Before his career came to an end, Reggie Miller sat down with two interviewers who have chronicled him from the beginning. David Benner, who has worked with Miller since his rookie season, and Conrad Brunner, who began covering Miller in 1988, sat down with the legend to get his thoughts on his - and the team's - past, present and future in a revealing question-and-answer session.
Q. At what point did you realize you could play in the NBA?
A. Probably that summer going into my sophomore year after playing the whole summer with the Laker guys and the rest of the pros up at the men's gym (at UCLA). That gave me the confidence that possibly I could play with them. At that time the Lakers were coming off of one of their championships and the games were so competitive. Having Magic (Johnson) and Byron (Scott) and Coop (Michael Cooper) take me under their wing and show me a lot of the mistakes and some of the things I was doing right. If they were showing that kind of interest, that gave me the belief that possibly I could play. And once I got here, I knew I could play.
“You have to be willing to fail, because you're not going to make every shot.”
Q. What separates a great scorer from a great clutch player, the guy willing and able to take the big shots time after time? What is inside a guy like you, who wants those shots and has the ability to make them, that's missing in others?
A. You have to be willing to fail, because you're not going to make every shot. People moreso focus on a lot of the highlights but there have been a lot of shots I've missed that I've gone home thinking about what I could've done different. You've got to be willing to accept, if you don't make it, that you have to go back to the drawing board, understand what you did wrong – maybe I set my man up wrong, maybe I shot the ball differently – and accept that, work on your shortcomings and hopefully come out on the other end next time out.
Q. Is there a shot that you missed that still gives you pain?
A. Not necessarily one shot, but I can remember one free throw that I missed that might've changed a series. It was in 1994, the first time we were in the conference finals against New York, and it was Game 6 here. If we had won the game we would've gone on to the Finals and we were down so much the whole game. We came back, battled back, battled back and I got fouled with maybe a minute-and-a-half left when we were down one. I was so exhausted, I should've called timeout just to get my breath. I made the first and we tied it, and missed the second. I think if I had made the second, mentally, that would've broken the Knicks. They were up the whole game and we had battled back. You obviously can't say, "If you'd made that shot, you would've won," but in a playoff series it's little things that you try to do to trick or psyche out your opponent. I feel if I had made that free throw and we would've gone up by one, that would've zapped their energy. I think the Knicks saw that, said, 'Hey, they don't want it,' and went and won the ballgame.
Q. When you were a rookie you came into some money, then you got some attention for being a good player and then you became an All-Star. But there aren't many guys who have learned that the most important thing is winning. When did you develop that mindset?
A. Maybe it was before my (first) All-Star campaign. It was nice to make the All-Star Game but the team was muddled around .500 – and back then, you never made the playoffs at .500. My main focus was to make the playoffs and make something happen. When you're young, you don't know about winning. You just want to make the playoffs because you know that's where all the action is. I just wanted to make the playoffs and make something happen. Losing to Boston back-to-back years in the playoffs and seeing how electric that atmosphere was. They had been the world champions with that squad, and we had them on the ropes. That's when it kind of got into my blood a little bit that, "I like this action; we can be a part of this."
"In Pacers (NBA) franchise history, Byron's three was the biggest shot because that gave us the belief. When we won that one, we said, 'It's our time.' "
Q. Of all the big shots you've made in your career, does one stand out? Or is there something other than a shot that you consider your moment of greatest reward?
A. I still go back to Byron Scott's big shot (in Game 1 in Orlando in the first round of the 1994 playoffs). It wasn't my shot, but I'll take the assist on it. If Byron never makes that shot, confidence-wise, I don't know if the Pacers ever get to that level. In Pacers (NBA) franchise history, Byron's three was the biggest shot because that gave us the belief. When we won that one, we said, "It's our time." We took care of Game 2 and blew them out in Game 3 and that just catapulted us to the next level. That was the signature shot for this franchise.
Q. What about of the shots you've made?
A. Just one shot?
Q. Everybody always talks about the playoff games in Madison Square Garden but when you're 50 years old sitting around telling stories, what's the first one that's going to come to mind?
A. I loved that New Jersey series that we had (in 2002). They were one and we were eight and we had 'em. The younger guys and the guys that are currently on this roster, that was a maturing moment for them. You have to taste it. I tasted it against New York, that bitter sense you get when you know you're better than a team. Once you taste that, it automatically makes you hungry and makes you work harder in the offseason. For Ron and Jermaine and Jamaal to taste that when they knew we were better than New Jersey, I think that has matured them and made them better.
Q. Do you remember the feeling of finally winning the conference championship in 2000, knowing you were going to the NBA Finals?
