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Saturday, October 2nd, 2010 at 1:00 pm  |  33 responses

Original Old School: The Black Hat

SLAM 139: Throughout his storied career, Reggie Miller was proud to play the role of villain.

He moved from the three-point line to the sidelines, but Reggie Miller still haunts fans of 90’s Eastern Conference teams to this day. From SLAM 139, Tony Gervino sat down with the Knicks’ Public Enemy No. 1 and talked Indiana, Madison Square Garden and, of course, haters.—Ed.

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by Tony Gervino

My relationship with Reggie Miller is not dissimilar to the coastline of Maine: cold and rocky and, depending upon which way the wind is blowing, more than a little fishy.

It’s obviously all my fault. No. 31 never asked for me to hurl insults at him, relentlessly. Never encouraged any of my misguided notions and never responded to my numerous volleys, all sent through the pages of SLAM Magazine back when I was Editor-in-Chief, all done with a singular goal: to unnerve him during that half-decade when he jabbed the New York Knicks and their fans with a pitchfork.

What a joke. The guy scored 25,279 points—another 2,972 in the Playoffs alone—and made more treys (2,560 in the regular season, 320 in the postseason) than anyone in history. He killed my Playoff hopes the way Michael Myers did chatty topless broads: in a variety of methods, but with a singular outcome. Although experts are split on this point, there’s no doubt in my mind Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame.

During the mid-’90s, Jordan may have been a more destructive force, but no one was more demoralizing to opponents and their fans than Reggie, who preened, pouted and taunted while taking defenders to school. The greatest pure shooter in NBA history? At the risk of being struck by lightning, I’d have to say that, too.

Stars like Bird, Magic and Karl Malone basked in the crowd’s love, even on the road. Reggie Miller, the anti-establishment’s poster boy, hit the court like a wrestling villain. All that was missing was the black cape and a taunting catchphrase.

My prominent memory of Miller is that of a spindly dervish, relentlessly spinning through multiple picks, ever circling and hoping to eventually make it to the three-point line with just a sliver of daylight. That is all he ever needed. A moment.

The highlights of Reggie’s career mirror the lowlights of my Knicks fandom. During Game 5 of the ’94 Eastern Conference Finals, for example, when he scored 25 points in the fourth quarter, while behaving like a cross between Mick Jagger and a rodeo clown.

Or in Game 1 of the ’95 EC Finals, when he scored 8 points in just under nine seconds, to beat the Knicks again. Imagine. Try and visualize hitting two treys and drawing a foul to shoot two free throws while counting up from zero. If you get to nine, you’ve gone too far.

In the ’98 Conference Finals, his Pacers gave Jordan’s Bulls all they could handle before succumbing in seven games, despite Reggie’s game-winner at the end of Game 4. And in ’00, in Game 5 of the first round of the Playoffs, he drained a 40-footer at the buzzer to send the conference-leading Nets to overtime, and nearly, to the brink.

Reggie always took the big shots for his team and hit many of them under duress. He hung up his Nikes in 2005 and flirted with a comeback the following season—and probably would’ve averaged a dozen—but ultimately decided to remain retired. For a guy who so clearly adored the bright lights, it was a surprisingly graceful decision.

He probably never understood why this grubby magazine from NYC described him with such vitriol. Then again, judging from our conversation, he probably didn’t much care at the time…or even now.

I get the feeling that Reggie Miller, who probably lives in a nicer place than I have even seen on TV, has larger concerns. Like covering the NBA on TNT, or maybe counting the reported $110 million that he earned during his career. A career that, despite all the years that have passed since either the Pacers or Knicks were relevant, haunts me to this day.

SLAM: What was your reaction to the documentary Winning Time, which chronicled your intense relationship with the New York Knicks?

RM: I was excited. The finished product was way more than we could have ever imagined. It’s the reaction of people who were not even basketball fans, who have come up to me afterward and said that they loved the chemistry and that there was so much that they didn’t know. And for the people who were basketball fans, it was an amazing remembrance of something that they lived through.

