Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller earned the typical loud cheers and standing ovations that he receives every time he’s back at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, as he was Thursday to serve as an analyst for TNT’s broadcast of the Pacers and New York Knicks.
What we didn’t know, until postgame, was how much of an impact he’s had on Pacers’ budding superstar Paul George over the last nine months. George and Reggie Miller didn’t have a relationship until the 2012 playoffs, when they first connected.
David Benner, the team’s director of media relations, reached out to Miller and set it up with the help of then team president, Donnie Walsh. Back when Miller was playing, Benner was known for bringing Miller a drink and then firing him up for each game by trash talking.
Last season, George had to carry an unexpected burden as Danny Granger was sidelined for all but five games due to a knee injury. He struggled with it at first, as did the team, but then his game took giant leaps en route to being named the NBA’s Most Improved Player.
Come playoff time, where he averaged just 9.7 points during the 2012 postseason, the Pacers needed George to reach even higher even further. Yes, togetherness is the team’s motto and any player can step up at any time, but championship-caliber teams also need a go-to guy.
And that’s when Miller, who played every one of his 18 NBA seasons with the Pacers, began being of assistance to George. They exchanged a lot of text messages, and occasionally talked on the phone.
“It was a new stage for me,” George said. “Going and being a star on the rise and handling the media pressure and just handling stepping on to another stage. He helped me with understanding and learning, and he taught me how to handle myself going through that situation.”
That, and more, is why George went out of his way to walk across the court after the Pacers suffocated the New York Knicks, 117-89.
“Reggie’s the man,” George said with a big smile. “You don’t let Reggie walk out of here without getting a hug from him. Reggie’s the one I’ve got the most respect for, someone I look up to.
“It was good to thank him for that and let him know I’m behind him as much as he’s behind us.”
Miller wasn’t made available to comment.
Lance Stephenson, who posted a career-best 28 points against his hometown team, was the first to dash over to Miller following his postgame television interview.
“You know I got to say what’s up,” said Stephenson. “He’s the man. I just said, ‘What’s up, how you doing.’ That was my first time actually meeting him in person. He just said he’s happy that I’m playing well right now.”
George already has already topped Miller in some franchise records, like the most made 3-pointers in a game (9). Just 23-years-old, and an understanding that he’s going to be with this organization for the foreseeable future after signing a five-year extension in late September, George has other personal goals in mind.
“I don’t want you guys to take this out of context, but he’s somebody that I look at and at the end of the day, I want to say I was the best Pacer to play here,” said George. “He set the bar high, he set the limits high and that’s just out of respect.
“I feel like if I get to that point and the next up-and-coming guy is ready to take that, I’ll be all for it. I just want to challenge him for it and it’s another bar that I can set, and be happy to accomplish.”
With George’s defensive play, which has coach Frank Vogel proclaiming him the best wing defender in the game, George finishing his career as the best player in franchise history is a real possibility. Look out, because when George sets out for something, he typically accomplishes it.