Environment and Sports Business

SPORTS: Age-defying Reggie bids a historic farewell

April 18, 2005

So much for the meat. Now all we have left is an uncertain supply of NBA playoff gravy.

Lap it up while you can.

Will we ever see another like No. 31? Will we ever see another who is such an inspiring combination of talent, loyalty, longevity and professionalism? Will we ever have another to represent us so nobly on the stage of professional sports, and to single-handedly carve so many memorable moments into our collective consciousness?

We can only hope. Certainly, the Colts' Peyton Manning is striding in that direction, which makes us doubly blessed to have had two such examples in our midst.

Who could have known that this kid from California would have the career he had, or choose to remain here especially after he became the Knicks-slaying, Spike-spiking, Olympic-gold-medal-winning big-time Reg-gie? Then again, perhaps it says something positive about us in general, and the Pacers organization in particular, that Reggie would commit his entire professional career to our small-market, flyover town.

Even Karl Malone bailed on Utah in pursuit of a championship ring (although, it should be noted, teammate John Stockton did not).

I fail in resisting the temptation to gush about Reggie, even though I realize he is, at his essence, a highly compensated professional athlete, paid to do what he does best, which is to throw a ball through a basket and help prevent the other guys from doing likewise on the other end of the floor.

Yet the captivating thing about sports is how teams, and the individuals who play on them, can make you dispense with that totally rational and dispassionate perspective. Besides, Reggie is not to be admired for his celebrity, but how he has comported himself as a celebrity, in particular as a representative of the Pacers franchise and, by extension, all of us.

In my view, it goes well beyond the big shots, the big moments, the big victories and those 25,000 points. It's about the charitable acts, most of which Reggie has done out of the public eye. It's about what it truly means to be "a pro" and the standard he has set for his teammates. It's about being selfless in a very self-serving environment.

Again, I'm not nominating Reggie for "santo subito"-sainthood now. But I do appreciate how special it has been to watch his Hall of Fame career unfold over these last 18 years. At the pro level, we've not had this. Reggie is to Indy as Cal Ripken Jr. was to Baltimore, John Elway was to Denver and, dare I say it, Larry Bird was to Boston.

Then there is the way he has closed it out.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said it best: We are witnessing history when a 39-yearold shooting guard in the NBA can perform at such a high level.

My favorite musical group, The Moody Blues, has a line in one of its songs: "Time waits for no one at all ... No, not even you."

But by paying the price off the court, Reggie has been able to deny time on the court. Doing so has required discipline and an uncompromising work ethic and, as Reggie himself admits, some God-blessed good fortune to stay healthy.

Indeed, it seems the only one not feeling his age is Reggie.

For example, it occurred to me that, in 1987, when Reggie came to town, my daughters were 7 and 4 years old.

In just a few weeks, the younger of those daughters graduates from college. Now that makes me feel older. A lot older.

Yet there Reggie is ... still running off and through picks, still escaping the clutches of defenders, still frustrating them with his savvy and guile, still putting 30-something numbers on the board, including that recent gem when he scored his age: 39.

Reg-gie. Reg-gie. Reg-gie.

We knew this day would come. Time waits for no one. Even in golf, which allows the most prolonged of sports spotlights, we've now seen the last of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus at Augusta National.

Yet while their last trips were more ceremonial than competitive, Reggie, by all appearances, looks as if he could play-and significantly contribute-for at least another year, if not several.

To his credit, he has decided to exit on his own terms, and at a level that does not diminish his legacy, but elevates it even higher.

That is why I do not regret seeing him play his last. Instead, I celebrate it. And I look forward to the time when I can take my grandchildren to Conseco Fieldhouse, show them the "No. 31" jersey hanging from the rafters and explain the kind of basketball player-and person-Reggie Miller was.



Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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