Miller Time

I’d usually tell you to check out Sriram’s blog for all things NBA, but I’ve been excited for quite awhile about tonight’s ESPN 30 for 30 entry.  Winning Time was sold as the story of Reggie Miller versus the Knicks.  Miller is rightfully the focus, but also covers the larger battle between the Knicks and Pacers.  Miller is probably my second favorite NBA player ever (James Worthy being the first).  And the battles between the Knicks and the Pacers in the mid 90s are probably the most emotionally invested I’ve been (and ever will be) in sporting events.  This doc was well done and I’d recommend it to any fan of the NBA.

I’m a native Washingtonian, so I am a Bullets/Wizards by default.  But they have been bad for most of my life, so I’ve followed two other teams during my NBA watching career, mostly on the strength of my love for two marquee players from the teams.  Once both those players left those teams, I stopped following those teams.  First, it was James Worthy and the showtime Lakers.  Then, it was Reggie and the Pacers.  So I’m a sports bigamist, but I’m ok with that.

I first got into the Pacers, and Miller, in 90-91, when the Pacers played a tough series against the Celtics (who due to my taking the side of the Lakers in Lakers vs. Celtics, were hated by me) and Person and Miller jawed and didn’t back down to the Celts.  I liked that.  I was also drawn to Miller because he was skinny, I mean really skinny.  As I was at the time.  To see someone out there playing at that level with that frame, well I had to root for that guy.

The documentary does a great job of setting up the rivalry, going all the way back to the 85 lottery when the Knicks beat the Pacers to win the Patrick Ewing sweepstakes.  While it was never mattered to me, the doc also discusses the cultural differences between the big city of New York and the local yokels of Indiana (my dad’s from Long Island and I have no connection at all with Indiana, so if this had mattered to me I probably would have taken the Knicks side).

Reggie is rightfully portrayed as an epic trash talker, who tried and succeeded at angering the Knicks (the Starks headbutt) as well as the game’s greatest player (I remembered fondly the clip of Jordan trying to tear Reggie apart).  While I knew about Reggie’s famous sister, Cheryl, one anecdote poignantly encapsulates the reason why he had the fire to win.  Reggie had just scored 40 points in a high school game and was excited to let his sister know about it.  Problem was Cheryl had scored 105 points the same night!  You could tell that she pushed him and the desire he must have had to make a name for himself.

The Knicks/Pacers series in 93-94 and 94-95 were epic.  The documentary’s montages do the requisite series of clips showing the hard fouls from the series.  As I mentioned above, I never was more emotionally into sporting events as those series.  Each game was a draining experience, more so than actually playing ball myself, which I was still doing at the time.  I would be on a euphoric high after a victory and would be not a fun person to be around after a loss.  And yes, I cried after the Pacers lost game 7 in 93/94.  As I’ve grown older, my love of sports in general has waned, and with other priorities, I will never follow a team like I did those Pacers teams.  My passions are elsewhere now, and I think that’s a good thing.

I will say though, that seeing the clips from those games did bring back some of those emotions.  Especially the clips from the games after the “choke” game, when the Pacers took a 3-2 lead, but lost the last two games of the series.  There was no crying, but a feeling of sadness.  A good bit of time is spent on the “choke” game, where Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter and had a personal taunting duel with Spike Lee and its aftermath for Lee.  The most interesting tidbit of the sequence is Spike describing the bet Reggie and him made over the series.  If the Knicks won, Miller had to go visit Mike Tyson in prison in Indiana, if the Pacers won, Lee would cast Miller’s then-wife in his next movie.  I wonder if Miller ever followed through on that.   Watching Miller go bananas, hitting shots from everywhere, and lifting the Pacers from the doldrums of what had been a horrible game collectively, was still satisfying.  For me, I’d say it’s an even better performance than Game 1 the next year because it was an entire quarter of dominance taken from the pages of Jordan and Bird.

The eight points in 18.7 seconds is just miraculous.  This was the slow burn of Game 5 the previous year condensed into seconds.  It happened so fast, at the time you couldn’t process it.  There was no satisfaction, like everyone else you were just trying to figure out what happened.  Regardless of whether he pushed Greg Anthony down, the presence of mind (humorously repeated by at least five commentators during the telecast) to retreat to the 3 point line, spin around and throw up a 3 while falling back was something.  And making it.  The doc then rightfully focuses on the fact that Starks misses two free throws and then Anthony Mason (who today could do stunt work for the Michelin Man) fouls Miller on the defensive rebound.  I laughed as Mel Turpin recounts having to convince Donnie Walsh that Reggie had in fact tied the game, as Walsh had left the suite they’d been watching the game in.

The series ends up going to a Game 7, where Patrick Ewing misses a wide-open layup and the Pacers, and Reggie, slay their demon.  At the time, when Ewing went up for that shot I was ready for my heart to be broken.  When it bounced out, I jumped up and danced around like a kid having just opened up his dream gift at Christmas.  Now, all those years later, I felt pity for Patrick Ewing.  To have missed that shot, and knowing that was probably his last shot at a title, I felt bad for him.  At the time, no way, they were the enemy.

The documentary ends as it should.  Reggie admits that it was great to beat the Knicks, but wishes it had been in the Conference Finals.  Then the show is over, as it should be.  The Pacers went on to lose to the Orlando Magic and neither team has won the title since those epic battles.  There is a short epilogue about the Larry Johnson “4 point play” in the 1999 playoffs, the worst piece of officiating in NBA history outside of Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals in 2002.

Other than Reggie’s heroics, it was just great seeing the footage of all the other Pacers from the time.  Rik Smits’ mullet and ‘stache, the Davis boys, Haywoode Workman, Mark Jackson and his ridiculous shimmy.  You rooted for these guys so hard, it was like they were part of your family.  This doc was like watching old family films.

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One Response to “Miller Time”

  1. Gameday – Part One « Meadow Muffins of the Mind Says:

    […] common theme in blogs I have been regularly checking out, and indeed NQ’s latest post on the ESPN 30 for 30 on Reggie Miller had me thinking about the confluence – gameday songs.  Now, I am decidedly a non-ath-a-lete, […]

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