SLAM: I think the 8 points in nine seconds on the Knicks in the ’95 Eastern Conference Finals was the most devastating turn of events in the history of basketball. Do you agree?

RM: Well, obviously, when you’re in the moment you don’t think about that stuff, like whether it was the greatest, but now that I have a chance to reflect back on it, you know, I don’t think I could duplicate that same feat if I was in a gym by myself. For me, and especially when I played, it was all about being in the moment,

SLAM: What about New York brought that out in your game?

RM: It was being on the biggest stage, and to me playing against the bullies on the block, which at the time were the New York Knicks. I mean, you’re playing in the Mecca of basketball in Madison Square Garden and you always wanted to bring your best. And I always tried to do that extra thing to leave the fans walking away saying, “That guy is great.”

SLAM: You know, the negative crowd emotion wreaked such havoc on Alonzo Mourning, especially in the Playoffs. Yet whenever you came into the Garden, it seemed to fuel you.

RM: I loved it. [Sighs.] I loved it so much. When they would scream and yell. Awww, it was so good.

SLAM: I think the word I would use is “relish.” You seemed to relish making the crowd miserable.

RM: I loved it, Tony. There was nothing like playing on the road, in a hostile environment. Twelve guys versus 20,000 fans. [Sighs]. If there is any one thing I do miss, it’s playing in the Garden. And having the fans yell and scream and chant.

SLAM: Do you see any of that attitude in today’s players? Anyone who would welcome that kind of attention?

RM: Well, only maybe one comes to mind. Because you’ve gotta have the game to back it up. It would probably be Kobe. I think Kobe can go into anyone’s backyard and he would just love to stick the dagger in. Now I don’t know if he would be as demonstrative as I was—you know, taunting the crowd and things like that. But if anyone would love to stick it to the opposing team, that’s who it would be.

SLAM: One thing you said that struck me was when you said, “I didn’t mind wearing the black hat.” It’s a pretty bold thing to say. But were the Pacers the first time you wore it? Because I don’t remember you being Public Enemy No. 1 when you were at UCLA.

RM: [Laughs.] Well, I wasn’t exactly a great guy in college either. A lot of the things I did were thankfully before the Internet age. But, you know, I think I was always filling the underdog role. I think I always wore the black hat. There were plenty of guys that wore the white hat.

SLAM: Did anything that was said about you hurt your feelings?

RM: Nooo. And I hope nothing I ever said to people hurt their feelings.

SLAM: When I was at SLAM we said some pretty unkind things about you. And by we, I should say, I mean “me” in particular.

RM: [Feigning surprise]. Really? Nooo…..

SLAM: Yeah, I don’t know if you’d heard that.

RM: [Laughs.] Like what? What could you have possibly said?

SLAM: Well…you know, the typical “choker, flopper” stuff. Pretty juvenile. But is there anything you heard from us, from fans or anyone else that you thought was over the top?

RM: [Laughs.] No. Isn’t everything fair game?

SLAM: Maybe not your family.

RM: Well you didn’t saying anything about my family, right?

SLAM: Ummm. Well, I did run the photo of you and Cheryl at the prom.

RM: [Laughs.] That’s crazy.

SLAM: I’m a Knicks fan and thought that it would unnerve you. I know it sounds silly, but I thought I was helping.

RM: You were actually helping me. [Laughs.] So thank you.

SLAM: I just thought that I was accomplishing something by saying it.

RM: [Laughs.] And how did that work out for you?

SLAM: Well, the only thing I think I accomplished was preventing me from getting a job at Sports Illustrated.

RM: [Laughs.] Oooh…Hey man, SLAM is still pretty good.

SLAM: Thanks, Reggie. So your rivalry with New York was epic. Would you agree there’s nothing like it in today’s game?

