The upcoming Basketball Hall of Fame inductions will be especially satisfying for me.  Of the 12 players, coaches, referees and contributors who will be enshrined, two of my favorite basketball players, Reggie Miller and Mel Daniels, are included.  Miller and Daniels were the central figures during the two most important eras in Indiana Pacers’ history.

For 18 years, the boney, almost skeletal-looking, jump shooter from UCLA gave special meaning to the old advertising slogan – “Miller Time”.   His deadly, high-arching shot became more thrilling than the most athletic windmill dunk.

Reggie Miller

Although it took a few years, Reggie eventually made Indianapolis fans forget that many of them were resentful and booed when he was drafted by the Pacers in 1987.  The Hoosier faithful were hoping the Pacers would select Indiana University star guard Steve Alford.  The All-American from nearby New Castle had just finished leading I.U. to its fifth national championship.

But Pacers general manager, Donnie Walsh instead wisely selected the skinny California kid who until then was best known as the baby brother of women’s basketball legend, Cheryl Miller.

His first six seasons in the NBA, you might say that Miller was just a good player on mediocre team.  But by 1994 he developed into a great player and a leader on an emerging and talented team.

Reggie Miller gave the Pacers the identity they needed and a national following to go with it.  And for the next 11 years fans bestowed genuine respect by typically only calling him by his first name.  Reggie was that good and that special.

By then he was no longer Cheryl Miller’s brother, but a legitimate star in his own right, who thrilled fans with some of the most memorable clutch moments ever witnessed in the NBA.  His most famous and dramatic games usually came in the playoffs.  His battles against the New York Knicks and later Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls when it mattered most cemented his legacy.

When he retired after the 2005 season he was the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-point shooting.  He scored more than 25 thousand points.

The other Pacer who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Mel Daniels, played only 9 seasons and unfortunately never developed a national reputation like Reggie.  But for me, he was no less important and in his own way was just as special if not more so.

Mel Daniels

Mel Daniels was one of my childhood sports heroes.  He was the most important player on Indianapolis’ only major league team.

His signature, fake left, fake right, turnaround jumper was the move I took to the playground as a boy.  Although at 6’9”and 220 pounds he would be considered an undersized center today, he was a rugged competitor, successfully battling men much bigger and taller.  The best way to describe Daniels’ game is that he was the ABA version of Bill Russell, but unlike Russell, Daniels was a guy who could also be a big scorer when the Pacers really needed his points.

Daniels, who grew up in Detroit and played his college ball at the University of New Mexico, was the ABA’s all-time leader in rebounds, averaging more than 15 rebounds per game.  He was the league’s fourth all time scorer, a two time league MVP,  and was selected All-ABA first team four times.  But most importantly Daniels was the glue that made the Indiana Pacers the league’s best team and ultimately three-time ABA champions.

Unfortunately Mel Daniels played during a era when pro basketball was still evolving in the public consciousness.  It was not nearly as popular as it is today.   He also played in the lightly regarded ABA, which was considered inferior to the NBA.   ABA teams and players were barely known outside their local markets and only rarely played on national TV.

Because of that, the exploits of Daniels, and many other ABA stars barely registered.  But as someone old enough to remember his stellar play, his leadership and grit, I can assure you that Mel Daniels absolutely deserves his induction into the Hall of Fame.  The shame is that it took so long for this much deserved recognition.

Still he made it.  And appropriately with another Pacer, Reggie Miller.  The teams’ two most historically important players truly embody Pacers Pride.

 

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