Reggie Miller’s résumé is filled with plenty of of ALL-TIME moments. There was his 25-point fourth-quarter performance in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals against the Knicks. (That was the Spike Lee game.) The Pacers won, but lost that series. There was his fadeaway 3-pointer with less than a second left against the Bulls in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals that he celebrated with marvelous glee. (That was the Reggie Shoves Jordan to Get Open game.) The Pacers won, but lost that series, too. There was his 35-point Game 4 performance in the 2000 Finals against the monstrous Kobe and Shaq duo. (That was the Fuck Your Ankle, Kobe game.) The Pacers lost that game by two points and eventually lost the series 4-2.
And then there’s Reggie’s most iconic moment: the Eight Points in Nine Seconds game against the Knicks in the 1995 playoffs, which happened 20 years ago today.
Here’s a dumb thing I regret now and will regret forever: When the eight points in nine seconds happened, I wasn’t watching. I couldn’t. I was too mad. I’d watched the whole game up until that point and clicked it off at the end after the Knicks went up six because I knew the game was over because I’m so smart. I was 13 years old, and it’s the first sports viewing memory I have rooted in regret — that’s probably why I’ll never forget it.
Barry Gossage/NBAE/Getty Images
The first basketball team I loved was the San Antonio Spurs. I grew up in San Antonio, and that’s what you did, but my dad told me to love them, so that’s what I was going to do anyway.1 But the first basketball player I loved — he didn’t play for the Spurs. The first basketball player I loved was Reggie Miller.
I’ve already steered my sons into loving the Spurs as well. In fact, the third one, the baby, is named Parker because Tony Parker was bloody murder in the playoffs the year he was born.
The way I figure, it’s like this: There are NBA players who are just so overwhelmingly and undeniably talented that it’s impossible not to notice them. LeBron James is the clearest example: He’s incredible. He’s like if Zeus had sex with a panzer tank and produced a baby in a headband, and so, I mean, how can you not pay attention when he plays basketball? Kevin Durant, all 14 feet of him, when he unfurls his whole body to flip in a 3-pointer from 60 feet away, he’s mesmerizing in that same way. So is Steph Curry when he gets to yo-yoing the basketball around, flicking behind-the-back passes, or jogging back downcourt before a shot he’s released has traveled even halfway to the rim. All of Russell Westbrook’s basketball super-violence is just truly transcendent. And I can’t wait to see Anthony Davis dunking it from the 3-point line in two years.
Now, these guys are wonderful. I love these guys. Basketball needs the ultra-humans. They have to be there for you to respect, for you to fear, and for you to appreciate. Reggie wasn’t like that, though.
Reggie was a wiry, goofy-looking, emotional knot of sinewy arms and legs, rocky teeth, and bat ears — and most of that stuff applied to me, too.2 He was also, by nearly all measurements, a total loon on the court. He would push and pull on players when he thought no one was looking, and he’d kick his legs out on jumpers, trying to draw fouls when he knew everyone was looking. He’d yap so much you could literally see him doing it on TV during the games, and it was just beautiful. I watched him do it, and I fell in love. I didn’t know you could make those high jinks a part of basketball, because none of the kids I played basketball with did. So when I saw Reggie do it, I was all the way in.
I conveniently ignored that he was 18 inches taller than me.
The LeBrons and Durants of the world are amazing, but I’ve always been drawn to the players on the tiers below, the ones clawing up at the superstars, bucking back against inevitability. It’s why I like Tony Allen so much and why I like Nate Robinson and Joakim Noah and Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson. While all of those guys are very athletic and talented, they will never touch a level close to the ultra-humans. Devastation is basically inevitable for these guys — they know it, I know it, everyone knows it — but that’s what makes them great to watch.
