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Reggie Still Resonates Across Indiana and the NBA

Miller's Love of the Big Moment Made Him One of a Kind
by Wheat Hotchkiss
Pacers.com Writer/Editor
@Wheat_Hotchkiss

What can you possibly say about Reggie Miller that hasn't been said 31,000 times over already?

Miller is without question the most beloved Pacers player of all time. His name is synonymous with the Pacers franchise.

He played 18 seasons in the NBA, all of them in a Pacers uniform. Only four players have ever had a longer career with a single team (Kobe Bryant with 20 and John Stockton, Tim Duncan, and Dirk Nowitzki with 19).

He helped lead the Pacers to 15 playoff appearances over those 18 seasons, including six trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and a conference championship in 2000. And yes, he had more than his fair share of memorable moments on the game's biggest stage.

He is the franchise's all-time leader in games played, points, field goals, 3-pointers, free throws, assists, and steals.

He is the only Pacers player who played primarily in the NBA to have his jersey number retired. Together with Mel Daniels, he was the first star player from the franchise to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

To this date, some of our best web traffic here at Pacers.com comes from whenever we decide to post old photos or videos of Reggie, even over a decade after his retirement.

On Saturday night, Miller will be honored once again at the 1990s Decade Game. Each and every fan in the expected sellout crowd will receive a special commemorative bobblehead of Miller.

1990s CENTRAL: Remember the Decade at Pacers.com/1990s »

Miller's career spanned three decades, from 1987-2005, but it was in the 1990s that he put Indiana back on the basketball map, leading the Pacers on their greatest run of sustained success in NBA franchise history.

It was Donnie Walsh who made the franchise-altering decision to take Miller with the 11th overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft. It wasn't a slam dunk decision at the time. Local fans famously wanted the team to take former Indiana University star Steve Alford and Walsh had his sights set on California point guard Kevin Johnson until he got word that Johnson would likely be off the board by the time the Pacers picked.

Still, Walsh had scouted Miller extensively in college and felt confident that he could be a good contributor at the next level.

"I could see that he really knew how to play," Walsh told Pacers.com's Mark Montieth last month. "He wasn't just a scorer. He played the whole team game."

Believe it or not, Miller was (and still is, according to those close to him) a quiet, introverted person off the court. But on the court, he came alive, morphing into a brash, animated star with a theatrical streak and a penchant for trash talk (sorry, Spike Lee).

That style of play endeared him to Pacers fans, who saw Miller as a sort of a voice for the voiceless, the small-market star not afraid to back down against the brightest stars on the biggest stage.

His enthusiasm also helped inspire his teammates to perform at their very best.

"The most underrated thing in the NBA as a talent is energy," Walsh said. "Players with energy are infectious. They get everybody on the team energized."

But to outsiders, Miller's exuberance sometimes rubbed them the wrong way. Longtime Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke first came to Indianapolis in 1997 to join Larry Bird's coaching staff and admits now that he didn't have the most favorable impression of the Pacers star before he arrived.

"I wasn't sure what to expect from Reggie," Burke said. "When I got here, I came here from Portland and he wasn't a guy that we really admired. You wanted to kick his —.

"But then when I saw him, the energy he brought every day, his approach to the game, his approach to practice, his approach to everything he did...He competed at everything. A fierce competitor. I miss that kind of spirit. He had it every day. It was impressive."

PACERS VOTE: Fans Pick Starting Five from the 1990s »

Miller always raised his game to another level in the playoffs. He averaged 20 points or more in each of his first four postseason appearances, but the Pacers were eliminated in the first round each time. In the 1993 playoffs, the eighth-seeded Pacers met up with the top-seeded Knicks in the first round. Miller averaged 31.5 points per game and knocked down 10-of-19 3-pointers, but New York prevailed in four games.

The next season, the Pacers got the fifth seed, swept Shaquille O'Neal and the Magic, upset the top-seeded Hawks, then squared off again with the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. That's when the legend of Reggie Miller truly began.

With the series tied 2-2, Miller exploded in the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden, scoring 25 points in the final 12 minutes to stun the Knicks, taunting Spike Lee as he buried shot after shot. Overall, he finished with 39 points, going 14-for-26 from the field and 6-for-11 from 3-point range.

The Pacers wound up losing that series in seven games, but they got their revenge the next year, defeating the Knicks in seven to advance to their second straight conference finals.

It was in that series, of course, that Miller delivered his most iconic moment, scoring eight points in 8.9 seconds to deliver Indiana a Game 1 victory. New York led by six points with 18.7 seconds remaining before Miller buried a 3-pointer, stole the ensuing inbounds and stepped back behind the 3-point line before knocking down a shot to tie the game. After John Starks missed two free throws, Miller was fouled and hit both of his foul shots to lift the Pacers to victory.

