SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — She was the first person he called after he got the call. And Cheryl Miller will be on stage to present her brother, Reggie, when he is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
It’s an honor that can only go to a previous inductee.
Reggie Miller will be honored tonight along with longtime coach Don Nelson, Nike co-founder Phil Knight and nine others in the biggest induction class in more than 50 years. The former Indiana Pacers star joins big sister Cheryl, a 1995 inductee who is 20 months his elder, to form the first brother-sister pair in the Springfield shrine.
“If you were going to tell me you would have two Hall of Famers from the same family, I probably would have looked at you like you were crazy,” Reggie Miller said Thursday after a ceremony in which the inductees were presented with their Hall of Fame blazers.
“Without Cheryl’s hard work and dedication to the game of basketball, I don’t know if I would ever be on this stage. She’s the reason why I’m here.”
A five-time All-Star and 1996 Olympic gold medalist, Reggie Miller retired as the leading 3-point shooter in NBA history and one of the most clutch players in the history of the league.
His competitiveness was developed in childhood games with Cheryl and their three other siblings – not just basketball in the driveway, but also Monopoly or Uno or Risk or dominoes (Darrell Miller made the major leagues as a catcher, and sister Tammy was a high school track star who played volleyball in college).
“No one messed with the Millers,” Reggie said. “And we always had each other’s back. I guess that’s what family is all about.”
Also on stage receiving their Hall of Fame jackets on Thursday were Don Nelson, the winningest coach in NBA history, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Ralph Sampson, the only three-time college player of the year, and Jamaal Wilkes, who won two NCAA titles at and four in the NBA, are also among the honorees.
Also to be inducted are seven-time NBA All-Star Chet Walker; the All American Redheads, known as the female Harlem Globetrotters; two-time Olympic gold medalist Katrina McClain; former Soviet women’s coach Lidia Alexeeva, who was undefeated in 17 years of international play; the late Don Barksdale, the first black player on the U.S. Olympic team and in the NBA All-Star game; two-time NBA MVP Mel Daniels, and longtime NCAA referee Hank Nichols.
Although most Hall of Famers profess to be surprised when they get the call, Knight made a good case for it: He didn’t even know there was a “contributors” category, so he never considered the possibility that he would be inducted. He will be presented for induction by Michael Jordan and former Georgetown coach John Thompson.
“Nobody ever had two better presenters,” Knight said while sitting in front of a 16-by-23 shoe wall of Nike high-tops mounted to look like an American flag. “It’s almost like that old TV show ‘This is Your Life.’ You look back then, with Michael Jordan and John Thompson and the 40 years you’ve been a part of this, it’s been a fabulous ride.”
Nelson won five NBA titles as a Boston Celtics player and 1,335 games during 31 years on the bench in Milwaukee, Golden State, New York and Dallas. Then he retired and disappeared to Hawaii, where he is an entrepreneur with rental properties, a shaved ice stand, coffee plants and koa trees.
Sampson was the only person to win The Associated Press player of the year award three times, from 1981-83 for Virginia. He was the No. 1 overall draft pick by the Houston Rockets and averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game as the 1984 rookie of the year.
But knee problems hampered him, his numbers soon declined and he lasted just nine years, the last four as a part-time player. By 2003, he was $300,000 behind in child support and in prison on a two-month sentence after pleading guilty to mail fraud.
“I’ve not been around over the last several years,” Sampson said after slipping on his oversized blazer. “But you can’t hide 7-foot-4.”
Nichols refereed six NCAA championship games and 10 Final Fours, as well as two Olympics and the European championships. After leaving the court, he became the NCAA’s national coordinator for officials.
He was introduced to a warm ovation.
“Unaccustomed as I am to hearing applause when my name is said,” he said, “I have so many different emotions it’s difficult to articulate them.”