If former NBA general manager Donnie Walsh got who he really wanted, Reggie Miller might never have been with the Pacers.

INDIANAPOLIS. A tall, thin Californian guy, a security guard who could turn off the lights on a basketball court, fell into Donnie Walsh’s field of vision.

But to be clear, and Walsh is a little pained to say this 35 years later, this kid – Reggie Miller – wasn’t his first choice.

A player Walsh believes could make a big difference to the Indiana Pacers before taking the field. 1987 NBA draft was a 6-foot-1 point guard named Kevin Johnson.

Johnson was an honors student at UC Berkeley. He ended his college career as the school’s all-time leader in assists, steals and scoring, and he was exactly what Walsh wanted as the team’s 11th pick.

Before the draft, the Pacers needed a point guard, said Walsh, who was then the team’s general manager. People in Indiana wanted him to take hometown darling Steve Alford, who just won the NCAA title at IU. Walsh said he never thought about it.

He focused on Johnson, who led California State in scoring (32.5 points) in high school and was named Northern California Player of the Year.

“This guy was good,” Walsh said from his home in Indianapolis this month. “So if I could get it, I would probably take it. But I realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to get him.”

Walsh studied the draft. And when he says he studied, he analyzed and carefully studied players, processed statistics, looked at records and studied the needs of opposing NBA teams.

“I could tell you about everyone and where they were going when I entered the room,” Walsh said. “So if there were any changes, that’s when you had to make a quick decision, because that meant the player that you thought was better than the chosen guy was there.”

Walsh never expected to get Johnson in 1987. His research indicated that Johnson would leave well before the 11th pick. Walsh started the conspiracy.

He went to then Pacers coach Jack Ramsey.

“I had Reggie’s tape and I said, ‘Jack, I want you to look at this because I don’t know if we’ll get the baby we were looking for,'” Walsh said. “He looked at it that night and then came back and said, ‘Yes, I would take it.’ And I said, “Me too,” and that’s what we did.”

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Reggie Miller was selected by the Pacers with the 11th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft.

Reggie Miller was selected by the Pacers with the 11th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft.

“Everything was in order”

The project is very complex, Walsh said.

“You can’t just go to office,” he said. “In other words, you might need a point guard, but there might be another great player you should take if you don’t need a point guard.”

Because Johnson had already been drafted seventh overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1987, Walsh did not qualify for the position. He abandoned the need for a point guard and took on the great player Miller.

Walsh then sat down and waited for the season to begin. “I really hope everything goes well with Reggie.”

Walsh compares being drafted to being a stockbroker.

“I’m sure for the guys on Wall Street it’s like picking the right stocks. They think they will go up, but they are not sure they will go up,” he said. “They have all this data saying it’s going to happen, but it doesn’t always work.”

Fortunately for Walsh, Miller is gone. He says he knew right away that he had made the right decision.

“I don’t care who gets picked, all of a sudden when you go there and you have to play for a professional team, you get exposed very quickly because there are elements in the professional game that you have. not considered at all,” Walsh said. “From the way he played, you could just tell he wasn’t scared at all. That was Reggie.”

Miller is widely regarded as the greatest Pacers player of all time. He was a dedicated Indiana player who spent the entire 18 years of his NBA career with the Pacers. He was an All-Star five times, led the league in free throw percentage five times, and won a gold medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

“I can tell you this. It was funny how many shots he made in the last seconds,” Walsh said. “And at the end of the game, when it was very close, and they fouled him? The minute he was fouled, I just mentally added two points to the scoreboard, and he always scored them.

Johnson, Walsh’s first pick in the 1987 NBA draft, spent his first season in Cleveland and then spent ten years with the Phoenix Suns. He was a three-time NBA All-Star and made the playoffs after his rookie season every year in his career. In 2001, the Suns retired Johnson at number 7 and he was put on their honor roll.

“He turned out to be a very good player,” Walsh said. Johnson later became mayor of Sacramento from 2008 to 2016.

Miller also became mayor – the king of the Indiana Pacers.

“Everything turned out well,” Walsh said.

Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Contact her by email: [email protected]

This article originally appeared on the Indianapolis Star: Reggie Miller was not the Pacers’ first pick in 1987. It was Kevin Johnson.

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