INDIANAPOLIS — A tall, spindly California child, a guard who might shoot the lights out on a basketball courtroom was on Donnie Walsh’s radar.
However to be clear, and it form of pains Walsh to say it 35 years later, that child — Reggie Miller — wasn’t his first selection.
The participant Walsh thought might make the most important distinction for the Indiana Pacers going into the 1987 NBA draft was a 6-foot-1 level guard named Kevin Johnson.
Johnson was a standout on the College of California, Berkeley. He ended his school profession as the varsity’s all-time chief in assists, steals and scoring and he was the man Walsh wished for the workforce’s eleventh choose.
Going into the draft, the Pacers wanted a degree guard, mentioned Walsh, who was then the workforce’s basic supervisor. Folks in Indiana wished him to take hometown favourite Steve Alford, who had simply gained an NCAA title at IU. Walsh mentioned he by no means entertained that thought.
He had his thoughts set on Johnson, who in highschool led the state of California in scoring (32.5 factors) and was named the Northern California Participant of the Yr.
“This child was good,” Walsh mentioned from his Indianapolis dwelling this month. “So if I might have gotten him, I in all probability would have taken him. However I noticed fairly shortly that we weren’t going to get him.”
Walsh studied the draft. And when he says he studied, he analyzed and scrutinized gamers, crunched stats, watched tape and scoured the wants of opposing NBA groups.
“I might let you know all people and the place they have been going after I walked within the room,” Walsh mentioned. “So if there was any change, that is whenever you needed to make a fast determination as a result of that meant a participant you thought was higher than the man that acquired chosen was on the market.”
Walsh by no means counted on getting Johnson in 1987. His analysis advised him Johnson could be gone lengthy earlier than the eleventh choose. Walsh began plotting.
He went to then-Pacers coach Jack Ramsay.
“And I had a tape of Reggie and I mentioned, ‘Jack, I need you to take a look at this as a result of I do not know if we will get the child we have been in search of,'” Walsh mentioned. “He watched it that evening and he got here again in and mentioned, ‘Yeah, I might take him.’ And I mentioned, ‘So would I,’ and so that is what we did.”
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‘Issues turned out OK’
The draft may be very tough, Walsh mentioned.
“You possibly can’t simply go for a place,” he mentioned. “In different phrases, you would possibly want a degree guard however there could also be another nice participant there that you need to take if you happen to did not want a degree guard.”
With Johnson already picked seventh by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1987, Walsh did not go for place. He handed up his want for a degree guard and took that nice participant, Miller.
Then, Walsh sat and waited for the season to start. “I am hoping like hell that Reggie could be good.”
Walsh compares making picks within the draft to being a stockbroker.
“I am certain for the blokes on Wall Road, it is like selecting the correct inventory. They assume it may go, however they are not certain it may go,” he mentioned. “They’ve all this knowledge that claims it may go, nevertheless it would not at all times go.”
Fortunately for Walsh, Miller went. He says he knew instantly that he’d made the fitting determination.
“I do not care what you get picked, unexpectedly whenever you come on the market and you must play for a professional workforce, you are going to get uncovered actually fast as a result of there are parts to the professional recreation that you simply haven ‘t handled in any respect,” Walsh mentioned. “You might simply inform the way in which he performed that he wasn’t intimidated in any respect. That is the way in which Reggie was.”
Miller is extensively thought to be the Pacers’ best participant of all time. He was a loyal Indiana fixture who performed all 18 years of his NBA profession with the Pacers. He was a five-time All-Star choice, led the league in free throw share 5 occasions and gained a gold medal within the 1996 Summer season Olympics.
“I can let you know this. It was ridiculous what number of final second photographs he made,” Walsh mentioned. “And on the finish of the sport when it was actually shut and they’d foul him? The minute they fouled him, I simply added in my thoughts two factors to the scoreboard and he at all times made them.”
Johnson, Walsh’s first selection within the 1987 NBA draft, performed his first season in Cleveland then spent a decade with the Phoenix Suns. He was a 3-time NBA All-Star and made the playoffs yearly of his profession after his rookie season. In 2001, Johnson’s No. 7 was retired by the Suns and he was inducted into their Ring of Honor.
“He turned out to be an excellent participant,” Walsh mentioned. Johnson later grew to become the mayor of Sacramento from 2008-2016.
Miller grew to become the mayor, too — the king of the Indiana Pacers.
“Issues turned out OK,” Walsh mentioned.
Observe IndyStar sports activities reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Attain her by way of e mail: email@example.com.
This text initially appeared on Indianapolis Star: Reggie Miller wasn’t Pacers’ first selection in 1987. Kevin Johnson was.