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.
As we said earlier in our countdown, Reggie Miller may not have been the best player from his era, but he had certain unique qualities that made him extraordinarily popular here in The Crossroads of America. Miller was one of the most loyal athletes in recent memory. He played all 18 of his NBA seasons in humble little Indianapolis even though he had numerous opportunities to leave for greener pastures over the years. Reggie’s loyalty was never rewarded with the an NBA championship, but he was rewarded with one of the most impressive career ending ovations of all-time. I’m sure most players would rather have the championship (including Reggie himself), but not every player’s last game was as special as Miller’s. For example, players who sold out on their original teams to chase money and championships like LeBron James and Carmello Anthony will never be respected and cherished the same way Reggie is. They will probably always be ranked as better players historically, but I think there’s more to life than rings and fame….
May 19, 2005 – Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 6: This, sadly, would be Reggie Miller’s final game. A Pacer’s season that had been fatally maimed by the infamous Brawl in Detroit would end against that same Piston squad. Although the Pacers’ year had been ravaged by suspensions and injuries, Reggie, who had become a secondary scoring threat in his old age, willed the team into the playoffs in his final season. The 6th seeded Pacers would upset the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs setting up a dramatic playoff rematch with the rival Pistons. The Pacers, who were finally getting healthy at the right time with Jermaine O’Neal and Jamaal Tinsley re-entering the lineup, were more than a handful for the defending champion Detroit team. Unfortunately, Detroit would eventual prevail against Indiana finishing them off in Game 6. Reggie tried with all his might to keep the Pacers in the game scoring a team-high 27 points on 11-16 shooting, but the Pistons were just too strong.
With 15.7 seconds remaining, Richard Hamilton was at the the free throw line adding to the Pistons 7 point lead when the crowd began to sense the end of a legend’s career. As Reggie stared sullenly at the floor near half court, the crowd began the classic “Reggie! Reggie” chant. After the first free throw, Pacer head coach Rick Carlisle subbed Miller out of the game giving the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd the opportunity to acknowledge their hero one last time. As the crowd rose to its feet to applaud ol’ Reggie, Pistons head coach Larry Brown called a 20-second timeout and brought his team over to half court to join the masses in the salute. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. I’d never seen an opposing team, a hated rival for that matter, stop a game to extend an ovation for a player. As the ABC cameras panned the crowd and showed the faces of sobbing Pacer fans young and old and then showed the faces of Pistons players full of admiration and respect, you knew that Reggie truly had been a special player. (Click here for video of Reggie’s final moments).
After the game was over, Reggie hugged everyone in sight (including the referees and Piston players) as the crowd chanted “One More Year! One More Year!” It was an extremely painful moment for us life long Pacer fans. It really hurt to see the face of Jermaine O’Neal, a young player who had bonded with Miller and wanted so badly to win one for Uncle Reg. It was mostly painful because we all wanted Reggie to win a championship so badly, but it just never happened for the guy. No one deserved one more. I remember being depressed for a whole week afterwards. The man who had pulled out so many miracle wins. The man who had beaten Spike Lee and the Knicks. The man who went toe to toe with the best ever, Michael Jordan. Suddenly, he was gone, and so was my childhood it seemed. The next day was like waking up from a long dream. I woke up and suddenly had chest hair, acne and a driver’s license and was forced to face the world as a grown man without Reggie by my side.
When Reggie was asked after his final game what he would tell his teammates in the locker room, he replied, “Thank you.”
No Reg, thank you. Thanks for the miracles and thanks for the memories.
p.s. Dear Reggie,
Remember no man is a failure who has friends (fans).
p.s.s. Here’s video of Reggie’s good bye ceremony. Miller gives a final speech with tears streaming down his face. The guy really loved Indiana.