Former Pacers Star Reggie Miller Calls Departing CEO Walsh \"Godfather\" of Franchise
By CLIFF BRUNTINDIANAPOLIS (AP)
Donnie Walsh called the shots, and Reggie Miller made them.
In nearly two decades together, Walsh and Miller changed the Indiana Pacers from NBA also-rans to title contenders. Miller retired in 2005, and when Walsh said Monday he'd step down as Pacers CEO at the end of this season, it signaled the end of an era.
Though the franchise has been riddled with off-the-court problems and losing in recent years, Miller, a five-time All-Star and revered clutch shooter, prefers to remember the glory days. Together, the Walsh-Miller combination reached the Eastern Conference finals six times, won the Central Division four times and made the NBA Finals in 2000.
Before Walsh took over as general manager in 1986, the Pacers had five consecutive losing seasons with an average record of 26-56.
"He put this franchise on the map," Miller told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "He was the architect, the Godfather, the don, the patriarch."
Walsh had similar praise for Miller when Miller's jersey was retired in March 2006. Walsh said the Pacers weren't taken seriously after they left the ABA for the NBA in 1976, but that changed with Miller's arrival.
"You catapulted us into the elite of the NBA," Walsh told Miller during the ceremony. "You have been the heart and soul of this franchise for 18 years, and No. 31 deserves to go up with the best of the best."
There are reports that Walsh has agreed to take control of the New York Knicks, though the Pacers say Walsh hasn't made a decision about his future. Miller said he didn't know Walsh's plans, but said if another franchise gets him, that team would be lucky.
"This is a guy who's been in the business 20-plus years," Miller said. "He has great connections, he's well-respected throughout the league. He understands people and player personnel. He understands management. I think you're going to get a combination of all those things."
One of Miller's best memories of Walsh was watching him beam with pride during the 1994 playoffs. The Pacers won their first Central Division title and first playoff series as an NBA franchise that year. Indiana beat Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway's Orlando Magic in the first round, then defeated the Atlanta Hawks in the second round before losing to New York in the Eastern Conference finals. Miller said Walsh was happy to see his dreams start becoming a reality.
"The joy on Donnie's face after he'd come to the locker room after games - you could tell he could feel something special was going on in Indiana," Miller said. "To me, that's when the franchise was really reborn."
Miller said one of Walsh's best qualities is his unwillingness to reveal his draft plans. Miller had an uneventful visit with the team and didn't expect the Pacers to take him with the 11th pick of the 1987 draft.
"He really holds his cards close to the vest," Miller said. "I really didn't think I was going to Indiana. He never said 'hey, you're our guy,' or, 'we really loved your workout.' He didn't do anything."
Walsh later told him he never considered anyone else with the pick.
Miller said Walsh's best quality is that he's truthful.
"In any walk of life, you want your co-workers or your bosses to be honest with you," Miller said. "That's one thing that Donnie has always been with me. You want to be working for someone who's going to tell you straight out. He tells it like it is. He never beats around the bush."
Perhaps that's why they got along so well. The outspoken Miller has at times criticized Pacers players for their off-the-court issues, but always has remained loyal to Walsh.
Miller says he's happy as a Turner Network Television analyst, but he hasn't ruled out helping the franchise someday if asked. "I'm sure I would consider it," he said. "I would think about it, but right now, my obligation is to Turner for the next four to five years. It's something I've thought about. We'll see."
That last statement by Reggie is interesting because I'm sure he doesn't want to coach. Could he be our next GM if Bird doesn't work out?