PR Guy David Benner On His 28-Year Pacers Career

Pacers PR Guy David Benner

How does it feel, knowing that this is your last season with the team?

I think, in a way, the pandemic helped prepare me for this. I spent a lot of time at home instead of the office, and there wasn’t a [typical] 2019–20 season. So I guess it hasn’t really struck me yet. I imagine it will, however, when we get to the last 10 games or so.

Are you doing anything different this year?

The Pacers are letting me travel to where I want to go to, so I’m trying to hit every city at least once more. Just to hook up with some of my longtime friends in the press. Being able to see some of the media people I’ve dealt with over the years is nice. The main thing has been renewing old acquaintances and, at the same time, saying goodbye.

What will you miss most?

I’ll miss a job that very few people get to do. I’ve spent 28 years with the Pacers, and before that, I was an Indianapolis Star beat writer who covered the team. I got to see Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James in their primes. I’ve been paid to watch the best basketball players in the world.

What was your most memorable season?

The best memory is winning the Eastern Conference Championship in New York City in 2000. The hardest memory is not winning the NBA Championship that same year. We went from the great high of winning the East and then losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2000 Finals. Over the years, I’ve tried to explain to people that they don’t know how hard it is just to make the playoffs, and then win a single playoff game, let alone an entire series. When you go through that while working for a team, you really start to grasp how hard it is. Your emotional involvement is far greater than that of the most rabid fan, because you live it daily. When the season’s over, you don’t just shrug your shoulders and start watching baseball.

Did you ever get tired of being asked when the Pacers were finally going to win an NBA Championship?

Yes. Again, I don’t think people know how hard this is. There are so many factors that go into it. You’re dealing with highly skilled athletes, but they’re also people. There are some days when you may have something going on at home, but you have to go to work and try not to let it affect you. But if you’re human, it’s going to affect you. It’s the same with athletes. Also, you need to have some luck. There’s a luck factor in where you land in the draft lottery, for example.

What was the deal with you giving a drink to Reggie Miller before games?

I was courtside one time, just drinking out of a Pepsi cup, and Reggie came by and said, “Can I have a drink?” I said sure, so he takes a drink, and goes on to have a great game and we win. Now keep in mind, Reggie is one of the most superstitious people in the world, and devoted to pregame rituals. So the next game, I’m not there to give him a sideline drink, and we lose. He cornered me after that and said, “You gotta be out there with that drink.” So that became a regular deal. He would take a sip of Pepsi or Sprite or apple juice or whatever was in the cup at the time. When we lost, we would change the drink. This was for every single game.

What was your most intense day on the job? I know you were there when Michael Jordan returned to basketball with, like, a day’s notice, and his first matchup was against the Pacers.

For me, that was like getting a call from the NBA saying that we’re hosting a Finals game, and we have 24 hours to prepare. Jordan was rejoining the Chicago Bulls after a couple of years trying to play professional baseball, and his debut was at a Pacers–Bulls matchup taking place the next day at noon. It became such a big deal with the media, and we were literally running to the fax machine every minute to see who else requested credentials. All I could was tell them was, “I can get you a credential, but I can’t guarantee you a seat.” It was a very chaotic 24 hours. But the best part was that we won the game. It made it all worthwhile.

Speaking of intense days, what was it like for you when the Pacers and Pistons had their epic fight on November 19, 2004?

I skipped that trip, but I was watching on television. Once I saw what was happening, I went to the airport and met the team, because we knew there would be a lot of media waiting at the gate. I told our guys, “Don’t run over anybody, and don’t stop and talk to anybody.” Because I knew there would be legal ramifications, and you know the old saying: “Anything you say can be used against you in court.” We had a home game the next night, and we only had eight players who weren’t suspended. The entire next week was pretty hectic. I was getting calls from the BBC. Michael Jordan’s comeback game had been a national story, but this was worldwide.

Indiana Pacers PR Guy David Benner with Reggie Miller
Reggie Miller and David Benner partake in their pre-game ritual in 2005.

What have you learned about pro sports, having worked as both a reporter on the outside and a team employee on the inside?

When I was a beat writer covering the Pacers, I really thought I knew what was going on. When I started working for the team, I realized I didn’t know what was going on. As a reporter, you develop sources and people tell you things, whether it be a player or a front-office person. But they will tell you things that are beneficial to them, not necessarily to you or your audience. For instance, there was one coach when I was a writer who I didn’t get along with. Well, the players didn’t get along with him either, so they fed me all kinds of stuff. Of course, I was never a hardcore investigative journalist. Stuff just kind of fell in my lap. I think the biggest change since my time with the Star is the explosion of social media. A guy with 35 followers can throw out a rumor on Twitter, and it gains traction.

How have all those Tweeters, YouTubers, and TikTokers changed your job?

It does make it harder, because you have to refute some of the things they say, but you can’t possibly address every rumor out there. I understand that people have sources, and sometimes anonymous sources. I did, too. But now you can almost just throw anything out there, and attribute it to a source, even if you don’t really have one. I hate to sound like the old guy in the room, but back when I was younger, you had to have legitimate sources. Now it’s like somebody reports something and everybody
else jumps on it, writing “stories” that just refer to the original story.

You’ve always had a good relationship with the players, which, given the reputations of some temperamental athletes, is by no means a given. What’s your secret?

I’ve always tried to deal with people in a nice way and have a sense of humor. That’s the secret. If I ever get mad, they rarely ever see me that way. When we played for the Eastern Conference Championship against Miami, every day was a media circus. And I told George Hill, who is one of my good friends, that I needed him to do media interviews. He said, “I’ll think about it,” and I said, “You won’t think about it, you’ll do it.” So he promises that he’ll come out and talk to reporters after he finishes shooting around on the practice court. Time passed, and I saw George back in the locker room talking to our staff instead of the press. He told me he thought about it and he wasn’t going to do it today. I said, “OK, here are your options: You either do media or I’ll break both of your legs. I don’t care if it’s the Eastern Conference finals or not, I’ll break your legs.” And he went and did the interviews. He was used to seeing me in one light 95 percent of the time, but this one time he really ticked me off, so he knew I was serious. As an old friend of mine used to say, “Save your bullets.” Well, I saved my bullets.

What are your plans for retirement?

Whatever my wife tells me to do.