Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Pacers and Opinion and Pro Sports

BENNER: Here's your opportunity to relive 'Hicks vs. Knicks'

January 16, 2010

In the middle of Blue-phoria (and don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great), I hasten to remind folks that once upon a time the local chant of Reg-gie, Reg-gie, Reg-gie wasn’t directed toward a certain wide receiver for the Indianapolis Colts.

The Indiana Pacers were the toast of the town. And the Colts were, well, mostly just toast.

Once upon a time.

Now, says Reggie Miller, the man in the middle of a basketball hurricane that came with a name—“Hicks versus Knicks”—it is time “to make like Michael Jackson and do a moonwalk back in time.”

The opportunity comes Feb. 26 at Conseco Fieldhouse with the premiere of “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks.”

Directed by the award-winning Dan Klores (“Black Magic,” “Ring of Fire”), “Winning Time” documents the three-year span of NBA playoffs from 1993-1995 when the Pacers met the Knicks three straight times.

It’s part of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series in recognition of the sports network’s 30th anniversary. The ESPN debut will be March 14. The documentary, produced by Reggie’s (and partner Gale D’Agustino’s) BoomBaby Productions, has earned critical acclaim and will be screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

The material is rich because Pacers-Knicks went beyond a series of basketball games. It was a clash of cultures. It was Midwestern humility (and paranoia) against New York arrogance. It was small market against The Biggest Market.

And it was all personified by our Reggie against their Spike Lee, the front-row-sitting, filmmaking antagonist.

“What’s missing from today are the rivalries between teams and cities,” Reggie said last week by telephone from his home in Malibu, Calif. “We [the Pacers and Knicks] could not stand each other.”

The animosity began in the 1993 series when guard John Starks head-butted Miller. It ratcheted up a notch—several, actually—in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals when Miller exploded for 25 points in the fourth quarter and displayed the “choke sign” to Lee. The next year, in the conference semifinals, Miller scored his famous “eight points in 8.9 seconds” in a game that led off a stormy series that eventually concluded when Patrick Ewing’s finger-roll bounced off the back of the rim and gave the Pacers victory—and the series—in Game 7.

It made for incredible drama.

“Great theater,” says Miller, an NBA analyst for TNT since his retirement. “The animosity was real. You get caught up in the middle of a series and you forget some of that stuff but looking back, in the documentary, I can’t believe some of the things I said about New York. And I can’t believe some of the things Spike said about Indiana.”

Miller says “Winning Time” will captivate fans from the outset and carry them along for a 68-minute ride.

“The opening scenes are brilliant, that’s all I can say,” Miller says. “The first two minutes are Oh … My … God!”

All the principal players are featured in “Winning Time.”

Even an old sports columnist for the local daily gets some time.

Every dog has his day, I guess.

The Pacers of that era were “a special team,” Miller says. “We had no off-court problems. We showed up early for practice. We stayed late. It was a veteran team … a mature team. And our fans—my goodness, it was one big lovefest. I remember those games during the month of May when they’d go to the Speedway all day, then come to the game all liquored up in their shorts and their mullets. Priceless. And it’s all in the film.”

As for today’s Pacers, Miller says, “They’re obviously a work in progress. It would be nice to see them all get healthy to see if they’re headed in the right direction. I still cheer for them. I want to be a homer and bleed blue and gold, but it’s tough.”

So, until winning time returns in real time, we’ll settle for the “Winning Time” retrospective. Tickets are on sale ($10 advance, $12 at the door) for the Feb. 26 event at the fieldhouse. The Pacers Foundation, the Riley Hospital Pediatric Burn Unit and the Brave Hearts camp are the beneficiaries.

What could be better than hating the Knicks all over again for a good cause? •

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Benner is director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. Listen to his column via podcast at www.ibj.com. He can be reached at bbenner@ibj.com. Benner also has a blog, www.indyinsights.com.

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