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Friday, May 20, 2005

Reggie Miller's Weird Head, R.I.P.

There's so much going on these days it's hard to keep track of it all -- The Sith is revenging, Survivor ended, there are bad movies to watch, Arrested Development has been picked up for next season, the NBA Playoffs are heading toward oblivion, an NBA lockout may be looming (and this time, I think it's the owner's fault), and Congress can't decide whether or not to end that most absurd of political tactics, the filibuster.

But I don't want to talk about any of that.

Last night an NBA legend ended his career with a 27-point game against the best defense in the world. That's right, I said NBA legend. Before I explain why he's worthy of the adjective legend, I have to clear something up.

Players Reggie Miller was not as good as during the prime years (about 1990-2000) of his career: Jordan*, Barkley, David Robinson (though not for very long), Hakeem, Gary Payton, Stockton**, Shaq, Kobe, Tim Duncan***. That's only 9 people, as you can see. And none of those people were better than he was during every one of those years save Jordan of course (who took 2 years off in the middle of that, so he doesn't really count). What does this mean? Reggie Miller may have been the preeminent NBA star of the 90's. Part of this is due to the fact that there was a definite down period in terms of superstar talent coming to the NBA from the late 80's to the Iverson-Marbury-Allen draft of 1995. Reggie didn't have much competition, and he capitalized on this.

His stats are great but not star quality (partly due to the fact that he played in the Defensive Dark Ages of the NBA), he's not a good defender or rebounder, he pushes off before almost every shot, and he never even developed any other secondary skill to complement his deadly shooting. He's skinny, weak, ugly, and could barely beat his sister in games of horse growing up. So why is he so great again?

Oh, yeah -- the playoffs. He is without a doubt (and I mean that) the most clutch and third most feared basketball player of our time. Only Jordan and Shaq caused more mental anguish than Reggie in his prime. Reggie made 4th quarter circus shots -- fading or leaning every which way (a major shooting no-no, btw) -- look as easy as a practice drill against air. It's hard to describe the electricity the audience felt (and still felt last night in the 4th quarter of his last game, by the way) when he burst around a pick and got his hands on the ball, pushed his defender off to create space, and let loose that arms-and-legs-flailing-shot of his. Way more often than not, that shot went in. That was the greatness of Reggie Miller -- you could defend magnificently for 3 1/2 quarters, run great offensive sets all game, and go up on the Pacers by 15, and he would just come along and erase 2 hours of hard work in a 2 minute display of insane shooting. No matter how the game was going, there was always the possiblity that Reggie would bring the Pacers back. For this, he was feared and loved, just like any large weapon.

The 25-point 4th quarter against the Knicks was maybe the greatest example of his awesomeness, but it was far from the only example. He had this Reggie electricity every playoff series. It's like the playoffs were Reggie's time, and the bigger the shot, the more likely it was to go in. This is what makes him a true legend and an eventual Hall-of-Famer.

He must also be commended for staying with one team his entire career, and that not a glamour team but the dusty Indiana Pacers. They never had enough talent to win a championship, and the people of Indiana torched his house, but he never let that drive him to a bigger stage. There's something quaint and wholesome about that, and I like it. Needless to say, we need to see more stars staying with one team their whole career, even at the end when the team is rebuilding. And yes, that's another veiled shot at George Karl and the Bucks for trading Ray Allen. I'm sorry.

* Not Pippen, which is something I'm prepared to defend to the death.
** Not Malone, which you might think is crazy, but again, I'm prepared to defend this.
*** There are some other notables missing that were as good as Reggie but not better -- Ewing, Drexler, AIDS-Magic, etc.


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