January 28, 2014 by NowhereButPop
Despite growing up in a household where basketball ruled supreme, in an era when the Knicks were constant title contenders, I didn’t follow basketball at all as a kid. I don’t think I was smart enough as a seven year old to fully understand the microcosmic allegories that the NBA lends itself to in regards to real life. But, despite my childhood ignorance, there were a handful of players that I knew. There was Patrick Ewing, the hometown hero, Michael Jordan the greatest player of all time, Magic Johnson, the walking PSA, and Len Bias, the cautionary tale.
In hindsight, I realize that I identified these players as characters, and assigned them a role according to how I was introduced to them. By the time I was cognizant no one could make the claim that Jordan wasn’t the greatest, Magic Johnson was spreading HIV awareness, and Patrick Ewing was the hapless homegrown talent who by 1998 was beginning to symbolize futility instead of hope as he once had. When I look back at it however, I wonder how I could have been so ignorant as to not know at least one other name, the name of a villain: Reggie Miller.
Any Knicks fan knows who Reggie Miller is, and every Knicks fan fits him with the same designation: nemesis. For someone who identified players by role and title, the fact that I missed Reggie Miller should sufficiently sum up just how out of basketball I was up until 2010. But, if ever there was a villain in Knicks lore, it was Reggie Miller. Not only was it because of his epic performances against the Knicks, as players like Jordan and Kobe Bryant have had grander performances, but it was because Reggie Miller had no other purpose in the NBA but to be an antagonist.
When we talk about all the great players who never won a championship because of Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller is included this group along with the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, and John Stockton. There’s something different about Reggie Miller that separates him from the other big names without any rings, and for the longest time I was unable to put my finger on it, but something about Reggie Miller was just…..off. But besides being a Knicks fan, I’ve finally figured out what’s been bothering me about him-I never got the feeling that Miller actually cared about winning a championship. Watching old clips and present interviews I get the vibe that he was more preoccupied with being an antagonist or a nemesis than he was with winning or being great.
What distinguishes Miller from Michael Jordan, the only other player who constantly put the stake through New York’s heart, is that Jordan was a protagonist. MJ was on his own quest for greatness; he wanted to best everyone. Miller, on the other hand, was a video game boss, someone who had no motive of their own besides trying to hinder the progress or quest of someone else. With all the flopping, trash talking, and defensive laziness, he was more concerned with basketball as a game instead of a sport. He was the kind of player who would rather see John Starks go 2-18 in game seven of the finals, than actually play in a game seven of the finals.
For guys like Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, and Charles Barkley, the fact that they never won a championship eats at them to no end. Every time Uncle Patrick sees someone else with a ring he laments how he needs one of his own. The Mailman has to disappear into the wilderness for weeks on end just to regain his sanity if he thinks about not having won a ring for too long. From 1990 onwards the Round Mound tried everything he possibly could to win a title, including playing with mortal enemy Scottie Pippen. Reggie doesn’t seem to care, in fact sometimes I get the feeling that he’s content with the fact that he never won because other greats from his time never won as well. I think it’s a case of “Well if I can’t no one else can”, and because so many others didn’t, Reggie can sleep soundly at night, especially since he prevented guys like Ewing and Dominque Wilkins from winning. And therein lies my point, he’s happy that he had a hand in thwarting other players, despite the fact that he himself never won. All that should matter is winning, not making somebody else lose. For Miller, his favorite part of the game was seeing someone else walk off the court in defeat.
As the documentary Winning Time reveals, Miller does in fact revel in being the villain, the one who can break the hearts of 30,000 screaming fans of the home team. I understand that it’s fun to be the bad guy, ask 2010-2011 Lebron James, but my problem comes when that role because the most important thing to a player. When Michael Jordan feels the need to throw a punch at someone not wearing a Piston’s jersey, you know you’re the bad guy.
Miller had his chance to win a title, and to forge another legacy besides that of antagonist, as he did make a finals appearance, however he failed, and it was only after that he began to show (slight) desires to actually win a championship. Not only did he realize how narrow his championship window was in 2000, but he then knew how it felt to be a protagonist, to actively lead a team somewhere and exist beyond the realm pure antagonism.
With hindsight being what it is, when we look at Miller’s career for all the instances of him driving the dagger in, because he never achieved any kind of tangible success all those heroics, the 25 points in the 4th quarter, the 8 points in 8 seconds, the game winner against the Bulls in 1998, all those instances serve merely as stoppers, hindrances in the pursuit of other teams. Because Miller himself never reached that plateau of success, everything he did only served to give him the legacy of an adversary, someone who appeared to only exist to thwart someone else. Even when he played, he loved that role, and tried to cultivate that image of being someone who broke hearts, and prevented someone else from getting to a plateau that he himself could never reach.
No one else loved to make someone else lose more than Reggie Miller did, and that’s my biggest gripe with him. Whether by intent or accident, his contentedness with becoming an adversary and antagonist make it hard to believe that he wanted to win as much as Ewing or Malone or Barkley did. For all the times Michael Jordan hurt the Knicks, every fan watching knew that he just wanted to win, with Miller, it was different, we knew that he wanted us to lose. He became the personal nemesis at Madison Square Garden because he wanted to be, and that’s why he’s a villain, because not only did he do acts of villainy to the Knicks, but because consciously tried to do so. Miller time wasn’t winning time; it couldn’t have been because Miller never put himself in the role of protagonist. If the NBA was a video game, Reggie Miller wasn’t the player’s character, he was simply the boss who we couldn’t beat
 The fact that I knew who Len Bias was by the time I was 5 speaks more of my parents warning myself and my sisters of the dangers of drugs more than his speculative greatness. But, the fact remains Len Bias, one of the greatest ball players who never was, was used as a cautionary tale in the Doscas household.