There’s a freaking movie about how Reggie Miller made life hell for the Knicks. That’s how legendary that rivalry was. But it wasn’t just the moments, the trash talk, the shots or the points. To be a truly worthy hero, or a villain, you have to be good enough for the damage inflicted to seem like something more than just “one of those things.” This wasn’t just a player have a great series or series of series against one team. It was a great player who happened to just stab one team in particular in the midsection. Over. And over. That’s what makes it legend.
Reggie Miller enters the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a year later than he needed to, honestly, and to much less fanfare than many of his contemporaries. Miller’s reputation doesn’t really precede him. Whether it was his style and approach, playing in Indiana, or something else, Miller never really hit household-name level. The fact that he spent a huge portion of his prime playing against the GOAT has something to do with that, yet another wonderful player who was swallowed up in Jordan’s shadow. But for those that watched him, they understand what he was able to do during the course of his eighteen seasons in the NBA.
Something that stands out when you look at Miller’s Basketball-Reference page? All eighteen of those seasons with one team. How many Hall of Famers from this current era are going to be able to make that claim? Miller could have gone chasing a ring in New York or with Chicago or whoever, but he stuck with Indiana and they enjoyed a prolonged series of success featuring multiple trips deep into the playoffs.
And that kind of leads us back to the original topic. You can torture a team from multiple teams, but it’s not the same. It’s not the same as seeing that same uniform, over and over, as representing what it means to wear that jersey. Not just for the Knicks, but all the fans who throughout his stellar career cursed the sight of him in that white jersey jogging backwards with his mouth open. It was a special kind of irritant.
Miller stands in the Hall not only for how he lifted up the Pacers and put them into an era of relevance in modern times, but for how he burned the other teams around him down to the ground, then vandalized the historical markers where they once stood. The man jawed with Jordan, for cripes’ sake. He made famous the choke signal. He put Spike Lee’s fandom on a new level. He is a huge reason why if a team is up seven with time winding down, you shouldn’t leave the channel for any reason, ever. It wasn’t just what he did for his own team. It’s what he did to the other guys.
In a way, Miller enters the Hall of Fame at a time where that identity is fading. Team rivalries are starting to explode, replicating the star-studded Lakers-Celtics matchups, even if none are as great. Boston-Miami, Chicago-Miami, New York-Brooklyn, LA-LA, Spurs-Mavericks, Lakers-Celtics, Lakers-Thunder, the list goes on and on. But having that one guy who just murders you on his own is getting harder and harder to find. Miller was never the best player in the game, but he was often close. LeBron doesn’t really hit that level, because he’s always one step above with his talent.
We’re seeing the death of the villain/one-team hero. It’s not worse or better than these epic battles with individual moments you remember (“That Battier three,” “the James Harden finger gunz shot,” etc.). But it does make you long for the days of Miller and how he would just murder a team until the fans were a blubbering mess that would forever spit when his name was mentioned again. We need more of that drama, more of that kind of good vs. evil matchups.
Of course, you look at all that and you realize that Miller never won an NBA title. Maybe the two were related. Stayed with his team, tortured his rivals, played the good guy to his fans, the bad guy to everyone else, and never walked out with the ring.
But then again, there’s something pretty cool about being remembered as “that guy.” Here’s to “that guy,” Reggie Miller.