I hated Reggie Miller when I was younger. Hated him. I despised that hideous (yet deadly) jump shot; I despised that smirk on his Quark from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”-esque face, and, most of all, I despised what he did to my teams. Over the past two decades, I’ve endured the lengthy metamorphosis that’s commonly recognized as growing up. It’s now that I accept reality: I’ve become the player I hated so much as a child. Looking back, I realize that a moment that took place 20 years ago to the day is when my fate aligned with Reggie Miller’s.
I’ll never forget the events of June 1, 1994. I grew up a Sixers fan by default because of where I was born, but loved the Knicks because of an uncle who lived in New York. With the Eastern Conference Finals tied 2-2, the Knicks were back in Madison Square Garden, looking to wrap the series up and advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in 20 years. Reggie Miller, that bony pest that he is, had other plans. The Knicks entered the fourth quarter of Game 5 with a sizable lead, and that’s when the crowd—specifically Spike Lee’s trademark Brooklyn-dude trolling (a la Lance Stephenson’s recent behavior)—ignited something inside of Miller. He scored 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter, talking intense shit with Spike Lee en route to pushing the Pacers to a 93-86 victory and a 3-2 series lead.
Just a child at the time, I was traumatized. Unbeknownst to my parents, I had stayed up far past my bedtime to watch what, for 36 basketball minutes, seemed like a guaranteed Knicks victory. Each shot that Miller hit with chilling composure was like a dagger in my young heart, and each deep three-pointer had me on the verge of tantrum and tears. Contested heat-checks were ripping through the net like he was in the gym by himself. I had nightmares about it that night and confessed to my parents that I’d watched the next morning. They let me off the hook because I’d been tortured enough.
After each basket, Miller and Lee traded unfriendly words and glances, the most famous being Miller placing both hands around his pencil neck and demonstrating the act of choking. What he also did, as Spike Lee mentioned in Dan Klores’ brilliant 30 for 30 documentary Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks, was grab his balls with Lee’s wife seated next to him. “With my wife there, I had to say something,” he said in Flores’ film. Even today, Spike Lee’s words get people riled up, but Miller was the wrong one to incense. Lee proved to be the catalyst for one of the greatest performances in playoff history, as well as one of the most mortifying sports-related moments of my childhood. Little did I know, it was the beginning of my path to becoming Reggie Miller.
Miller further solidified my hate for him in Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Once again, with the Knicks seemingly on their way to victory, Miller remarkably scored eight points in nine seconds, silencing the crowd at the Garden while leading the Pacers to a 107-105 victory. “I had never seen anything like that,” Marv Albert said in Winning Time. At that point in my very young life, I had only seen things like that happen on NBA Live 95. (And here, though what Miller did was even more amazing.) I couldn’t believe it, other Knicks fans couldn’t believe it and John Starks certainly couldn’t believe it.
The Pacers went on to win that series because Patrick Ewing couldn’t finish that layup and make me a happy child (come to find out, Action Bronson had a hand in that), and I spent the rest of the ‘90s loathing Reggie Miller. That abhorrence didn’t stop when the millennium came, as he and Jalen Rose both dropped 40 on my Sixers along the way to disposing of them in the 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals. But as I entered my teens, I found a scary thing happening: my Reggie Miller-like tendencies were manifesting.
The first Reggie realization happened during my second high school basketball game. In my first JV start, I, a rail-thin freshman, joined four sophomores against a team that featured a kid who went on to play in the NBA for a couple of years. He and I were familiar from attending the same camps and playing in the same leagues, so after he scored on me at the end of the first half, he decided to whisper some sage advice in my ear: “Get up, pussy.” I didn’t like that too much, and ended up scoring almost all of my points in the second half, even with him guarding me, and he was a very good defender, even at that age. My team lost, and I might’ve only had like 13 points, but that shit-talking activated something inside of me.
I promise I’m not an asshole. It’s just that, similar to Reggie Miller, a switch in my mind flips when the stakes are high.
Two years later, my most egregious Reggie Miller moment happened. My school was playing our “rival” (I say that sarcastically because we were both trash), and the game was getting intense. In the third quarter, I calmly drained two free throws with the opposing crowd heckling me. As I got back on defense, I turned to the crowd, grabbed my crotch and told them specifically what they could do to a certain part of my body. The spirit of Reggie Miller possessed me and I unknowingly mimicked his actions from the ‘94 ECF. I was caught up but the ref who had a clear view of the situation—but not my inner Reggie—gave me a quizzical look and a technical foul.
Because a technical foul counts as a personal foul in high school, I later ended up fouling out of that game, though I probably should’ve been tossed at that moment. It was out of character for me, and even though I almost got into a fight during a scrimmage against alumni three months prior, I promise I’m not an asshole. It’s just that, similar to Reggie Miller, a switch in my mind flips when the stakes are high. Sometimes it brings out the best in us, sometimes it brings out the worst, but it makes for moments forever frozen in time.
After that incident, my hate for Reggie Miller subsided. They say hate is just confused admiration, after all. Though I’m much shorter, we played the same position, have similar lanky frames and deceptive strength. But more than anything, we both love being the villain. We both feed off of negative energy, are skilled at antagonizing people and getting inside of their heads. For example, Miller goading John Starks into headbutting him. I occasionally do it when I argue, and to surprising success. Sometimes, I laugh when people who have never created anything in their lives tweet negative words about things I’ve written. It’s like getting them to headbutt me, or draining a 30-footer with their hands in my face. Or both.
Face it: people love villains. It’s why we’re amused by 50 Cent’s antics, and why we find Magneto far more interesting than Professor X. I even liked the Pacers’ Evan Turner when he was at Ohio State because his nickname was “The Villain.” Reggie Miller was the perfect villain, because even if you couldn’t stand him, you had to respect him. When he retired in 2005 after 18 years with the Pacers, I had amassed a tremendous amount of respect for him. I can remember playing in a gym that same year, bickering with people who would go on to be lifelong friends. It’s like he passed the torch to me. A couple of years ago, I even found myself engaged in a heated debate about whether or not Miller belonged in the Hall of Fame, during which I was arguing in his favor. If you would’ve told me I’d be doing that 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s funny how things change over time.
Sometimes, Julian Kimble is Reggie Miller. Just not when it comes to basketball analysis, thank God. Follow him on Twitter @JRK316.