Miller Suspended at 11th Hour

by Jeff Tzucker
by Conrad Brunner

March 7, 2001

INDIANAPOLIS, March 7, 2001 -- Pacers coach Isiah Thomas employed his 15th different starting lineup of the season on Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, but not by choice.

Two hours before the 7 p.m. scheduled tip-off, the NBA informed the team that Reggie Miller would be suspended for the game and fined $10,000 for an incident that occurred the night before late in the Pacers' 97-83 loss to the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Miller also was docked for one game's pay, estimated at $130,000.

When Miller was removed from that game with 1:58 remaining, he threw his gum, and it struck official Ed F. Rush in the back of the head. Rush did not react to being struck, and merely brushed the gum off the floor with his foot. Nonetheless, the NBA reviewed tape of the incident and opted to punish Miller.

"I haven't seen the tape and I didn't know anything about it," said Pacers coach Isiah Thomas before the game. "We just heard that he wasn't going to be able to play tonight, so we had to prepare a gameplan without him."

Thomas said Miller was upset with two no-calls during the Knicks decisive fourth-quarter run, when an 81-78 New York lead swelled to 97-79 -- one when Jalen Rose appeared to be fouled on a three-point attempt, and one when Glen Rice appeared to double-dribble before making a jump shot.

"Reggie is an emotional player," Thomas said. "I love the emotion, intensity and energy he brings to every game. The passion he plays with, that's what we want from all of our players, so I'm not going to discourage that."

The Pacers learned of the penalty just as the team was taking the floor for a 5 p.m. shootaround. The coaching staff quickly huddled to develop an alternate gameplan, then prepared the team in the walk-through. Travis Best started in Miller's place.

Believing the late word of the punishment put the Pacers at an unfair disadvantage because it left them precious little time to prepare, Thomas called for the league to implement a rule requiring a time limit on such announcements that would limit 11th-hour suspensions.

"You should never call up a team on the day of the game -- at five o'clock on the day of the game -- and say a guy can't play that night," Thomas said.

Miller left the arena shortly after being notified of the suspension and could not be reached for comment.