Posted Sep 4, 2012 8:18 PM
The knock on Reggie Miller is that he was just a shooter.
The way Picasso was just a painter, Baryshnikov was just a dancer, Elvis was just a singer.
The artists do it with flair and few ever filled up every inch of the canvas with more brushstrokes or commanded a greater presence on the main stage than the skinny kid with the long arms and longer range from behind the 3-point line.
From the oh-so-cool California coast from which he came to the gritty heartland in which he thrived to the white-hot spotlight of New York where he all but breathed fire, Miller was the reason you came to the game.
To see him light up a scoreboard, make the nets practically sing, take an opponent's would-be victory and snuff it out like the butt of a cigarette.
Hall of Fame credentials mean so much more than a career scoring average of 18.2 points per game or shooting percentage of 47.1. They are 18 seasons of being the face of the Indiana Pacers -- the jughandle ears and snaggle-toothed grin -- on top of that body as thin and deadly as a switchblade.
Just a shooter.
"The Hall of Fame question is not something I ever let myself think or even dream about," Miller said. "You see all the great players who are there and you don't think about yourself on that kind of level. That's something for other people to decide and, oh yes, it's surreal now.
"But shooting the basketball is something that I won't ever apologize for, because it's something that I worked long and hard at from the time I began playing the game. That became my identity. That became my game."
The famous bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked why he robbed banks. He supposedly replied: "Because that's where the money is."
For all the back screens, shuffle cuts, weak side help and other jargon that TV analysts use to fill dead air, putting the ball into the basket is where the money is. Isn't it the most fundamental part of the game, the only way you can score?
When Miller was filling up the basket, he was creating room for center Rik Smits to operate in the low post, pulling opponents away from the basket so that forwards Dale Davis and Antonio Davis could slip through the cracks for key rebounds and critical putbacks, making it impossible for defenders to cheat off him to bottle up point guard Mark Jackson. You always had to account for him and the moment you didn't, he could make you pay just like his contemporary Deion Sanders at cornerback.
Just a shooter.
For a young Miller, it was simply a way to survive in the backyard games in Riverside, Calif., when he couldn't drive around older brother Darrell, who grew up to be a catcher in the major leagues, and could not post up older sister Cheryl, who became arguably the greatest female basketball player in history
"It was just a natural evolution of my game," he said. "Really, it was the only way I could compete. They were both bigger and stronger than me, so I had to take my game outside and try to make something of it."
What he constructed was a career as a larger-than-life figure that was part hero, part villain and never anything less than highly entertaining. Miller could out-woof an entire pack, talk trash until it was piled higher than a garbage dump and, far more often than not, backed all of it up. He was a distinct brand of deli meat, somewhere between ham and hotdog, and practically erected his own personal wing of Madison Square Garden with his virtuoso performances there.
"It was that whole 'Knicks vs. Hicks' thing that seemed to draw the attention of the basketball nation," Miller said. "Those games, those series, were some of the most fun I've ever had on the basketball court. We let the world know that there was something going on outside the big cities of New York, Chicago and L.A."
Miller seemed to always be at his best when the spotlights were shining brightest. His career playoff average of 21.1 points per game was nearly three higher than during the regular season. And during the 1997-98 season, Miller hit an amazing 14 game-winning or game-tying shots.
"It's a love-hate relationship," former teammate Jermaine O'Neal once said. "You've got to hate him because you know he's going to do something in the game that's going to just totally destroy the chemistry of a team. But when the game is over, you've got to say, 'That guy is one of the best to ever play' "
So Reggie Miller goes into the Hall of Fame because he was just a shooter.
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