May 7, 1995. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals was being contested between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks. The Knicks were on the cusp of victory as they led the Pacers 105-99 with 18.7 seconds left in the game. Fans at the Madison Square Garden were anticipating a 1-0 series lead when Pacers’ guard Mark Jackson inbounded the ball to Reggie Miller in the Knicks’ half-court. Miller quickly broke free from his man, caught the ball just outside the 3-point arc, did a 180-degree turn and shot the ball over John Starks in one swift motion.
Then as the Knicks’ Anthony Mason looked to pass the basketball to a stumbling Greg Anthony off the new play, Miller stole the ball, dribbled back behind the arc and launched another 3-pointer.
Swish. Game tied at 105-105 with 13.2 seconds left on the clock.
After the Knicks’ John Starks missed a couple of free throws, Miller would go on to convert two free-throws to land a famous 105-107 win for Indiana. Eight points in 18.7 seconds. Actually, eight points in 11.2 seconds if you consider that the Knicks had one final opportunity to tie or win the game with 7.5 seconds left.
This is what Miller, one of the greatest shooters ever in the history of the game, did during his stellar, 18-year NBA career. Clutch play after clutch play. Whether it was against New York in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, or against Chicago in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, or against New Jersey in Game 5 of the 2002 Playoffs, Miller was the archetypal Mr. Clutch. It is why a biographical account of Miller on indystar.com posted way back in 2005 begins by saying, “For 18 years ‘Miller Time’ didn't just mean beer to fans of the Indiana Pacers. It meant fourth quarter with an important game on the line and the ball was in Reggie Miller's hands.”
Miller never won an NBA ring. In this, he joined a select band of NBA greats - Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, John Stockton and Karl Malone to name a few - who played an entire career without ever tasting championship success. Yet, like each one of those players, recognition of Miller’s excellence at the highest level has come with him getting a nod last week for The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the Enshrinement Ceremonies for which will take place between September 6-8, later this year.
There are so many ways to view Miller’s legacy. He retired as the all-time NBA leader in total 3-point field goals made (2,560), a record which was subsequently broken by Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics on February 10, 2011. Miller ranks 14th on the list of NBA all-time scoring leaders (25,279 points); 9th on the list of all-time free throw percentage leaders (88.8%). He also holds the record for making the most three-pointers (320) in playoff history. Miller won a gold medal at the 1996 Olympics. He was the first Indiana Pacer to start in an All-Star game (1995). Miller played more games with the same team (1,389) than all but two players in NBA history, John Stockton (1504) and Karl Malone (1434) of the Utah Jazz. It is this last achievement that Miller himself values the most:
“I hope what people remember is that I had the chance to play 18 years with one organization. If anything, I hope people understand that you can be just as successful in a small market as you can in New York or L.A. or Chicago. I wouldn't trade those 18 years for anything.”
It is also what led Pace Miller, who passionately defended his namesake’s HOF credentials (was there even a need) on pacerspulse.com, to write, “Miller was the face of a franchise for almost his entire career. He was Indiana’s best player for more than a decade. How many players in NBA history can say the same thing?”
For me, though, the key to Miller’s legacy lies beyond all those accolades on the court with one franchise. It comes from a time much before Miller even made his first 3-pointer in the NBA or before he led the UCLA Bruins to an NIT championship (1985) and a Pac-10 championship (1987). It is of the time in 1965, when Reginald Wayne Miller was born with hip deformities, which prevented him from walking normally. For the first four years of his childhood, Reggie wore leg braces to correct his birth defect, leading doctors to question if he would ever walk unassisted. That he was able to prove the doctors wrong, highlights the example of an individual who was able to overcome his handicap and emerge as one of the greatest NBA players of his era. Surely, Miller’s story provides a lesson for scores of individuals who are weighed down by similar physical challenges.
And so, when Reggie Miller walks down that red carpet in September this year to be inducted in the Hall of Fame, the deafening applause will be truly well earned. It will be the perfect foil to a career carved out of hitting big shots without the accompanying clatter of basketball hitting rim.
Cheers to you Reggie!
All stats are after games played on April 11, 2012 (IST)