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Friday, May 20, 2005

(decided to write something formal on the occasion of Reggie Miller's going-away party. don't worry, it won't last.)

One of the All-Time, uh, Goods
by totally awesome me

In the end, Ben Wallace’s arms were just long enough. Reggie Miller’s three-point attempt—launched from the hand of a man who for one last night was the Reggie Miller of old instead of old Reggie Miller—just grazed his outstretched hand. The shot went straight up, and when it came down Miller’s career was for all intents and purposes over.

That was it. Eighteen years of Reggie Miller and the Pacers, over. The Pistons had snuffed out the Pacers behind a dramatic, improbable block once again. The rest of the game was a series of hugs and a strategically placed Larry Brown timeout that let an entire arena, Pistons included, give Miller a rousing send-off.

It was appropriate that Wallace was the man to put the final nail in Miller’s coffin. Both men are emblematic of their franchises. Wallace is the very embodiment of the blue-collar player, a man no one in the league appreciated until it was too late and the Larry O’Brien trophy was raised in exultation over his head. Miller has been consistently excellent for an extend period of time… just never excellent enough.

Reggie Miller only found himself in one NBA Finals, and that was a perfunctory six-game washout against Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers. Miller battled them and lost. He battled the Bad Boys and lost. He battled Jordan and lost. He battled the Knicks and lost, though he did waste Spike Lee. The unpleasant truth is that Miller and the Pacers never really had a chance over the course of a seven game series or an eighteen year career.

There’s something sad in the championship-less end of an illustrious career, but Miller went out the right way. He was a Pacer, and he went out a Pacer instead of hitching his fading star to a heavy favorite in a desperate attempt to win a ring. Ray Borque, a twenty-year Bruin, never looked right in Avalanche silks. The cup he lifted was made of tin, bittersweet at best.

And though Reggie Miller came to a bitter end there was something sweet in it, too. He had the right uniform on, the right crowd chanted his name, and he seemed content talking to ABC’s Michele Tafoya after the game.

As content as anyone whose 18-year NBA career had just come to an end could be, anyway. Right before Miller talked to ABC, the network managed to pick up part of a private conversation between Miller and Richard Hamilton, his heir apparent, and we got to hear something far more honest and revealing than anything Miller said to Tafoya.

“You do it as long as you can, man,” Miller told Hamilton. That’s a beautiful, tragic sentence that summarizes a large swath of the human experience.

Miller offered it as encouragement to his mirror image. That couldn’t have been particularly pleasant for Miller. His mirror image happens to be decade or two younger than him and sports a fat championship ring he’ll never, ever get himself.

That says more about the Pistons than Miller, because Hamilton’s side of the mirror has Ben Wallace—and Ben Wallace has arms that are just long enough.

Update: I was so dedicated to being Rob Parker that I made a factual error. The Lakers series went to six games instead of five as I originally claimed.