SPORTS: Checking in with little brother at the Pacers front office

It is no secret that I share the same last name with David Benner, the director of media relations for the Indiana Pacers.

We also share a mother (who still likes me best), a father, a brother, a sister, a “Bob & Tom Show” parody and-long, long ago-a bedroom in our farmhouse down in Center Grove.

It’s funny how it all works out. David followed me into the newspaper business at The Indianapolis Star, which he joined as a copy boy. I covered the Indiana Pacers for five years in the ’70s as their beat writer. David covered the Pacers for eight years in the ’80s as their beat writer.

David then moved over to the “dark side”-that’s how journalists refer to the world of public relations-when he left the newspaper business and accepted the Pacers’ offer to become their media relations guy in 1994. I followed him to the dark side when I joined Indiana Sports Corp. in 2001.

Our years of overlap-me as sports columnist for the Star, and David as media relations director for the Pacers-made for an interesting dynamic.

But I’m speaking the swear-on-the-Bible truth when I say this: David didn’t do me a single favor or give me one “tip,” or even so much as a heads-up, about breaking news. He treated me just like he treated the rest of the media scrum.

Like dirt.

Just kidding.

However, make no mistake, any little bit of inside information I could get, I had to dig for myself.

“The players always believed I was giving you stuff,” David said. “I always told them, ‘I love my brother, but the Pacers sign my paycheck.’ The last thing I wanted to do was to lose my job and have to go live with you.”

Actually, by the most objective standards I can muster, David’s background in newspapering makes him an effective media relations person. He can relate to the demands of editors and deadlines. He also has experienced the tightrope-walking that is often found in athlete/coach-media relations.

The purpose of this piece isn’t to stroke my younger bro. It’s to allow him to answer the question I’m always getting asked as I go about town.

Which is, how is David holding up?

As you are aware, these are not the best of times for our NBA franchise. They just endured their longest losing streak in years. They are tumbling out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, also known as the Bantamweight Division. Attendance is down.

Then there has been the “other” stuff, best summed up thusly: The Brawl, Club Rio, Eight Seconds Saloon.

“Obviously, there have been a lot of distractions away from basketball,” he said. “I used to help set up a lot of interviews based on how the team was performing. Now it seems the job is geared toward off-court things.

“It’s hard, a lot harder than it was five or 10 years ago. But the media operates differently now than then. It’s not only what’s going to be in the newspaper the next day, or on that night’s newscast, but how soon can they get something on the Web? And sometimes, that leads to media jumping to conclusions before the facts are known. But that’s the nature of the business.”

Barely a day goes by when the Pacers aren’t referred to as “thugs.” David takes exception to the term.

“I think it’s unfair,” he said. “In my 21 years of dealing with the franchise, a total of three players have been charged with something. Three in 21 years. Still, we had bad things happen. You wish you could take them back, but you have to deal with it.”

Like most in his position, he’d like the other side of the story to be told more often. “Contrary to the perception created by some, the reality is that the good this franchise has done on and off the court throughout its entire history should receive equal treatment,” he said.

I reminded David that good news is not news, per se.

“From a public relations perspective, it’s certainly been educational,” he admitted.

Ah, but he believes this, too, shall pass. “There’s nobody I’d rather put my faith and the future of the franchise in than Donnie Walsh,” he said. “And I can remember when people thought Larry Bird wasn’t a very good coach. Sports is cyclical. I don’t think-I know-it will turn around.”

At least David can have a sympathetic listener when he gets home. His wife, Jane Jankowski, is Gov. Mitch Daniels’ press secretary.

She doesn’t feed me any inside information, either.

Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to Benner also has a blog,

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