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  • Shu

    Absolutely loved him during his playing career, not so much his broadcasting career. I wish more players of today would show personality and general distaste towards the opposing team/crowd like reggie did. Maybe its the grind it out 77-72 games and being put on the ground 3-4x per day that brought it out of everyone back then but something seems to be missing these days…

  • JTaylor21

    Ray Allen WHO? Reggie would eat Allen for brunch.

  • MikeC.

    I can now respect his game, but still f^ck a Reggie Miller! 25 point quarter was impressive and all, but NY still won the series. Suck it Miller!

  • Vince5

    @MikeC. : The Pacers won the series one year later. But again, the Knicks beat them in 1999.

  • The Philosopher

    Again, the third best shooting guard in NBA History.

  • hammer

    Miller time! An all-time gr8 headed 2 the hall. An all-time gr8 clutch shooter as well. Jesus had/has the most beutiful jump shot n the game,but reggie was cold-blooded. Heartless. Matter of fact he RESIDED n the land of the heartless like bone thugs n harmony. Didn’t take no s**t! Not even from mj. Talk trash 2 u AND would back it up. Tenacious and determined as hell the way he fought and scrambled 2 get his shot off. And yes,he shoulda been called 4 pushing mj n 98

  • http://www.michaelcho.com M Cho

    Reggie will always be a favourite. The nice thing about the passage of time is that people will forget the hurt he put them through, and just remember the sheer entertainment he brought to the game.

  • http://slamonline.com Ben Osborne

    TG! I love it.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    GREAT stuff! Props. Reggie Miller is one of my favorite players ever and my favorite franchise ever is the Knicks..

  • http://www.twitter.com/hurstysyd Hursty

    Reggie Miller was a beast, no doubt, but as an overall player Ray Allen has him beat. Not taking away from the fantastic player Miller was, just that Ray’s better overall.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    ^ Ray is also one of my favorite players ever, but no. Sorry H. But, what makes you say that?

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Ray Allen cannot even wash Reggie Miller’s feet or stand beside him in any circle. I don’t even feel Ray Allen should be in the HOF, if you look at his entire career, but he mean get pity-who knows. Do yall cats remember Ray Allen from the Bucks, Sonics days, were he would disappear and not even be the number one player sometimes in crunch time. Do yall cats, forget he was not even one of the main reasons the Celtics won the title in 08 (see Rondo), do yall cats know that Ray Allen costed the Celtics the series against the Lakers this year. Just because Ray Allen has a pretty jumpshot, doesn’t mean that he is in Reggie class. Ray Allen would never be able to carry a team, like Reggie did for most of his career. Whoever feels Ray can be mentioned with Reggie has FAIL. BOOK IT!!!!

  • Do Work

    How can people be split on Reggie being in the H.O.F.? Joe Dumars is in the Hall, no question Reggie should be based on that fact alone.

  • Blackphantom

    Possibly the greatest shooter of all-time, and @JTaylor, i agree he would destroy Ray Allen

  • http://www.dimemag.com Royal

    Reggie seems like a pretty cool dude

  • http://sdfklflc.com Jukai

    I love the article, Gervino is one of my all-time favorites…
    but GOD is Miller overrated

  • http://sdfklflc.com Jukai

    I mean, really really really really great article. Damn.

  • http://sdfklflc.com Jukai

    I’m pretty busy so I dunno if I’ll be able to respond constantly, but I’ll say this: Ray Allen would burn Reggie.

  • http://sdfklflc.com Jukai

    I mean, people see this KILLER INSTINCT and think it brings players leagues above other players. Sure, Reggie was clutch as hell and loved to take the last shot, but he couldn’t pass, couldn’t rebound, wasn’t great defending unless he pretended to get run over. People rate him too highly because he had so many spectacular moments, but that’s what they were, moments.

  • http://sdfklflc.com Jukai

    Reggie Miller’s best year: 24.6ppg, 3.6rpg, 3.8apg, 1.3spg on 51/41/86
    Michael Redd’s best year: 25.4ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.9apg, 1.2spg on 46/39/87
    and hey, basketball is a sport of intangibles, which is why Reggie is WAY better than Redd. But, you know, just pointing that out.

