From SLAM 8: Hall of Famer Reggie Miller was ‘scarier than-a-MF. Apocalyptic.’
Maybe it was destined. From SLAM 8. November ’95. Before Jordan took his next three. Scoop Jackson waxed metaphorical about the now-HOFer Reggie Wayne Miller. The result was an epic, or more specifically, dangerous, story about the “Knick Killer.” Today, Scoop’s feature—which describes Reggie’s lethal scoring aptitude with phrases like “building bombs” and dropping “orange leather missiles”—takes on an impossibly eerie and foreboding tone. It may have been too much to reprint here on SLAMonline, considering the events of the past 17 years. But, outside of a sentence about the World Trade Center, we present Jackson’s piece in its entirety as Miller is inducted into the Hall this weekend. Congrats, Reggie!—Ed.
by Scoop Jackson
From out of nowhere. Twenty-five, maybe 30 feet out. No warning, but you know it’s coming. It often scares the shit out of you. Most bombs do. It whistles before it hits home. The eerie sound of it traveling pierces your ears. A missile. Eyes bulge with fatal anticipation. Check your palms—dead dry. Paranoia. Hysteria reaches Metamorphic proportions. Twenty-thousand people are trapped, along with you. There is no escape. Two seconds ‘til death. Two, one…Buzzer. Silence. Darkness? Open your eyes. Witness the sea of heads, bent over, lying in the laps and on the shoulders of others. Hear the screams. Disgust, disbelief and despair.
Reggie Miller has just left the arena.
Your team has just lost by one. An NBA ref walks across the court with the orange bombshell that just dropped through the 18-inch circular land mine suspended 10 above the court. Face it; your life has not ended, but the legacy of Reggie Miller’s continues. There is no detonator except acceptance. Accepting the greatness—his greatness—is often, if not always, worse than, shall I say it… Death.
Let Reggie Miller tell it… “I know I’m not the best player around.” Agreed. “I’m lucky to be here.” True. “But I’ve been able to make a lot of things work for me.” Bullshit. The only thing that works for Reggie Miller is luck. Maybe, fate. It’s not his fault that he happens to score at will on teams in the closing moment of HUGE games. Playoff games. Knick games. Something else beside skill is involved here. He can’t be that good. He can’t be that clutch, that “fourth quarter.” Imfk’n possible. His shot looks so awkward and off he needs to thank the basket for getting in the way every time he lets one go. He’s a pure shooter with a contaminated release. He has game only his sister could love because her’s is better.
Check your fridge: His Game 7 against Orlando in the Eastern Conference finals is on the side of the milk carton. That’s him. He’ll go “0-for” in a second and never think twice about it. “Fuck y’all,” he’ll scream. “I’m not going to be ignored!” Luck, right? That’s right. Now be honest, he’s the single most dangerous player in the NBA. You hate his ass though. Always mad ‘cause he’s not playing on your team.
Another bomb drops. This time in NY. June 1, 1994. NASA. With 11:10 left in the fourth quarter, a “good” 6-16 for the game, Reggie Miller turns into Saddam Hussein. I-raq my brain wondering how and why he is doing this. I-ran to the phone to call my boy to see if he is watching this. Like scuds he was droppin’ em. Two, three. He’s caught in some post-dramatic-war-syndrome-type shit. Four, five. He grabs his nuts. Twenty-seven-feet-out. It rains. He grabs his throat. He reigns. He’s unconscious, the opposite of dead. Six, seven. Nothin’ inside of 19 feet. BooYaKa! Eight. Game’s over.
In one 12-minute span, Reggie Miller saved the sport of basketball. For 12 minutes he displayed a talent that had the world stunned, the Knicks in awe and Spike Lee in tears. In 12 minutes a star was born. With the birth of a 25-point fourth quarter came an arrogance unseen before. So natural was his behavior and mouth that you began to hate him if you didn’t live in Muncie, IN.
He emerged like a zit on a supermodel’s face-quick-but he had to go. Yet, he refused to bust. Everybody tried to Oxycute him. The media, the fans, some players. No haps. You continue to loathe his ass, but you secretly you love him. “You know, what’s funny is no one will ever experience what I have gone through,” Reggie says with a self-reliance usually found in Mike Lupica columns. “They consider me a superstar. To me it’s more so trying to become a leader or finding ways to win. Night-in and night-out it’s different for me. It’s different. I’ve got the pressure of a state with me, you know?”
The state of Cali, son. Indy is where Reg lays his nod and gets his check, but he’ll represent the left coast forever. Riverside, MF! Raised in the elite version of Watts, Reggie Miller began experimenting with bombs early. Real early. His sister Cheryl beat that ass for years before he realized what in the hell was going on.
“Overcoming my sister’s shadow has been one of the biggest challenges of my career,” he says. Orson Welles’ shadow wasn’t this large. Cope with the fact that one night in high school Reg busted 39. He came off the team bus as happy as Tori Spelling in acting class, to tell his roots the news. Sike! Big sis went for 105 the same night. Bring the popcorn with you kid, your sister IS the bomb.
“I was able to beat Reggie until he really started dunkin’ on me,” sister Cheryl recalls. “He had to handle a lot more difficult things at an early age. I was probably one of them. But I think the big thing he has learned is that there is no obstacle too big to overcome.”
Too short to post Cheryl up back in the day, Reggie had to “develop a quick release, high-arcing shot” to get his. He became a mad scientist. Working ’round midnight on a weapon, a game, that he knew wasn’t supposed to play. At 4 and 5 years old, he had to wear braces on his legs. “Doctors said that I would never be able to run, play or walk correctly,” Reg remembers. “I had to come up with every advantage I could.”
