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Pacers need to honor ‘ambassador’ Kellogg


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Clark Kellogg talks with Mike Beas Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal
Clark Kellogg talks with Mike Beas Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Scott Roberson / Daily Journal


For a compelling reason, Clark Kellogg will never receive a deserving honor.

He’ll never have his jersey retired by the Indiana Pacers.

That’s a shame.

 

Understandable, but a shame. Because “Special K” was, and always will be, a special part of the franchise.

To date, the Pacers have retired the numbers of four players, three of whom — Reggie Miller, Mel Daniels and Roger Brown — are in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Banners in their honor, alongside that of Hall of Fame coach Bob “Slick” Leonard, hang in the rafters of Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The other player honored, George McGinnis, is not a Hall of Famer but put up the sort of numbers justifying the distinction.

Kellogg also tallied gaudy stats for the Pacers, but there was a problem. He didn’t tally enough, long enough. Circumstances beyond his control wouldn’t allow it.

Anyone familiar with Kellogg’s story knows that chronic knee injuries cut way too short a career that had all the promise — and was in fact on the cusp of — superstardom.

Selected in the first round (eighth pick) by the Pacers in the 1982 NBA Draft, the former Ohio State star was intended to be the building block for a former ABA franchise trying to find   its way in the NBA. And immediately, Kellogg delivered.

Although the Pacers didn’t win much, Kellogg gave fans reason to take notice:

He averaged 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds in 81 starts his rookie season.

He was named first-team All-Rookie.

And he followed with two more exceptional seasons.

Then came the knee injuries that limited the 6-foot-7, 225-pound power forward to 19 games his fourth season and to just four games his fifth.

And that was it. There was no sixth season.

At age 25, his knees were shot. He retired, finishing with career averages of 18.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and 49 percent shooting from the field.

In light of the fact he played less than four full seasons, it’s easy to understand why his jersey doesn’t hang in the rafters. A hallowed honor reserved strictly for the franchise’s most revered figures, it’s not — to the Pacers’ credit — one handed out lightly.

But in Kellogg’s case, there’s more to his résumé than what amounts to a 3½-season playing career.

There’s his 32-year ambassadorship — and invaluable mentorship to generations of Pacers players — that began when he was drafted and ended with last week’s surprise announcement that he was stepping down from his position as vice president of player relations, effective immediately.

In a statement released by the Pacers, Kellogg, 53, gave no specific reason for leaving. But in light of warm words included in the statement from president Larry Bird and Pacers Sports & Entertainment president Jim Morris, and from Kellogg himself, one can only assume that the departure was amicable and probably the result of a hectic schedule.

A resident of Columbus, Ohio, Kellogg commuted to his job in Indiana — no easy logistical task for a man who also stays busy as a basketball analyst and commentator for CBS sports, a vocation that branched from his days as a radio and TV analyst for Pacers’ broadcast.

In short, Kellogg — an ordained minister who is as genuinely nice in person as he comes across on TV — has had more than a fleeting connection with the Pacers since the day he was drafted.

“Since 1982, I’ve enjoyed some form of working relationship with the Indiana Pacers,” Kellogg said in the team statement. “I’m eternally thankful for each opportunity the Simon family and this organization have given me to contribute to its work. It’s been a blessed association in every way for me and my family.

“But times and seasons change. And my time has come to move on from my role as VP of player relations. I do so with no regrets, while looking forward to continuing my work as a college basketball game and studio analyst with CBS. Always a Pacer.”

Bird offered the following farewell: “We are glad we had the opportunity to have Clark as part of our team. His interaction with our players was great, and he brought a lot to the table. Anyone who has been around Clark will say you can’t find a better person. We will miss him and wish him the best.”

Sadly, Kellogg didn’t get the opportunity as a player to have his jersey retired. Fate didn’t allow him to do enough, long enough. But he cheerfully did much away from the court, for more than three decades, to be a candidate for the honor.

Probably, it will never happen, which is no slam on the Pacers. The retired jersey club should be exclusive. The franchise is meticulous who it lets in, as well it should be. But it should at least consider giving Kellogg a nod.

“Special K” was that special.

Rick Morwick is the sports editor of the Daily Journal. Send comments to rmorwick@dailyjournal.net.

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