Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller was finally inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this weekend, along with former Pacers legend Mel Daniels. I say "finally" even though this is only his second year of eligibility because I, like many others, thought he should have been on the ballot last year.
This is not a time to debate whether Miller actually deserves to be in the HOF like his big sister Cheryl, a fellow HOFer whom is described as the greatest female basketball player of all time. Reggie's credentials speak for themselves (you can check them out here), but his career has always been about much more than just stats.
Miller is a unique player and there will never be another player like him. He is almost single-handedly responsible for a whole generation of Pacers fans, including myself. Pacers Pulse would not exist with him. Well, maybe it would, but I wouldn't be blogging on it.
Reggie was an NBA superstar despite not being known as a prolific scorer. He was an average defender in a league of great defenders. He could be regarded as one-dimensional (by NBA standards, of course). He was consistently good but rarely great, having only made the NBA Finals once and retiring without a ring. He was on a small market team. And yet he was undoubtedly a superstar that struck fear into the hearts of his opponents and their fans.
Miller inspired me because he always looked like the guy you would pick last on your team on the playground. My friends (who all went for the big market and traditionally successful teams) joked that he was an alien who should was in danger of literally slipping through the cracks in the floorboards.
Yes, he wasn't a competitive psycopath like Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant. He wasn't dominant like Shaq or Lebron. He's not athletic like Vince Carter or Blake Griffin. He looked awkward too -- he didn't have the sweet stroke of Ray Allen. But he had the audacity to believe that he belonged on the same court as them. And even if he couldn't beat all of them, he sure tried his hardest every night. If it meant playing the villain as he often did against the Knicks, then so be it. He was never going to back down from anyone despite his physical disadvantages.
He was the ultimate professional and teammate, a guy that set an example with his relentless work ethic for 18 years. It's not often that you see a player that hated by opponents and fans during his career be that revered by the end of it. You only need to take a look at this video to understand the impact he had in New York, where he tormented Knick fans for much of his career.
And check out the end of his final game. I don't recall opponents doing something like this to any player other than Michael Jordan. And remember, this was merely a few months removed from that infamous brawl.
When it comes to memorable moments, Reggie Miller has a truckload of them. My favorite, unlike most others, was not the 25-point fourth quarter or the 8 points in 8.9 seconds. It was game five against the New Jersey Nets in the 2002 playoffs (back when it was a best of five series in the first round), a game I watched live on TV, where Miller hit that 40-footer at the buzzer to force overtime, and then forced a second overtime with a two-handed dunk in traffic against three Nets defenders. The Pacers eventually lost that game, but the fact that they, as the number eight seed, pushed the first seed and eventual NBA finalist that far was something I'll never forget.
I had a final exam later that day and I remember I needed to get going soon. I was almost glad when it appeared that the Nets had put the game out of reach. And when Reggie hit that improbable bank shot, I went nuts. And so did the telecast, which went black momentarily after the shot went in, driving me even more nuts.
Then when Reggie faked the shot at the top of the key and drove into the lane instead, throwing down that insane two-handed dunk, I lost it again. This was a guy that dunked only a handful of times every season, and he had the balls to drive the ball down the throat of three defenders down by two in the dying seconds of an overtime elimination game. That's the type of player Reggie Miller was, and I hope that is the way he will always be remembered.
Thanks for the memories Reggie, and congratulations.