He smiles, but only for a second. “I remember I wasn’t able to go outside and play Cheryl or my brothers.” Don’t trip. “I understand what it’s like for a kid to be trapped behind four walls.”
In the lab at UCLA he showed off the “minibomb” he created, averaging 25.9 points a game in his junior year. The big boys caught this and wanted some.
“When I was at UCLA, Magic, Byron [Scott] and Coop (Michael Cooper) took me under their wings,” he notes. “In 1987 [the Lakers] needed a back up to Byron.” Magic wanted him, he says, “but they had the last pick in the Draft, so there was no way [they could get me].”
He took the reverse route that made Michael Jackson large. Going (back) to Indiana, Miller was able to establish his own M.O. Still representin’ Cali, he was determined—like any decent mad scientist—to prove that his weapon could spark the izm necessary for superstardom in the NBA. But the only “bomb” that seemed to work was his mouth. Sort of. He single verbally helped the Bulls win three Championships in a row by saying they wouldn’t be shit “without Michael” and he was stuck playing alongside a player who had a bigger, lethal bomb than his.
Chuck Person had one. (No, he had many.) His zip-code range and “in the zone” antics overshadowed (damn, there goes that word again) anything Reggie contributed to the Pacers. Desperate to be considered the best shooting player in the League, Reggie was only the second-best shooting player on his TEAM.
“I think he put a lot of pressure on himself every night,” says Pacer coach Larry Brown. “The one thing I’ve always told him is to be more selfish. Shoot more.”
When?!?! When Chuck missed a game? The Rifleman used to score points when he was on the bench. Hell, there ain’t enough balls in Texas now to keep him happy. Still, another shadow was cast.
A gym is empty. Hollow. The dampness makes it perfect for further bomb preparation. Everything’s technique now.
“This is the only place you get the chance to think out your problems,” Reggie licks one. “Just you and the hoop. I did this as a kid when no one was around. Playing mind games with [myself]—10 seconds left on the clock, down by one. People think when you go to the next level that all stops, but it really doesn’t.” Another drops. “You have to resort back to your childhood tendencies.” It’s his experiment. Nuthin’ but net. The bomb.
All the critics love you in NY—the perfect spot to blow up. He repeats his 1994 performance against the Knicks (again!) in last year’s Playoffs, particularly Game 1. Down by six with less-than-no-seconds in the game, Reggie Naplams the Garden for 8 points, ripping the spleen out of Pat Riley’s Riker’s Island crew. On his way back to the locker room you could hear the scientist yelling, “they choke artists,” only to become one himself two weeks later in Orlando. So what. Who cares? He lived up to the hype and outplayed the drama. He pimped his 15-minutes of fame-literally, think about it—just enough to make Dream Teams 11 and 111. He’s the antithesis of what Indiana basketball is all about. He’s the closest thing to Muhammad Ali and Reggie Jackson left in sports. He’s that good, but no one wants to admit it.
“I don’t care what your wife says, Scoop, but Reggie Miller will never be on the cover of this magazine,” sparks editor-in-chief Tony Gervino, a Bruce Willis Knick fan. “He’s Lucky I’m not writing the story. Good Luck.” Hatred.
“Miller doesn’t have a complete game, (a la) Drexler, Sprewell or Jimmy Jackson,” wrote Rip City Editor L. Jon Wertheim. “[He] averages barely 2 rebounds and 3 assists per game, and his defense is mediocre at best.” Honestly.
Everybody’s on personal shit when it comes to Reg. Even cool-ass Derek Harper took one: “When it comes to getting under people’s skin, nobody can touch him.”
Wassup?!?! He heats teams up like Halls Mentholyptus and is money from 30-feet three out of four nights per week. He’ll turn an NBA arena into Oklahoma City in seconds, especially if the game is necessary. Test him, just test him-once-and find out. Because the Pacers haven’t snatched a crow, the media and assorted knuckleheads want his bags FedExed. Trade, no doubt.
“I want to finish my career where I started, [but] this is a business.” he says, responding to the iller-than-illness. “People get traded in Fortune 500 companies all of the time. People can say what they want, but people need to actually walk a mile in my shoes before they say anything. Even Michael Jordan had a disappointing fourth quarter at the wrong time. Are they saying trade [him]?”
“My value here would be the same in L.A., Orlando, NY, Milwaukee, anywhere I would go,” he continues.
“I’m not a Dennis Rodman or Nick Van Exel. I’m not the type to cause a disruption on this team. I wasn’t raised that way. Yeah, I care a lot about this city, but I’m here to win a Championship—not listen to armchair quarterbacks.” Especially those who have no range, no depth of shot, arc or scientific knowledge of how to build bombs.
Miller time approaches once again. Reggie goes back and forth on the tube to discuss the “lockout.” He’s one of the elite players, so he rides shotgun with Jordan and Ewing. He has the game—his game—broken down to a science. Have bomb, will travel. Back in the gym, alone, he reverts back to connecting wires.
“It’s just concentration and rhythm.” he says, droppin’ ‘em every time, “and sometimes it’s pure confidence.” He sinks another battleship. After every shot he takes another step back. Never looking down, just releasin’ orange leather missiles. “This game is 90 percent mental. Lots of pressure. I like burden.” He never misses. It’s Armageddon. Scarier than-a-MF. Apocalyptic.