More than any other basketball player in history, Reggie Miller was one of those guys. That’s why his gravity was so strong. I felt real, true awe when Michael Jordan would go into nuclear mode and shit on the whole universe. But I could never identify with that. Fuck, man, I could barely keep track of my homework folder. I didn’t understand what it felt like to hold total dominion over something or someone. I only knew what it felt like to be on the other side. So I felt spiritually connected to Reggie, watching him battle against that. To me, he pushed back against undeniable defeat and torture more than anyone else.3
Allen Iverson is near him, but he didn’t do it over a long enough stretch. John Stockton is right there, too. John Stockton was a goddamn killer. Don’t you ever forget that.
With the Knicks up six, I got up from my mom’s bed,4 said a handful of curse words to myself, then turned the TV off. I wasn’t crying, but I also wasn’t not crying — if that makes sense. Several minutes passed, then the phone rang. One of my sisters answered it, called to me, then set the phone down on the kitchen counter. I went and picked it up. It was Bobby Prince, a very good friend of mine who had managed to watch the entire game. I was expecting him to give me shit about the Pacers losing, only his tone sounded not like I was expecting it to. He was shouting about the Pacers having won, and he kept saying things like “Your boy did it!” and “Your boy pulled it off!” I was very confused. There was no way for me to confirm it, because there was no Internet or rewinding the TV or anything like that. We didn’t even have cable at my house at the time, so I couldn’t turn it to any sort of sports news station. I had to wait a whole fucking day to read about it IN A NEWSPAPER LIKE A 45-YEAR-OLD MAN. It was terrible, but also kind of great because it got to exist in my brain in this perfect dream sequence.
I was watching it in her room because my sisters were watching something else on the other TV.
I’ve probably watched that clip on YouTube a good 45 to 55 times. I’ve memorized the sequence and can repeat it without watching it:
• There are 18.7 seconds left. The Pacers are losing 105-99.
• Mark Jackson inbounds the ball to Reggie at the left wing.
• Reggie catches it, corrals his momentum, then rattles in a 3 over John Starks. The Pacers are losing 105-102. There are 16.4 seconds left.
• Anthony Mason grabs the ball to bring it in.
• Everyone is covered.
• Mason panics.
• As he starts to fall in bounds, he tries to lob it to Greg Anthony.
• Anthony falls down after Reggie semi-shoves him from behind.
• Reggie steals the ball as it floats into play just outside the key.
• He takes one dribble to get to the 3-point line, turns around, then insta-fires another 3.
• It swishes in. He begins his swagger walk down court. Tie game with 13.2 seconds left.
• Starks gets fouled on the inbounds play.
• Starks, who shot near 74 percent from the free throw line that season, misses the first free throw.
• Reggie does the most adorable clap-clap, double-fist-pump, clap move.
• Starks misses the second free throw.
• The rebound gets batted around some before Patrick Ewing plucks it out of the sky like a very large, unattractive bird catching an insect.
• Ewing flicks it back up at the rim.
• Reggie semi-tries to block Ewing and doesn’t get within three feet of blocking Ewing.
• The ball bounces out of the rim.
• Miller grabs the rebound.
• Miller gets fouled by Mason with 7.5 seconds left.
• Miller, who shot near 90 percent from the free throw line that season, makes the first free throw.
• The Garden is dead.
• Miller makes the second free throw.
• The Garden is more dead.
• Mason inbounds the ball to Anthony (AND NOT STARKS I DON’T KNOW WHY).
• Anthony dribbles it up the court.
• Anthony panics.
• Anthony falls down.
• Anthony super-panics.
All the times I’ve watched it, it’s never dulled in its magic. I own a copy of the Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks 30 for 30. I watched it with my wife, and I was very happy when she told me she understood why I cared so much about Reggie.
I miss Reggie Miller the basketball player a bunch. There hasn’t been anyone like him since he retired. I remember watching that playoff series against the Pistons during his final season when it became obvious the Pacers were going to lose. It was very sad but also very happy. It would’ve been nice had he won a championship, but I don’t know that it matters all that much. His legacy’s not tied to winning it all.
He spent his whole career fighting back against the ocean. He was never supposed to win. Reggie Miller is the greatest Almost God of all time. And I really wish you all would stop dumping on him so much about him being a terrible game announcer.