Can Paul George surpass Reggie Miller in terms of popularity in the state of Indiana? What about Larry Bird? I saw this question posed on another website the other day, and it really got me thinking about how we, as a social generation, view these three individuals.
Let’s start with Bird. His fame began in 1979 when he lead the Indiana State Sycamores to the NCAA Championship game. Since Bird was a Hoosier — not referring to his brief stint at Indiana University — it was a given that his fans would follow him to whichever NBA team drafted him. Those fans turned out to be the Baby Boomers and Generation Xers.
While you could make a case for the Baby Boomers being bigger fans of some of the ABA Indiana Pacers like Mel Daniels, George McGinnis or Roger Brown, I would venture to say Bird was too big of a generational superstar to not be liked more by Indiana natives. Bird retired from the NBA in 1992, four years after Reggie Miller was drafted by the Pacers and the birth of the new generation.
Generation Y, or Millennials, were those born in the early 1980s all the way up to the early 2000s. And guess who they grew up watching? Reggie Miller. Miller was drafted by the Pacers in 1988 and began his transcendent rise towards the upper echelon of the NBA in 1992.
Not many Millennials got to see Bird play, especially during his prime, so they grew up watching guys like Miller, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing and Kobe Bryant. These were the new generation superstars and for once, since the ABA days, the Pacers had one.
The infamous battles with the New York Knicks, the close games with the Chicago Bulls and the Pacers’ first NBA Finals appearance were all led by Miller, who single-handedly pushed small-market Indiana into the big-market limelight. Unfortunately Miller could never push his team to an NBA Championship — it didn’t help they continued to face the dominant dynasties of the era — and he ultimately retired in 2005.
The early 2000s birthed the newest generation that is being temporarily coined as Generation Z. These new Pacers fans didn’t get to watch Miller play, just like the Millennials didn’t get to see Bird, so all they know is the play of Paul George. George took three years to become the rising superstar he is today, and those Gen Z fans have been able to watch every moment of his career.
In George’s three years, the Pacers have advanced further in the NBA playoffs each season and are now considered to be championship contenders, something they haven’t been since the kids of Generation Z were being born.
Many of these kids know who Larry Bird and Reggie Miller are because they have older siblings, parents and grandparents to tell them stories of watching them as they grew up, but Generation Z will be telling their siblings, kids and grandkids about the accomplishments of George.
George will not be able to push his way past Bird or Miller with the older fans even if he wins multiple championships, but he has already solidified his spot as the most popular Pacers player among Generation Z.
Can Paul George pass Reggie Miller or Larry Bird’s fame in Indiana? It all depends on who you ask.