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Bridges: Benner’s NBA career was an odyssey and then some

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It’s not really that hard to describe longtime Pacers Media Relations Director David Benner. Words such as humble, sincere and well-organized certainly come to mind, but one could also define him as both tolerant and grateful, having dealt with the multitude of changes in the NBA during his career, and displaying the ultimate level of gratitude for the opportunity.

Recently I asked him to reflect on some of the great moments and memories of his 28-year career and found out even more about his swan song season and the throngs of the people he quickly credits his professional success to.

David Benner (Photo provided by Pacers Sports and Entertainment)

Considering how it all began for him as a student manager for the Center Grove boys basketball team and ended with nearly three decades at the helm of all things media relations with the Pacers, it’s easy to see why Benner recognizes just how truly fortunate he has been to make the transition from his position as a sports writer at the Indianapolis Star to his current position at the request of then-Pacers General Manager Donnie Walsh.

“I can’t thank Donnie enough for the opportunity he provided,” Benner said recently. “He supported me as I matured into the job and he’s truly a role model for anyone who’s ever met him.”

In a career which has featured six Eastern Conference Finals appearances, along with a trip to the NBA Finals, Benner has truly seen it all and then some. He also has provided support to numerous Pacers players who appeared in All Star Games and accompanied the team on their trips abroad to play games in other countries.

Not too bad for a guy who readily admits he couldn’t tie his neckwear when he officially accepted the job in 1994.

However, for my money, it’s his close personal friendship with Hall of Famer Reggie Miller that I and many others look at with both envy and great respect. Benner was on the NBA beat for the Star when Miller was drafted and wrote the first feature story about the rail-thin yet confident player out of UCLA. From there the professional relationship grew into a friendship and produced some exciting yet fond moments for both of them.

Benner cites Miller as one of the most superstitious individuals he has ever met, and no greater example of that is the traditional pregame sip of a soda Miller would take after Benner handed him a cup. “It started when l was on the sidelines before a game sipping a soda and Reggie came over and took a drink of it and then went out and had a good game and we won. The next game he requested it again and it became a ritual.”

That pregame moment would go on for the balance of Miller’s storied days with the Pacers and is widely recognized as a staple of both their careers.

The two have remained close, and Miller recently surprised Benner by flying in to be part of the retirement celebration the Pacers conducted for him.

Through it all Benner has been the quintessential professional and conducted himself with both style and grace. He remains grateful to his colleagues throughout the country and has chronicled his final visits to their respective arenas with pictures on his Twitter account.

While he won’t miss arriving back home from their respective arenas in the wee hours of the morning, he’ll definitely miss the people he’s worked with on the road.

I’m here to tell you that everyone who has had the pleasure of meeting this outstanding individual is better for it and will indeed miss him.

So long to a mountain of a man, and thanks for making our jobs so much easier.

Notes: In true David Benner fashion, he took time during our exchange to credit his staff which helped him secure multiple awards from the National Basketball Writers Association as well as the NBA.
The Pacers secured Benner’s successor earlier this season in Michael Preston. His resume includes an 11-year stint with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Danny Bridges, who feels David Benner deserves a medal of honor for tolerating him all these years, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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