David R. Benner, former sportswriter for The Indianapolis Star followed by 28 years as media relations director for the Indiana Pacers, passed on March 1, 2023, following a long, courageous standoff with cancer. He was 67.
The fourth child of Charles and Emma Benner, David was born on Oct. 19, 1955, a birth date shared by his mother. He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Jane Jankowski; sister Sue (John) Smitha of Indianapolis, brother Larry (Carol) Benner of Lapel, and brother Bill (Sherry) Benner of Indianapolis.
A proud 1973 graduate of Center Grove High School who attended Indiana University-Bloomington and IUPUI, David began his journalism career as a copy boy at The Star and later joined the sports staff, where his beats included high schools, IU, Notre Dame and most notably a long-time stint (1983-1991) covering the Pacers.
His time on the Pacers beat led to a relationship with then Pacers media relations director Dale Ratermann who encouraged General Manager Donnie Walsh to hire David as his replacement when Ratermann moved elsewhere in the organization. Walsh agreed and in 1994, David became media relations director, beginning a second career that concluded with his retirement in June 2022.
David and his staff were twice recognized by the Professional Basketball Writers Association as the best media relations team in the NBA. David’s time with the team coincided with the Pacers’ rise to NBA prominence led by coaches Larry Brown and Larry Bird and players Chuck Person, Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, Dale Davis, Antonio Davis, Mark Jackson, Jalen Rose, Derrick McKey, Chris Mullin, Austin Croshere, Jeff Foster, Jermaine O’Neal and others.
In particular, David was noted for the pre-game ritual of “pep/trash talks” with Miller, and he was honored beyond measure when the Hall of Famer made a surprise return last spring for David’s retirement ceremony at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
David also was remembered for handling with poise and aplomb the game and accompanying media firestorm that marked the return of Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan in 1995.
David had a keen sense of humor that brought delight and laughter to everyone. He was a friend to all (except photographers who strayed from their courtside spaces and ESPN personalities who thought they were above the rules) and developed respectful and lasting relationships with local and national media as well his media relations colleagues in the NBA league office and other franchises. His last season with the Pacers was in essence a farewell tribute tour from other teams.
David’s service to others in basketball actually began at Center Grove, where he was student manager of the famous 1972 Trojans team that upset top-ranked Richmond in the Hinkle Fieldhouse semi state semifinal before losing to eventual state champion Connersville. David especially valued the life-long bonds he has with members of that team as well as the coach, Tom Jones.
David grew up in a farmhouse on Morgantown Road and was proud that he never left Center Grove. He recently was honored with a “CG” letter recognizing him for his long-time support of Center Grove athletics.
David also established life-long relationships with IU dormitory roommates who still maintain an annual golf trip together, the only downside of which was that he was struck not once, twice but three times by their errant golf shots.
His Star career was marked not only by the Pacers beat, but by maintaining relationships with coaches Bob Knight (“He liked me because he didn’t like my brother Bill,” David said) and Lou Holtz (of whom David did a killer impression). David’s best writings were humorous, whimsical and sometimes profane pieces about his sports writing colleagues, especially the late Robin Miller.
In addition to his wife Jane, and the Pacers, David had other significant loves in his life: dogs, cigars, NASCAR (Ward Burton was his guy), and the Dave Matthews Band, which he saw perform more than 60 times.
David was first diagnosed with cancer in 2010 but bravely knocked it back and resumed his career with the Pacers without missing a dribble or dunk. The disease returned in 2019 but David again took it on with courage and a calm, stoic demeanor. He still was attending Pacers games regularly in December before it came back a final time.
David wished to express his thanks to Pacers Sports and Entertainment for the organization’s compassion and kindness. Heartfelt thanks to Pacers Drs. Steve Samuels and Tim Hupfer and his oncologist Dr. Nadeem Ikhlaque. He was also deeply grateful to Drs. Jon and David Mandelbaum, Franciscan Health nurses and the staff at the Franciscan Hospice House for the care he received in his final days.
A celebration of David’s life will take place at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, March 8, 2023, in the Entry Pavilion of Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Foundation 7399 North Shadeland Avenue Suite 117 Indianapolis, IN 46250 or at www.friendsofindyanimals.org, or the Humane Society of Johnson County Indiana 3827 North Graham Road Franklin, IN 46131 or at www.hsjc.org or the Franciscan Health Foundation 8778 Madison Avenue Suite 100 Indianapolis, IN 46227 or at www.franciscanhealthfoundation.org.
Swartz Family Community Mortuary and Memorial Center 300 South U.S. 31 (Morton Street) in Franklin, IN is handling arrangements. Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.swartzmortuary.com. Information 317-738-0202.