A. Oh, yes. After so many heartaches and four-point plays and Garden taunts, it was only fitting that we clinched it (in New York). There was no other place we could've done it but there. Everything was just aligned right – the moon, the stars – for us to clinch it there. Truthfully, I would've been scared to play them in a Game 7 back here.
"A lot of guys think when summer comes it's a vacation. ... You can't just take four months off and expect (your body) to react the same way when September rolls around."
Q. So many players have come and gone since your career started and yet, throughout your 18 seasons, you always have managed to play young. You never have looked like an old player. What is your secret? How in the world have you managed that?
A. It's what a lot of guys aren't willing to do, and that's work out during the summer. A lot of guys think when summer comes they really think it's a vacation. I've always stressed not that you've got to kill your body, but it's used to a constant pounding for six, seven, sometimes eight months. You can't just take four months off and expect it to react the same way when September rolls around. From shooting to yoga to pilates to hiking to weightlifting, I've always done something and I continue just to keep the muscles loose and energetic. And I play with a lot of young guys, which helps. When you go against a lot of college guys (in the summer), that keeps you young.
I've just been blessed. I've always been surrounded by good, young talent, great ownership and management. Donnie (Walsh) has always kept me surrounded with great players. We've never really hit rock-bottom. It's funny; I always thought the New York Knicks would always be one of the top 10 teams but they've been at the bottom for so long. Donnie has kept this team in the playoff hunt each and every year I've been here.
Q. Do you look back with a sense of pride that the team has made the playoffs 15 out of the last 16 years?
A. Since we made the playoffs, Rick (Carlisle) should be Coach of the Year for everything we've gone through. A lot of it was our fault because of the brawl and so forth but to lose your three best players, each for a portion of the year, one of them for the whole year ... to make the playoffs, it's a testament to the coaches but it's also a testament to the players that are getting the job done. This has been unbelievable.
Q. Even though you aren't likely to win a championship in your final season, does the team's ability to survive in the face of adversity mean you're going out a big winner.
A. I think so. People don't understand how hard it is in this league when you don't have your top guns and you're competing with teams that do. Some nights you just don't have it but most nights we've been in each and every ballgame. That says a lot.
Q. Why was it important for you to be with the Pacers from beginning to end, and when did it become important?
A. You always want to establish roots. It's funny because now when I'm out to dinner or out at a movie or something, kids who will come up and they say, "I remember coming to the game with my parents." So many kids who are now adults and have their own families come up with an "I remember when" story and that's the most important and satisfying thing of playing here. You have roots here, and this is the basketball mecca – high school, college and pro. Movies are made about basketball in the state of Indiana.
"I hear everything, just to let all the fans know. I do hear them, which sometimes throws me off, especially at a big moment in a game."
Q. Are you cognizant of the fact that, home or road, preseason, regular season or playoffs, that when you go up for a 3-pointer, everybody in the arena goes quiet?
A. Yes. I hear everything, just to let all the fans know. I do hear them, which sometimes throws me off, especially at a big moment in a game. Obviously, you're concentrating and you're in the moment but the times you have it and you're wide-open and you hear that, those are the times that throws you off because you expect to make it and when you miss it, you feel so bad. But I do hear all of that.
Q. You're so known as a shooter; your legacy will be all about 3-point shooting and clutch shooting. Early in your career, it bothered you that the other fundamental aspects of your game that you took such pride in – you executed all parts of the game well, not just shooting. Does that still bother you?
A. Early in my career it bothered me because I wanted to be known as a complete player, but the guys that have played with me and the guys that have played against me, as long as the players and the teammates know that I've sacrificed. You have to sacrifice your body, especially at my position. When Rik (Smits) was here, I was the guy that had to go and set a cross-screen on his man. When you're going against 280-pound guys and you're only 185 or 190 yourself, that's why I always tell Jeff (Foster) and Cro (Austin Croshere) and them, "If you set a good pick, you're going to get open because your man's going to help on me and you'll get a wide-open shot. Sacrificing my body was one thing I was taught at an early age at UCLA and Riverside (High).
Q. We all can see what you've been able to do in the final 25 or 30 games of your career. How can you possibly walk away from the game when you can still do what you've done?
A. I'm doing it because I have to do it. It's the only way we're going to make the playoffs with the hand we're dealt. If we had all the players here and everyone was healthy, I wouldn't have to be doing this because they would be doing this and I would chip in a three here and there and we'd be winning ballgames and we'd be at 50-plus wins and there would've been a lot less hoopla about me retiring. I have to do what I've been doing just to make the playoffs. But it's not going to change (his decision) just for the simple fact that I believe it's time. I believe it's time for these guys to take the next step, and I know they can without me.