There is perhaps no better example of Miller's bravado and showmanship than his postgame interview after that game.

"John Starks choked," Miller told NBC's Dan Hicks. "We came up big."

The next question, Miller confessed just how badly the Pacers wanted revenge after being eliminated by the Knicks in each of the previous two seasons.

"We feel we can sweep this team," he said, before pointing directly into the camera and exclaiming, "This is for you, Indiana!"

They didn't sweep the Knicks, but they did finally knock off their nemesis in a playoff series, thanks in large part to Miller's heroics.

MONTIETH: Nine Pacers Moments that Shaped the 1990s »

Miller's knack for rising to the occasion in the biggest moments continued throughout his career. When the Pacers finally advanced to their first NBA Finals in 2000, it was Miller who played the starring role. He scored 34 points (17 in the fourth quarter) in Game 6 in — where else? — Madison Square Garden to clinch a long-awaited Eastern Conference championship.

Miller averaged over 20 points per game in 11 of his first 12 playoff appearances. He shot over 40 percent from 3-point range in nine of those 12 postseasons.

"He becomes somebody else (on the big stage)," Walsh said.

"He was in the league with Michael Jordan, there were great players in the league when he was in it. What I came up with was, if you compare him to Michael Jordan, he wasn't the athlete, he didn't have the body, there were things he didn't have that Michael had. But he had as big an impact in every game he played in as Michael did in the games he played in."

Even Miller's coaches, legends in their own right, marveled at his shotmaking prowess. Walsh recalled how on separate occasions, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas, both Hall of Fame players, came into his office early into their coaching tenures heaping praise upon Miller.

"They came to me and said, 'I can't believe the big shots this guy's making," Walsh said. "And I said, 'Yeah, but you made them, too, didn't you?' They both said, 'Not like this.'"

But while he was the unquestioned star of the Pacers, Miller was also a devoted and loyal teammate. His tireless work ethic and competitive drive made him a leader by example and he never had a desire to hog the limelight for himself.

The Pacers' first Eastern Conference Finals run began with Miller kicking out to an open Byron Scott for a game-winning 3-pointer in the final seconds of their playoff opener in Orlando.

On the 20th anniversary of his eight points in 8.9 seconds, Miller took the opportunity to praise the often-overlooked Rik Smits, whose game-high 34 points in that contest have been largely forgotten thanks to Miller's heroics.

"The Dutchman kept us alive that game," Miller said. "He was the whole cake, I was just the icing."

And in the 1999-2000 season, Miller willingly took a step back for the good of the team. After leading Indiana in scoring for 10 straight seasons, Miller took fewer shots, allowing young guard Jalen Rose to blossom. Rose finished a tenth of a point ahead of Miller for the team lead in scoring average and was named the NBA's Most Improved Player.

"Everybody accepted their roles," Burke said. "It was a selfless team. I think even Reggie (was behind) Jalen for leading scorer. He wasn't tied up in that. You never heard him talking about that."

Though he retired in 2005, Miller's impact is obvious on the modern NBA game. He retired as the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooter (he has since been passed by Ray Allen), having knocked down 2,560 career threes in the regular season and another 320 in the playoffs.

All of his success came in an era where the 3-point shot wasn't nearly as big of a weapon as it is today. For perspective, Miller attempted over 500 3-pointers just once in 18 seasons. Last season alone, eight players (including Pacers star Paul George) took that many threes.

The modern game encourages all players, even centers like Myles Turner, to knock down open 3-pointers. In part, that's because so many of the league's current stars — from Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant to George — grew up watching Miller bury three after three, then went out in their driveway and tried to emulate him.

"As shooters, that's the guy you watch," Pacers sharpshooter C.J. Miles said. "How he used his body to get open, used screens, the sets they'd run, the shape you've got to be in to be able to run around and be able to play that way. But I think his biggest thing, he's just a competitor. He's always wanted those big shots, he always wanted to make the play to win the game or to take control of the game."

Reggie Miller won't be forgotten anytime soon. He is an Indiana icon and a permanent fixture in the NBA's postseason highlight reels. Fans, and especially Pacers fans, never seem to tire of hearing his story.

Even if it's told another 31,000 times.

Reggie Miller Scores 8 Points in 8.9 Seconds

May 7, 1995 - Reggie Miller scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to shock the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Rewatch that iconic moment.

Reggie - 90s Decade Game

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