When Southport High School’s Robin Miller, and Center Grove High School’s Bill Benner began working as teenagers in the sports department at The Indianapolis Star, they didn’t like each other.
The dislike was based on the rival high schools that each sports department employee attended. They started out by answering the night telephone when callers, including bookies and bettors, would seek scores of games. Then it was the quickest way to find out if a favorite team won and, most importantly, by how many points.
Fifty years ago, you likely talked to Miller, a self-described Ball State “flunky,” or Benner, who later would become an executive of Pacers Sports & Entertainment and is the director of the Pacers Foundation.
They became such quick friends that Miller was the “best man” at Benner’s wedding.
“He (Miller) was brash, cocky and full of himself,” Benner recalled of those early newspaper days. “He had an insatiable work ethic and he could talk himself into and out of anything.”
They didn’t stay on the sports phone line for long; Miller, 19, began covering the Pacers of the American Basketball Association and Benner began covering other sports.
Earlier this month, Benner affectionately called his former sports department mate as “irascible” and “irreverent.”
The occasion was the 24th annual Indiana Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association hall of fame induction ceremony. Benner appropriately introduced Miller, who spoke to ISSA members and guests via video hookup from Birmingham, Ala., site of an NTT IndyCar Series road course race.
With no swearing, Miller waxed emotionally about his newspaper years and his forced move to motorsports magazines and broadcasts, his years covering the Pacers, his gambling debts, and his passion for motorsports that began as a “stooge” for the crew of driver Jim Hurtubise to his war of words with Tony George.
None other than Pacer coach Bobby Leonard taught Miller to read a racing form and that a certain four-letter obscenity could be an adjective, noun or verb.
To say that Miller became of age while covering the Pacers at the Indiana fairgrounds coliseum and on the road would be an understatement.
He recalled that Ray Marquette, also a Southport High School alum, got him that first job with The Star in 1969. Sportswriters John Bansch and Cy McBride took him under their typewriters.
Miller admitted that he made sports “books” for bettors for six months at The Star. He talked about those days, “the golden years of journalism,” when The Star published five different editions daily with “two or three writers who were drunk by 8 o’clock.”
His years covering the Pacers were filled with color and adventure and led to authoring “We Changed the Game 1967-1976,” with beloved star Bob “Neto’ Netolicky and the late team attorney Richard Tinkham who died at age 86 in October 2018. The book supports the Dropping Dimes Foundation that seeks funds for the well-being of former ABA players, especially those who were disadvantaged with the merger into the National Basketball Association.
Miller writes for Racer magazine and is a motorsports analyst for NBCSports cable network. Locally he and fellow author-Southsider Rick Shafer can be seen watching area high school athletic events. And Miller’s recent bout with cancer is in remission.
“I doubt if anyone has had a better life than I have had,” Miller said on the video.
Miller is part of the 2019 class of six inductees into the ISSA Hall of Fame that has honored 124 inductees. ISSA was founded in 1946. The annual awards dinner was held April 7 at Valle Vista Golf Club in Greenwood.