By Brian Taylor
Let me take you guys back in time for a second, to the late 80’s, early 90’s.
(Initiate Wayne’s World Dream Sequence)
My Bullets were still falling from grace, some kid named Mike was challenging the old head Celtics, and Zeke and Rodman had yet to lose their minds. In the few years previous, the Indiana Pacers were perennial lottery attendees, always behind the Bucks, Bulls, Cavs, Pistons and Hawks in their division. In 1987, an awkward, Urkel-esque kid from UCLA was picked up in the draft by the Pacers (Reggie Miller) to go along with another guy who quickly earned the nickname of “Rifleman”, Chuck Connors Person.
Chuck Person came out of Auburn in the 1986 draft, picked behind Brad Daugherty, Len Bias and Chris Washburn, and was a player in the mold of another Auburn alum, Charles Barkley. Many thought of Chuck Person as Chuck Barkley Lite: same mouth, but with a little more range from downtown. Keep in mind, they called this guy “The Rifleman”, partly because, well, his name was Chuck Connors Person, after the star of the Rifleman TV show (who also played for the Celtics!), but also because he never met a three-point shot he didn’t like. In his first six seasons as an Indiana Pacer, Person averaged around 19 points per game, and was often the other first-option scorer behind an up-and-coming Reggie Miller.
What folks remember most was the absolute highlight of his career, a five-game shootout in the 1991 Playoffs against Larry Legend’s Celtics. Person led the Pacers into the series with the mindset of not being afraid, not being shook by the famed “Celtic Mystique”. Larry and Chuck went mano a mano throughout that series, but the trash talk had started earlier when, during a Christmas Day game, Larry warned a trash-talking Chuck he’d receive a “present” from the Legend himself. Next time downcourt, Bird noticed Person was guarding him on the perimeter. Larry swishes one of his fadeaway treys in Chuck’s grill and tells him on his way upcourt, “Merry Christmas”.
But back to the series: the Pacers were just starting to sniff playoff basketball, so they were the young upstarts. Even though Indiana went down in five games, they made it feel like seven, with Person matching Bird shot for shot, and averaging 26 points to Bird’s 17 for the series. In his last season in Indy, Chuck became the Pacers’ all-time leading scorer (to be surpassed later by “Baby New Year”, Reggie Miller).
In one of the league’s more questionable moves, the Pacers moved Chuck to Minnesota to give Detlef Schrempf more playing time. Chuck would continue to drop bombs with the Wolves, but ended up riding the bench in favor of … get this … Isaiah Rider. It was when the Spurs picked him up that his career came back to life, averaging 9 points a game, but still hitting an effective 40% from downtown. After stops in Charlotte and Seattle, Chuck called it a career in 2000.
Ever wonder about what Antoine Walker was supposed to be coming out of college? Take a look at some old clips of Chuck Person.