All December long the Back Home Again staff will be recounting the Top 25 Reggie Miller Moments of all-time as part of our “25 Days of Reggie.” The countdown will serve as a great way to get geared up for the start of the 2011 NBA season (and Christmas) as we remember and honor one of the NBA’s most clutch performers and the Indiana Pacers’ greatest player ever.
For our #18 Miller Moment we travel back to summer of 2007. This moment ranks a little bit low on our countdown due to the fact that it came after Reggie’s playing career had ended, but it was still a great and even defining moment for Reggie in my book.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me just come right out and tell you, “Reggie Miller was truly a unique athlete – one of a kind.” He wasn’t the biggest, fastest, strongest, most athletic, or best player at his position during his time. He was only an NBA All-Star 5 times. His Hall of Fame worthiness has been questioned (an absolutely ridiculous notion in my mind, but then again I’m one of the kids dedicating his entire December to a Reggie blog). He never won an NBA Championship. And with regards to what he’s most famous for – his long range shooting prowess – he won’t even go down as the best ever statistically (screw you Ray Allen).
So what’s all this “25 Days of Reggie” fuss about? Why does Reggie have (and deserve) such a cult following in Indiana, and why are we taking all of this time to honor him?
There are many reasons. We’ve already touched on a few them during this countdown: his cockiness, his big mouth, his big heart, and his second to none clutch shooting. At the end of the day, the biggest reason for most people is probably the fact that he single handedly saved professional basketball in the state of Indiana. He came at a time when we needed him most, and he stole our hearts forever – championship or no championship.
All of these things are great, but for me, what really sets Reggie a part from any other player who has been beloved is his fierce loyalty. As we saw in Moment #25, when Reggie was drafted back in 1987, the locals weren’t all that thrilled. It’s funny to think how a player who was booed on draft day by a city (or an entire state for that matter) could end up being one of that area’s most cherished sports figures ever. Despite this initial aversion, Reggie would come to truly love Indiana and call it his home. By the end of his career he went so far as calling himself a “Hoosier.” He truly became one of us.
Miller had many opportunities throughout his career to leave and pursue a ring elsewhere, but he never left. He wanted to win one for Indiana so badly. As his sister Cheryl Miller said, “For being such a shrewd business man, he was real stupid about Indiana.” Reggie could have easily left the Pacers towards the end of his career when it looked liked they would have to start over and rebuild around a young Jermaine O’Neal, but he stayed. He could have returned to California, lived under the bright lights of L.A., and won a championship with Kobe and Shaq; but he stayed. He had offers to join Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas or LeBron James in Cleveland, but he stayed. Most recently (the summer of 2007) he could have came out of retirement to chase a championship with the Big 3 of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen; but he stayed retired as a life-long Pacer.
I wouldn’t have blamed Reggie for coming back with the Celtics. Actually, I probably would have cheered my ass off for him to get that ring (and he would have got it). No one deserved one more. He seriously considered coming back at the age of 42. After two weeks of testing out his body for a return, he decided against the idea.
“Physically, I know I could have done it. But mentally, when you do something like this, you’ve either got to be all in or all out. And I’ve decided I’m all out.”
He wasn’t all in mentally. He never elaborated on what exactly that meant, but one his great friends and former teammates filled in the blanks for us. According to Mark Jackson, “It was not wanting to wear another uniform, and not wanting to feel like somebody else got him a ring.” He wanted to win a championship so desperately, but he wanted it to be for his Pacers. He couldn’t bear the thought of jumping on someone else’s bandwagon and tarnishing his pure Pacer legacy.
Some people will say this makes him silly or stupid. I think it makes him noble and honorable. This is why Reggie is different from many of the other greats. It separates him from the Karl Malones and Gary Paytons of the world who chased rings late in their careers wearing foreign uniforms. No one really blames them for doing so, but there is something so admirable in resisting this temptation. It also separates him from most current day super-stars, most notably LeBron James. LeBron may go on to win championship after championship in Miami, but he’ll never be truly cherished the way Reggie is in Indiana. He’ll never have people sobbing in the stands and at home in front of their television sets during his last game. He’ll never have the emotional good-bye retirement ceremony. He could have had all these things in Cleveland championship or not. Instead he chose (as most probably would have) to go to the big market, join other stars, and betray his hometown team.
What would Reggie have done in that situation? I think the answer is clear. For this reason, Reggie will always be my favorite athlete. He was loyal to a fault when he didn’t have to be. He cared for something more than himself. He wanted to win so badly, but he wanted to do so in the right way. Fans always get caught up in the emotionality of sports. They care for their teams like they would a lover. For players and coaches its just a business. That wasn’t the case, so it seems, with Reggie. He loved Indiana, and we loved him right back.
Thanks for sticking around #31. You were truly one of a kind.