Posted Sep 8, 2012 7:22 PM
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- He made the short walk from the audience to the podium at center stage as the "Reg-gie! Reg-gie!" chant gained playful momentum, and he was the last speaker at one of the spectacular gatherings in basketball history. Mood lighting for Reggie Miller, in other words.
Legendary finisher, the closing act of the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies Friday night, Michael and Magic and Larry and Kareem and historic others on hand -- perfect. Miller was captivating as a clutch player, and so it was fitting that he would have the stage to close the show. The part about center stage was more directional than anything, with the understanding that anywhere he stood was center stage.
Before, he made Knicks fans cry. This time, it was older sister Cheryl, after Reggie went for the heart again with a tribute to her as the greatest brother-sister act in hoops lore joined again in the Hall, and a lesson to anyone who never understood him before.
The message reinforced on a night of classy speeches -- from Ralph Sampson's appreciation of the game and its history to Jamaal Wilkes talking less than any other inductee and using most of those five minutes to praise others to Don Nelson bringing the three stages of his career on his stage with Satch Sanders (Celtics teammate), Bob Lanier (early coaching) and Chris Mullin (late coaching) -- was simple: Reggie Miller never was the punk some tried to portray.
He was about emotion on the court, and most of the antics were to motivate himself, not instigate. Except maybe for the emotional roller derby with Spike Lee. Anything Madison Square Garden, anything Indiana-New York in the playoffs, Knicks vs. Hicks in times of such wonderful self-deprecation that some Hoosier parked a tractor outside Market Square Arena one game day, was different.
Most of the time he meant no harm in what he said or did. Reggie Miller, too skinny to survive in the NBA, a very unpopular pick by the Pacers at No. 11 in the 1987 draft instead of local hero Steve Alford, lit fires under himself.
So, emotions. Friday night inside Symphony Hall, after concerns earlier in the week about possible storms gave way to a beautiful evening and allowed the red-carpet arrival ceremony to take place outdoors as planned, Miller finally got his chance to speak at the end of the night. He thanked two of the three presenters on stage with him, Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley, and the family of the late Walt Hazzard, his coach at UCLA, and several levels of the Pacers organization and the fans. Then he started to thank the Miller family.
"But before I get to them, there's one lady that deserves probably the biggest recognition for everyone in why I'm here," Reggie said. "A lot of people wish they could be in the house with the greatest of anything. I just so happened to live across the hall from absolutely, positively the greatest women's basketball player ever."
The crowd applauded. Reggie, at the podium, applauded, the third of his three presenters, standing just off his right shoulder, a couple steps over and a couple steps back.
"And I'm proud to say," Reggie continued, "I am not on this stage if it wasn't for you, Cheryl Deann. We as a Miller family are not held at a high level if it wasn't for you."
His voice was cracking.
"We rode your shoulders all the way here. So, thank you very much."
Reggie Miller turned and hugged Cheryl Miller in the middle of his acceptance speech. As he went back to speak, she wiped the outside corners of both eyes.
Tears at the event are not unusual -- Dennis Rodman sobbed away a year ago as he spoke. The special part was in Reg-gie! showing his true self at such an important career moment, the way Rodman did in nearly turning the microphone into a counseling session and the way Wilkes did in running the wing on a Showtime fastbreak to get off stage before many people noticed he was there.
Reggie Miller was no cocky SOB. He meant no harm as a player (Knicks disclaimer, Knicks disclaimer) and merely searched in unusual corners for motivation. He was emotional on the court. He is emotional, period, as he proved again on Friday night on center stage as one of the great closers.
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