Nastiness and killer instinct. Say what you want about coaching, playoff experience, Lebron. The reasons the Celtics are where they are right now, losers of five (going on six) straight road games, all but two of the defeats close, are as simple as nastiness and killer instinct. The Celtics lack both. And there’s only one player in the history of the NBA who could solve both problems. His name is Reggie Miller.
You see, I remember Michael Jordan winning his last championship. I remember him pushing Byron Russell to the floor and rising up. I remember the ball falling through the net. I remember John Stockton missing the three at the other end. I remember Bob Costas saying, “If that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, how magnificent is it?” And I remember thinking, if that’s the last image of Michael Jordan, who was my hero now?
And I remember then thinking about Reggie Miller. I remember that I thought of Game 4 of the Easter Conference Finals. I thought of Reggie pushing off Jordan, catching the inbounds, and spinning to the basket. I thought of the shot slapping the back of the net and Reggie jumping in circles. I practiced that shot for hours on end. Then I realized who my new hero was.
Other than that shot, I didn’t know much about Reggie. He was on the Pacers, and my mom liked the Pacers because Larry Bird was the coach. So when Slam magazine came out with a Miller cover and feature, I tore through the entire magazine. The quote introducing the article was “Reggie Miller can see the ring. It’s there for the taking. And with the championship—and the very future of the League—on the line, there’s no one better to take the shot.” In truth, this line not only initiated me into the Reggie Miller fan club, but also sparked my interest in sports journalism.
I learned that Reggie thrived in the clutch. After MJ, Miller was the best clutch player in the league. He had a cockiness and flair about him that he could never have gotten away with if he wasn’t so damn good. He makes Gilbert Arenas look modest and Deshawn Stephenson, restrained.
What was unique about Reggie’s attitude was that it was never about his team winning. It was about the other team losing. Tom Scharpling, the man who wrote Slam’s feature, captured this side of Reggie in the article. “When Reggie won, it was nightmare time. He broke out the choke sign. He grabbed his crotch like it was the first game he’d ever won, bowed, blew the smoke off his ‘guns’—right out in the middle of the court, home or away, all 6-7, 185 pounds of scrawniness strutting around like a nine-year-old who just whipped your ass at the arcade.”
Reggie once said, “I love being the villain…. I love being booed. It really gets me going. The bad guys are supposed to wear black. That’s okay. I’ll be the bad guy.” He idolized Detroit Piston Bad Boy Bill Laimbeer. Pacers fans booed when the team drafted him, and he always was out to prove them wrong. And if proving them wrong meant showing them up, he could live with that.
Most people don’t remember it now, but before this Celtics season, Danny Ainge tried to give Reggie one more shot at that elusive ring. Envisioning him as a sixth or seventh man, he wouldn’t have been counted on for more than ten to fifteen minutes a game. People sometimes mention how his outside shooting would’ve helped the team, how he could’ve been a go-to guy in the clutch.
But those aren’t the reasons the Celtics need him. The team needs him not for his three-point aptitude, but for his attitude. The team needs someone to tell Kevin Garnett that silencing the away crowd is as exciting as pumping up the home crowd. The team needs someone to show Ray Allen there is life for shooting guards after 32. The team needs someone to tell Paul Pierce that throwing his headband isn’t nearly as satisfying as putting his team on his back and sticking it everyone who doubted his gonads.
People thought Sam Cassell could bring the team his “I have huge you-know-whats” dance. Instead, he’s just dancing alone. Maybe Reggie would’ve had the same effect. But I don’t think so. And even if he did make this season about his one last hurrah, with one minute left in a close game, I’d take Reggie over Ray Allen every time.
In the end, it all comes down to nastiness and killer instinct. Reggie Miller has both and the Celtics have neither. Some people say that those are two traits you cannot teach. I say Reggie could have.