Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks

Do you remember where you were May 7, 1995?  I do.  I was listening to the opening game of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Indiana Pacers and the New York Knicks in the backseat of my family’s mini-van.  We weren’t driving — we were parked in the lot of some forgotten soccer tournament, waiting for my next game to start.  Indiana was coming off a devastating Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Knicks in 1994, and this was their chance to exact revenge.  The game was being played in famed Madison Square Garden, a building that hadn’t been very friendly to the Pacers.

With 18.7 seconds left to play, New York held what appeared to be an insurmountable 105-99 lead.  At that point, I gave up.  I gathered my bag, exited the van and walked slowly towards the field to join my teammates.  I was as depressed as a 12-year old can be, and I was already bracing myself for what would be the Pacers third straight playoff exit at the hands of New York.  Then, out of nowhere, I heard a strangely exuberant yell come from the van where I had left my parents and sisters.  I immediately sprinted back, and breathlessly asked what was going on.  I didn’t care that my teammates were lined up in their positions for the start of the game, or that I was supposed to be out there, I only cared about the Pacers.

Miller loved playing in Madison Square Garde

“Reggie tied it,” said my dad, equally out breath, but for a different reason.  “I…can’t believe it.  He tied it.”

“But…what…they were down six…” I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me.

“Shhhhh.  Starks is at the line,” he said turning up Mark Boyle’s voice on the radio.  “I bet he chokes…”

You know the rest of the story.  Starks missed both free-throws, Patrick Ewing rebounded the second, but bricked the put back, and Reggie Miller was fouled in the ensuing scrum for the ball.  Reggie calmly sank both freebies, told a stunned national television audience that the Pacers were going to sweep the Knicks, and then ran into the tunnel shouting “Choke artists!  Choke artists!”  And I missed the start of my soccer game.  It was well worth it.

I’d forgotten all about that memory until Friday night.  Well, not forgotten necessarily, but the happy recollection had been suppressed in recent years.  As had a lot of my memories from the dominant days of the mid-90’s Indiana Pacers.  They all came crashing back the minute the first scene of “Winning Time:  Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks” appeared on the massive screen at Conseco Fieldhouse Friday evening.

Part of ESPN Film’s 30 for 30 series, the hour-long film directed by Dan Klores and starring Miller, Spike Lee and a host of recognizable figures from the two organizations, premiered at Conseco in downtown Indianapolis, complete with a red carpet entrance for the VIPs in attendance.

When I first heard of the event, I knew it was something I had to be a part of.  I spread the word among my buddies, all children of the Reggie Miller glory days, and we decided to make a night of it.  Meeting up at the downtown Indianapolis bar The Pub, we shared buckets of beer and talked excitedly about the good ol’ days.  We laughed and joked, and plowed through our drinks and food at a breakneck pace.  With bellies full, we headed over to the Fieldhouse in an excited jog.

The size of the crowd congregating inside the arena was reminiscent of an Indy appearance by LeBron James or Kobe Bryant.  The mood was positively electric, and for a split-second I forgot we were there to see a movie about times already past, not an actual game.   Kinda depressing when you think about it, but I was determined not to let the current state of the franchise bring me down.  We got to our seats just as the lights were dimmed, and then, appearing in all his skinny youthfulness, was Miller on the big screen, taking a slow-motion head butt from John Starks, selling the mild assault as if he were performing for the Academy Awards selection committee.  The crowd immediately burst into applause, and the mood was officially set.

Among the highlights:


Miller and Lee have buried the hatchet


-It was funny.  Really funny.  Obviously everyone around these parts is familiar with Miller’s penchant for theatrics, but it was his lovable goofiness that was the driving force behind the film’s narrative.  He’s never been afraid to make fun himself, and he did so plenty throughout “Winning Time.”  His sister, Cheryl Miller, was featured prominently, and her description of Reggie’s annoying, pestering ways on the court got one of the biggest laughs of the night.  As hated as Spike Lee is in Indiana, his recounting of the events that led to Miller directing a simultaneous throat/crotch grab at him during the infamous 25-point 4th quarter was pure comedic gold.  There were other, less subtle moments of funny that the director highlighted perfectly.  The movie was billed as a dark comedy, a fact that confused many people, but it  certainly lived up to the description.

-The fans reaction to the game footage was great.  It was like none of us had ever seen the footage before.  When Rick Smits was shown splashing in a 15-footer, or  Dale Davis ripping down a big rebound, we cheered like we were witnessing it all for the first time.  And in a way, we were. With all the recent turmoil, seeing the blue and gold enjoy success again was a special thing to be a part of. Likewise so was the hearty booing of Pat Riley, Patrick Ewing and Anthony Mason.  Even when they were saying good things about our home team, it just felt good hate an enemy again.

-Mark Jackson convinced me beyond any doubt that Larry Bird should hire him to replace Jim O’Brien as the head coach of the Pacers.  The psychological impact he had on Miller during those Knicks games was captured perfectly in the film, and I get giddy thinking about Jackson getting into the heads of Danny Granger, Roy Hibbert, and Brandon Rush.  Lord knows they could use a new voice to listen to.  And can you imagine the impact he’d have on A.J. Price’s development?  This needs to happen.

-The film really went into the differences between New Yorkers and Hoosiers.  It talked about how much Indy residents rallied around this team, much the way they do now with the Indianapolis Colts, and how much they despised everything New York represented.  And likewise, residents of the Big Apple considered Indianapolis exactly the way we thought they did; small and irrelevant.  That “good” vs. “evil” theme ran strong throughout the entire movie.


-There were suggestions by several New Yorkers that the Indiana crowds were a bunch of racist KKK members…and some of the corresponding video wasn’t exactly flattering.  Let’s just say Conseco got pretty quiet during that part.

-It wasn’t long enough.  I could have watched a four-hour film documenting all those playoffs games between 1992 and 2000, that’s how enthralling it was.

-The biggest lowlight, and this wasn’t the films fault, was that it illustrated how much professional basketball in Indiana has fallen to the backburner.  They didn’t address it directly, but the turn-out the movie got compared to live games said it all.  “Winning Time” reminded everyone in attendance how good it can be, and just how far we have to go.

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