  • letsmotor

    cosign Jukai. I can’t believe The Seed thinks that Ray wasn’t one of the main reasons the Celtics won it all in 08. Sure, he struggled in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, but he KILLED IT in the finals that year. he hit 22 threes at a 52.8% clip, and he averaged 20.3 points. if he won finals MVP, few would’ve argued. but you’re right, he wasn’t THAT much of a factor, was he?

  • The Philosopher

    If Reggie wins a ring, many a discussion is cut short.

  • http://www.kb24.com The Seed

    Letsmotor
    The Celtics played hard in 08, yea Ray hit three point attempts, but Eddie House hit more big threes, KG zone defense, Powe played big down low and Rondo was the key. Rondo controlled the tempo and set everyone up. Ray has never led a team, like Reggie has done over his career. A couple of good years, do not make up for his past experience’s in a Bucks and Seattle uniform. Lets talk about entire career, not just the good parts. BOOK IT!!

  • http://www.springbored.net letsmotor

    true, Reggie may have the edge when it comes to leadership, but that would matter a lot more if he led his team to a title. of course, Ray never led his team to a title either, but he was a major contributor to a team that won a championship, something Miller can’t lay claim to. i dunno, it’s tough to argue about this, because if Miller decided to leave Indiana towards the end, he could’ve easily put a team over the hump the same way Ray did, but that’s still just a “could’ve.” But I think even if you take away Ray’s ring and just look at the skill set of each player, Ray wins. I wouldn’t say it’s a clear cut victory for him though, so I could see someone arguing the other way.

  • http://dsfjklf.com Jukai

    Ray Allen lead his own team to the conference finals. Sure, Reggie Miller took his team to the Finals, but Reggie’s team was way more stacked than Allens team, which literally had friggin nobody (I’ll take Mark Jackson over Sam Cassel anyday, thanks).
    If Reggie Miller was on the celts over Ray Allen, I’m not sure they woulda won in 2008.

  • http://www.youtube.com/nypacers Reggie

    “And in ’00, in Game 5 of the first round of the Playoffs, he drained a 40-footer at the buzzer to send the conference-leading Nets to overtime, and nearly, to the brink.”

    I believe that was in 2002 Playoffs…

    I miss the good old days.

  • http://www.springbored.net letsmotor

    good point about the 2001 conference finals, Jukai. what makes you say Miller wouldn’t have necessarily been as helpful to the 08 celtics as Ray? I’m not disagreeing, just curious about your reasoning. the one thing that stands out to me is defense–Ray’s become a very good defender as a Celtic, Reggie was always a pretty average defender at best.

  • EC

    Ray didnt lead ish to the conference finals that was Glen Robs team and cassel had the ball in crunch time Ray played 2nd fiddle. Reggie>ray all day lets stop the non sense

  • http://sdjfklf.com Jukai

    EC: Right, and the Bulls threepeat was all Pippen’s team. Please, just leave.

  • http://thetroyblog.com Teddy-the-Bear

    I’m surprised Miller didn’t mention Rik Smits as one of his favorite teammates…

  • http://sdfjklfl.com Jukai

    letsmotor: I wrote an answer but it never appeared.
    The jist was, I don’t think Reggie could stop being the man both mentally and via his skillset (which was shooting– and shooting a lot). Could he defer himself to Garnett, a superior player, or Pierce, the leader of that team?

  • http://slamonline.com Allenp

    Mark Jackson is not a given over Sam Cassell and those Bucks teams had Tim Thomas and Glenn Robinson as well.
    Now, those Seattle teams were light on talent, but with the Bucks Allen had decent talent for that era.
    More talent on the offensive end than Iverson had in Philly.

  • EC

    no Jukai Glen rob was more of a factor than ray.. im not leaving reggie> ray

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