Reggie Miller becomes an official member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night. While some question whether or not he is deserving of such an honor, many more agree that he belongs. Ask Spike Lee, former players, and New York Knicks fans around the world if Reggie is a Hall of Famer.
Reggie retired in 2005 after spending his entire 18-year career with the Indiana Pacers. He was a five time All-Star and won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games. He is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, and held the NBA record for most three-point field goals before Ray Allen topped him last season.
Before his pro career, Reggie led UCLA to an NIT Championship and a Pac-10 Championship in his senior year. He finished second in all-time scoring at UCLA behind some guy named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He holds conference records for most league points, highest league scoring average, and most free throws.
This goes further than numbers though. Reggie’s loyalty to the Pacers organization is one of the things people often overlook. Only John Stockton and Karl Malone (with Utah) played more games with one franchise than Reggie did with Indiana. At the time of his retirement, he still had two or three decent years left, and was close to signing with the Boston Celtics.
In the end, he said he just couldn’t stand the thought of wearing another team’s jersey. In a society today that is all about bouncing from team to team in the pursuit of winning a title, Reggie said no thanks. He didn’t want to go chase a ring, even though he got the Pacers close on many occasions.
The Pacers reached the Eastern Conference Finals six times during Reggie’s career, making the NBA Finals once, where they lost to Kobe, Shaq and Phil Jackson’s Lakers. They lost the series 4-2, to what was arguably one of the greatest teams ever put together.
We were blessed to have Reggie on our team for 1,389 games. He owned this city, even more so than Peyton Manning did during his tenure here. He was one of the best perimeter shooters the game has ever seen and one of the greatest clutch shooters of all-time. He knew he was a marked man and he relished it, especially in New York.
Growing up as a kid in Indiana, there was nothing better than when the Pacers and Knicks got together. Seeing Patrick Ewing and John Starks frustrated beyond belief at Market Square Arena always put a smile on my face. Even better were the games at Madison Square Garden, where Reggie teased and toyed with Spike Lee and thousands of angry Knicks fans.
Everyone remembers eight points in nine seconds, even though it was only Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. It was in New York City though, in front of Spike Lee. This was one year after his incredible shooting performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, where he dropped 39 points (25 in the fourth quarter) on the Knicks.
As much as his career is associated with the Knicks, the Chicago Bulls always seemed to be in the way of Reggie’s pursuit of an NBA Title. Reggie’s game-winning shot over Michael Jordan in 1998 tied the series at 2-2, but the Bulls eventually won in seven games, advancing to the Finals where they would win their sixth Championship.
As much as ESPN loved to document how Reggie got under John Starks’ skin, perhaps the more-telling case came when he got into Jordan’s head in 1993. Phil Jackson said that Reggie was “the only guy Michael ever threw a punch at”. Jordan said “I really don’t dislike playing against anybody in the league, but playing Reggie Miller drives me nuts.” Kobe Bryant also got into a fist fight with Reggie in 2002.
While many players hated Reggie during their playing days, they all respected him. Kobe said Reggie was the toughest player he has ever had to guard. I’m sure there are plenty of others that would agree.
A Hall of Fame career is about more than how many Championship rings you have. Robert Horry has seven of them, and Adam Morrison has two. I’ll leave it at that. Who is to say Dan Marino is less of a player because he never won a Super Bowl? Sometimes people need to take a step back and look at the whole product, instead of just focusing on one piece of it.
Like it or not, Reggie is iconic, clutch and one of the greatest shooters to ever play the game of basketball. He is also a Hall of Famer.
Looking back on it all, I’m just thankful that Donnie Walsh used his 11th overall pick in the 1987 draft on some skinny kid from UCLA instead of Indiana’s darling, Steve Alford.