The reason Reggie Miller was voted into the basketball Hall of Fame is simple.
But the biggest impact No. 31 made is often overlooked.
The simple part of it is this: Reggie Miller’s most shining moments came in or against New York, the media capital of North America—and arguably the free world.
ESPN undoubtedly put Miller over the Hall of Fame hump by airing a documentary about the long-time Pacer in March 2010. The focus of the one-hour show, “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks,” should surprise almost no one.
Let’s face it, the East Coast media still has more sway than just about anyone when it comes to these matters.
Before the ESPN documentary, about the only things I heard from basketball writers and analysts from the nation’s biggest media firms is that Miller had never won an NBA title and had never been on the first or second All-NBA team. He had made the NBA all-star game less than one-third of the years he was in the league.
Some local media members echoed those sentiments. Despite Miller being the No. 2 all-time NBA three-point shooter, despite him popularizing a move—the dreaded scissor kick—that became his controversial trademark during an 18-year career, many argued that Miller simply didn’t have the statistics and pedigree to be in the Hall of Fame.
But there was no overlooking Miller’s big moments, notably the 1994 and 1995 playoff battles against the Knicks and his interactions with Spike Lee. He even helped haul the Pacers to the 1999-2000 NBA Championship series against the L.A. Lakers.
But those who point to 8.9 seconds during a 1995 playoff game against the Knicks—and a handful of other clutch playoff performances—as the reason he will be enshrined in Springfield miss a larger truth about Reggie Miller.
For those who weren’t here during Miller’s early career and didn’t watch the Pacers age not-so-gracefully in the years before his arrival, it’s difficult to fathom what he’s meant to this city’s sporting fortunes.
I’ve heard it time and again that without Peyton Manning, there is no Lucas Oil Stadium. I don’t agree with that.
But if you’re going to say that, then it’s infinitely more true that without Reggie Miller, there is no Conseco Fieldhouse, and maybe at this point no Indiana Pacers, no hosting of the Big Ten men’s and women’s tournaments and countless other events that descend on the Fieldhouse each year.
I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to say that without Reggie Miller there may have been no Peyton Manning—not in Indianapolis anyway. If the Pacers had folded or moved, the entire view of Indianapolis as a major league city would have changed. There’s no telling how that would have impacted this city.
That a West Coast kid from Riverside, Calif. came to embody what a Hoosier basketball player—and a small-town hero—ought to be about more than anyone else who has ever put a round ball though a hoop is almost inconceivable.
Miller isn’t from here, he doesn’t have any pre-Pacers roots here and doesn’t live here. Yet, in many ways he is Indiana basketball.
He was booed here in 1987 because he was drafted by the Pacers instead of IU graduate Steve Alford. Now in many ways, he has eclipsed Alford’s hoops star status here. He’s Bobby Knight without all the baggage. He's bigger than Larry Bird and his image burns brighter than Damon Bailey. He’s Bobby Plump, George McGinnis and Mel Daniels all rolled into one.
He was this city’s knight in shining armor sticking a dagger in the evil empire of Gotham long before we knew Manning had a laser rocket arm.
But for that to mean as much as it should, you have to remember what the Pacers were when Miller arrived in 1987. The blue and gold regularly played in front of crowds well below 10,000. There were constant questions about the team’s value here. The crowd gathering at Market Square Arena wasn’t one tons of corporate sponsors were eager to get in front of.
Miller made the Pacers prime-time. He took the team’s following from niche to hip. When his career took off, the Pacers and city officials used the juice to build the $183 million Conseco Fieldhouse.
The Fieldhouse quickly became a gathering place for the city’s Who’s Who. Miller’s adoring fan base filled the Fieldhouse to its 18,345 capacity during the 1999-2000 season for 41 consecutive games. Corporate suites were filled and sponsors were eager to sign with the team. He was the pied piper for Hoosier hysteria.
Was it about winning? Yes. But the current Pacers are winning, and they’re not drawing nearly that kind of audience.
And it would be easy to say those crowds were the result of the newness of Conseco Fieldhouse. That might be partially true.
But the tie that brought and bound the masses together was Miller.
I’m not sure we’ll see another one like him. No one will certainly replace his unique place in Indiana hoops history.
And for all the accolades placed at the feet of Peyton Manning, history may prove that Miller’s star will burn brighter and longer than any before or after in the Circle City.
It should be said at Miller’s induction ceremony in September, that his career was about more than 8.9 seconds.
A whole lot more.