David Benner, who spent nearly 30 years as the director of media relations for the Indiana Pacers, died Wednesday after a long illness.
Benner’s death was announced by the team, which learned of it from his family. He was 67.
The Indiana native was prominent in the chronicling of sports in his home state for nearly a half-century, first as a sports writer covering the Pacers, Notre Dame football and Indiana University basketball for The Indianapolis Star before joining the Pacers’ staff in 1994.
He was with the Pacers for 28 years, retiring last season. Benner made a point to visit every road city in his final season with the team. He was given countless gifts and tributes along the way, a sign of the enormous respect that other public relations professionals, reporters, executives and players had for Benner and the way that he did his job.
“David embodied the very best of our organization,” Pacers Chairman Herb Simon said. “He was immensely talented, experienced and humble, and his passion for our players and the Pacers organization are what made him beloved by the coaches and athletes with whom he worked. David meaningfully impacted countless people here and around the league, and he will be missed.”
Benner started working for The Indianapolis Star as a part-time sports writer in 1979. Eventually, he became the Pacers’ beat writer for the newspaper.
“It is difficult to put into words just what David Benner meant to the Indiana Pacers, the NBA, his family, and friends,” Pacers President Kevin Pritchard said. “He had an infectious personality and a wonderful sense of humor that was evident to anyone who was ever fortunate enough to meet him.”
One of his game stories hangs on a wall inside the media building at Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. It’s the front page of the Star from April 15, 1991, much of that page being devoted to Ian Woosnam’s victory at Augusta National the day before. The bottom third of the page was about the Pacers, and how they beat Detroit to end a two-game losing streak.
“That is crazy. My byline on the walls of Augusta,” Benner said in 2021 when he was shown a photo of the page as displayed at the course. “That was a crappy team by the way.”
Tributes began coming in quickly from around the league after the Pacers announced Benner’s death.
“We are all very saddened by the news of David’s passing,” the Toronto Raptors’ media staff said in a tweet. “He loved basketball and his team, was a kind and generous colleague, and wrote the best and funniest travel lists in the league.”
Under Benner’s leadership, the Pacers were a two-time winner of the Brian McIntyre Media Relations Award – presented annually by the Professional Basketball Writers Association to the NBA media relations staff in recognition of professionalism and excellence.
“As a geeky, no-talent high school kid who was a student manager for the basketball team, everyone told me I would never make it to the NBA,” Benner told the Star in 2021 when announcing that season would be his last with the franchise. “Well … take that.”
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