brilliant. While Miller and his Pacers never won an NBA title (Daniels won two ABA titles with the Pacers), they were very deserving a championship.
Miller, the more well known of the two thanks to YouTube, Marv Albert and Spike Lee, was the headliner of the Hall of Fame ceremony last weekend. He admitted to Greg Anthony and Michael Jordan that he did indeed push off for two of his more inconic moments. But Miller will go down as one of the players that helped revolutionize the game with his sharpshooting ability.
In all reality, Miller was among the early adopters of the 3-point shot and made the 3-pointer as much a highlight play as the dunk. Those two shots have formed the bedrock of modern basketball philosophy. Miller continues to be a big part of keeping the memory of the Pacers alive and in the forefront thanks to his work at TNT.
If Miller is the Pacers' public face, Daniels is its heart and soul.
Daniels averaged 18.9 points per game and 15.3 rebounds per game in his career — six of which were spent with the Pacers. He led the Pacers to their only three professional championships in the ABA in 1970, 1972 and 1973. Daniels led the ABA in rebounding three times including twice with the Pacers.
He helped establish the Pacers as a pro basketball market. Basketball already ran through their veins.
Unfortunately, Daniels was not able to relish his moment. A urinary tract infection kept him from traveling from Indianapolis to Springfield and he stayed home on doctor's orders.
To get a sense though of what this moment meant to the Pacers as an organization you need only hear what Daniels said was Miller's reaction to Daniels' absence and then look into the crowd as Miller delivered his speech. The Pacers really are a family.
This was a moment we both wanted to enjoy. Reggie was pretty shook up by it. I told him to represent both of us and the Pacers organization to the best of his ability, which I know he'll do.
When you looked out to the crowd, you saw Jeff Foster, Mark Jackson and Fred Hoiberg among the former Pacers who showed up to support Miller, Daniels and the franchise. Former coach Larry Brown and former general manager Donnie Walsh were also there.
These are all guys that worked hard to make the Pacers a great organization in the past. Indiana has a bright future right now. But this weekend was a night to celebrate and (finally) recognize its past.
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