"They've made All-Star teams, made All-NBA, made Defensive Player of the Year. So they have the accolades. Now is the time to forget about stats. ... If they can play together as a team and not worry about all the little petty stuff, they are the best team in the league, talent-wise."
Q. It's hard to envision a Pacers team without you, yet that's the reality we all must face next season. What message would you like to send to your teammates to help them succeed in your absence?
A. If they can learn to work as a cohesive unit. I was probably caught up, my first two years, in making a name. Well, all these guys have made their names. They've made All-Star teams, made All-NBA, made Defensive Player of the Year. So they have the accolades. Now is the time to forget about stats. Who cares who gets 25? Who cares who leads the team in assists or steals or whatever? If they can play together as a team and not worry about all the little petty stuff, they are the best team in the league, talent-wise. If the game starts and they just play as a team, as a unit, no one can beat them. But they have to understand that first. Once they have that golden shining moment and it comes to them in a dream or whatever and they understand that, that's when this team and this franchise will go to another level from where it was when I was here.
Q. What does your future hold?
A. Contrary to what people believe, yes, basketball has been a big part of my life. But on the other hand, it's also been a small part. You know, 40 is a very young age. Maybe broadcasting. I'm starting a production company, doing small independent films, that's about it. I'll be dabbling for a while.
Q. Who were your favorite teammates?
A. Mark (Jackson) and Dale (Davis) start off at the top of the list. Vern (Fleming) and Herb Williams took me under their wing my first three years. And Chuck (Person). Antonio and Dale were my original bodyguards. They allowed me to do whatever I wanted out there and I knew they always had my back. Derrick (McKey), when there were guys I knew I couldn't guard, he slid over and took 'em for me. Rik (Smits), who probably didn't get the credit he deserved because he was so maligned because at 7-5 everybody thought he should be the next God. I like Jeff (Foster), even though he doesn't have the physicality of Dale or Antonio, he does the little things. I just wish he would be more tough and play a little bit more like Dale and Antonio and Bill Laimbeer. He already has that edge and he looks crazy enough that people aren't going to mess with him and that's all you need in this league, a little bit of rep.
Q. Did you really love being the enemy?
A. I loved it. Not everyone can wear the white hat.
Q. But you're really a good guy.
A. You guys know that. Outside of Indiana people really don't know that. Being the enemy and wearing the black hat has made me, in my golden years, the nice guy now. People think of me as a great guy now, being bad for so long. They accept it now, I guess, whereas before they never accepted it.
Q. Everybody has this notion of Reggie Miller the pompous guy on the court, but you've been very careful to keep your philanthropic activities relatively quiet, and you're really kind of quiet and shy. Why have you kept your image so separate from your real personality?
A. You've got to sell some type of role. People are going to perceive you one way, no matter what. I can act one way in Madison Square Garden and get in front of a camera and act totally different but they're not going to believe what I say on camera. They're just going to believe how I act (on the court). That's how I've always had to play what you see on the court. But I would drive myself crazy if I was like that away from the court. I'm very respectful of others. I try and do the right things most of the time and let the chips fall where they may.
Q. You used to revel in how much children reacted to you. Is that still important?
A. I love kids. Out of everything I may miss, it may be coming to the arena and entertaining the kids. Kids love the long-ball. Obviously, everyone wants to dunk and that's great. But every little kid wants to shoot from long distance. Everyone can relate to "boom, baby" and a 3-pointer, especially here in Indiana. You grow up wanting to become a shooter and I think most parents here can articulate and show their kids, "This is what Reggie Miller has done throughout his career," and that's great. That's what I'm going to miss the most is the entertaining of the kids, because that's what makes it go.
"I showed up each and every day to play."
Q. You're going into the Hall of Fame, with or without a ring. You've hit countless clutch shots. You rank with Jerry West and some of the greatest names in the history of the game in terms of career scoring. Yet the thing that may be the most memorable about you is that in every game you played, you looked like you were having fun and you looked like you cared. When you're done and you look back, what will be the thing about your career that you will hang your hat on?
A. That I showed up each and every day to play. I played in 80 percent of my games, maybe more. I played hurt. You never knew when someone was coming to an Indiana Pacers basketball game for the first time – maybe on a dare, maybe they had just gotten tickets – but you never knew if they were coming for the first time. And I always wanted that person to go away thinking, "Man, who was that 31? He's a really great player." I always wanted them to remember that they had an enjoyable experience when they saw the Indiana Pacers play, and that always drove me to come to the gym early, get my warmup done early, mentally prepare, watch my tape, get ready and it's worked for 18 years.