A volatile, high-voltage scorer from the off guard position, Reggie Miller was one of the supreme shooters of any era. With 2,560 made three-pointers, he ended his career as the NBA’s greatest long range shooter. He poured in 25,279 points to finish his career in 12th place on league’s all-time scoring list.
But he also had a penchant for the spectacular clutch shot in gunslinger fashion that made him a feared and despised opponent. His heroic play down the stretch of games became known as “Miller Time.”
The slender 6-7 and 190 pound former UCLA Bruin was selected with the 11th overall pick at the 1987 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. He would go onto spend his entire 18-year career there becoming another legendary figure in basketball Hoosier history.
At UCLA, he ranked fourth in the nation in scoring as a junior with 25.9 ppg and then averaged 22.3 ppg as a senior. At the time he was drafted, he also ranked second on the school’s all-time scoring list behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Miller played more games with the same team than all but two players in NBA history, John Stockton and Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz. He came from a very athletic family. His older brother Darrell had a major league career as a catcher/outfielder with the California Angels. His sister, Cheryl, was a basketball star at USC and considered one of the best woman players ever.
Once in the NBA, Miller didn’t waste any time logging himself into the record books. He broke an eight-year-old mark set by Larry Bird when he hit 61 three-pointers for the season, more than any other rookie in NBA history. (Dennis Scott would shatter the mark by hitting 125 three-pointers in 1990-91)
In his second season, his scoring average went from 10.0 to 16.0 ppg and led Indiana with 93 steals. But in 1989-90, his third season, Miller took off.
Miller’s scoring average soared for the second straight season, this time to a career-high 24.6 ppg for eighth best in the NBA. Miller’s perpetual motion and ability to weave through and around multiple picks made defending him an obstacle course of activity.
He became the first Pacer to play in the NBA All-Star Game since Don Buse and Billy Knight in 1977. Indiana reached the NBA Playoffs in 1990 for the first time in Miller’s career, but it was a brief visit. The defending NBA-champion Detroit Pistons swept the Pacers in a first-round series, despite Miller’s 20.7 ppg on .571 shooting from the field.
Miller followed that year with another fine season in 1990-91, hitting for 22.6 ppg and leading the NBA with a free-throw percentage of .918. He turned in similar numbers the next two seasons as the club hovered around the .500 mark but lost in the first round of the playoffs each year.
In 1993-94, he became the team’s all-time leading scorer and only the fourth player in NBA history to hit 800 three-pointers in his career. In the playoffs, Miller averaged 23.2 ppg but his performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Knicks may well be remembered as his coming out party as it cemented the belief that with Miller on the floor, the Pacers seem to always have a chance to pull out a victory.
In that game, Miller dropped 25 points in the fourth quarter – hitting 5 of 5 from three-point range – to lead Indiana to a 93-86 comeback victory at Madison Square Garden. Miller exchanged barbs with filmmaker Spike Lee and renowned Knicks fan at courtside during the barrage of points. The performance shocked the home crowd and consummated the love-hate relationship (they both loved to hate each other) between the Garden faithful and Miller.
However, Miller’s exploits in Game 5 would stand as one of the greatest individual efforts in NBA Playoff history and that entire playoff run propelled him to superstardom. That summer he participated as a tri-captain on the U.S. National team. The team captured a gold medal at the 1994 World Championship of Basketball as he was the team’s leading scorer (17.1 ppg).
The 1994-95 season was a repeat performance for Miller and the Pacers in how it ended, but he accomplished a lot on the way. He was voted by fans to start in the 1995 NBA All-Star Game and was named to the All-NBA Third Team. The Pacers set a club record with 50 wins as they claimed their first division title since joining the NBA from their championship wining ABA days.
Miller scorched the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs to the tune of 31.7 ppg while draining 7 three-pointers in a 39-point effort in Game 2.
His defining moment as clutch performer may have come in Game 1 of the conference semifinals in New York. The Pacers were down by 6 with 16.9 seconds when Miller hit a three. He stole the inbound pass and dribbled behind the three point arc to sink another one to tie the game. After the Knicks missed two free-throws, Miller sank two for the final margin of victory of 107-105.
In a span of 8.9 seconds, Miller scored 8 points. The crowd and the basketball world were stunned.
In Miller’s final campaign, which began on the injured list after breaking a bone in his left hand during the preseason, the Pacers roster was decimated after a brawl in Detroit that resulted in multiple and lengthy player suspensions. Miller again became a primary option on the now disjointed team and he returned with a vengeance.
He scored at least 30 points six times and averaged almost 20 ppg game in the absence of O’Neal, the team leading scorer, belying a 39-year old shooting guard and his mid-season statement that the 2004-05 campaign would be his last.
In early April, Miller played his last game in the Garden – the visiting arena where many of his most brilliant moments took place. Although it was somewhat anti-climatic, it was not unemotional. The Knicks had faded from playoff contention and many of the bodies in the orange and blue uniforms had changed from the chaotic rivalry, but the fans remained and remembered the wounds.
Initially, he was booed but near the end of the game that he only would score 13 points in a Pacers 97-79 victory, the crowd chanted “Reg-gie, Reg-gie” and honored him with a standing ovation. Miller closed the affair with an embrace of Lee, the embodiment of the Knicks’ anti-Miller sentiment.
The Pacers surged late in the regular season and not only reached the playoffs, but did so as the sixth seed. They then proceeded to upset Atlantic Division champion Boston in seven games in the first round. Undermanned, the Pacers fell to the defending champion Pistons 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals despite a stirring 27-point performance from Miller in his final game.
Near the game’s conclusion, Miller left the floor for the last time to a hometown ovation that lasted minutes. Pistons head coach Larry Brown and Miller’s former coach with Indiana graciously called a time allowing the entire Pistons team to join the crowd as it continued to applaud him and his outstanding career.