Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Saying Goodbye to Reggie Miller

Last night was a bittersweet one for me as a basketball fan. Yes, the Pistons beat Indiana to advance to the conference finals. But they did it by ending the career of one of my favorite players, Reggie Miller. Miller was the guy you loved to hate and then came to love out of sheer respect for his talent and his will. He was brash and bold. He talked smack on the court, but then he backed it up. And has there ever been a better clutch shooter than Reggie? I think the game against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden, in the playoffs, scoring 8 points in 9 seconds to keep his team alive, answered that question.

The end of the game is what separates great talents from great players. There are athletes with all the talent in the world who treat the ball like a live grenade when the pressure is on. Chris Webber is 6’10″ with the body of a greek god and more athletic talent than practically anyone else in the NBA at his size, but you couldn’t pay him to take the last shot (though teams keep paying him millions despite his tendency to implode under pressure). Reggie was a guy who thrived on pressure, who loved having the ball in his hands at the end of the game with the score tied – and especially on the road, with 30,000 fans hating you simultaneously. He lived for it. And most of the time, he hit the shot that killed you.

Over the course of an 18 year career, he went from being one of the most hated players in the league to one of the most beloved and respected. He went from being a spastic, gangly beanpole with ears that looked like they were drawn on by a cartoonist to being a symbol of all the things that are right in professional sports. He never demanded a trade or held out for a bigger contract. He spent his entire career with a small market team. He graciously accepted a diminished role toward the end of his career and then, when his team was decimated by injuries and suspensions and needed him more than ever, he had perhaps his finest season in his last.

And he went out on top, leading his team further than anyone could ever have expected and going 11 for 16 for 27 points. We were playing poker last night with the game on in the background, but we stopped the game when they took Reggie out for the last time. My brother said, “This ovation could go on for a long, long time.” It was a touching moment, and I was happy to see the whole Pistons bench on their feet and cheering for him. He was the kind of guy that you had to respect as a competitor. And it was fitting that he was knocked out by Rip Hamilton, the man who has patterned his game after Reggie, the man Reggie says will carry on his legacy. Goodbye, Reggie. Every true basketball fan will miss you, but the hall of fame is calling.

Comments

  1. #1 JY
    May 20, 2005

    I always ‘hated’ R.M., not for rational reasons, but because he talked smack against my favorite team (and participated in UCLA’s first loss to said team in over a decade), the 86′/87′ Golden Bears, and my favorite player of all time, Kevin Johnson (an extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily classy player who came out of college at the same time R.M. did, but, as a point guard known for speed, speed, and more speed, burnt out a bit earlier). I suppose I would have learned to love RM had I lived near Indiana, just as I learned to love the once despised John ‘you ruined our season’ Elway because I lived in Denver and saw him play enough to come to respect his drive and talent.

    On the other hand, this would violate my policy of viewing all UCLA, USC, and Stanford alums as vile, worthless would-be usurpers of the rights of the chosen ones of University of California.

  2. #2 spyder
    May 20, 2005

    Reggie had the good sense to go to UCLA, even though his sister chose that other school in LA for her collegiate career. Unlike JY i had to root for Reggie in that he was one of the shining lights of the post-Wooden years. I had the great pleasure to attend UCLA from ’65-’78 as an undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral student. And awful lot of great basketball was played by those teams. And although Reggie was not a Wooden player, he embodied, and embodies to this day. the Wooden ethic of hard work, focus, attention to detail, and a passion for a game. That he chose to play in Indiana, the original home of Wooden, just seemed all the more emblematic.

    Sorry JY but Cal? Well at least it is a better school than those other two private ones you mentioned.

  3. #3 Matthew
    May 20, 2005

    I always did, and still do, think Reggie Miller was overrated as a player. But I will miss one thing, and that is that he has a personality, and so few athletes do anymore. It’s by-the-book p.c. speech. All those times he got into shouting matches with fans (like Spike Lee) would never happen today unfortunately (just fist fights with fans, I guess). I still hope he does broadcasting or something like that; i think he would fit in well there.

  4. #4 Art
    May 21, 2005

    I worked the scorer’s table at Pauley Pavilion from 1984 to 2005, so I’ve gotten to see some great (and some horrible) basketball. I’ve been really happy with the way that RM turned into a solid pro. Too many guys are in it for the bling now — he always seemed as if he were playing for the enjoyment of the game.

    If you’re nice JY, I’ll sing “The Dirty Golden Bear” for you.

  5. #5 Lynn
    May 21, 2005

    Honey, this article really touched me.
    As you well know I am a Hoosier and therefore automatically I love basketball. I have always been a Pacer fan, and Reggie Miller will be forever missed.

    The Pistons showed true respect when they got to their feet and cheered Reggie.

    I for one will be watching Rip Hamilton in the future. Every move he makes on the basketball court reminds me of Reg.

    Thank you for posting this tribute to Reggie Miller.