Reggie Miller Returns “Home” To Indiana For All-Star Weekend, And He’s Got Some Thoughts

Reggie on the Pacers. Reggie on his All-Star memories. Reggie on how to fix the All-Star Game. And other stuff.
Photo Courtesy Bob Kravitz

The NBA world, and we mean world, has convened in Indianapolis for All-Star Weekend, bringing basketball’s best and brightest to our humble city—which just happens to be the best in the country at hosting big events. Yeah, it’s snowing as I’m writing this, just the way it snowed the day of the 1985 All-Star Game, the last time Indy hosted the event. But never mind that. You come to Indianapolis in the winter, stuff happens.

Despite the weather, Reggie Miller is thrilled to be “back home” in the place he graced for 18 Hall of Fame-worthy years with the Pacers. He is talking to the media in a Hilton conference room, surrounded by familiar and friendly faces, dressed to the nines, as always, in a blue blazer and magenta shirt.

Tyrese Haliburton may be the face of this All-Star Weekend—the guy has been everywhere these past few days, making appearances and doing podcasts and charity work all over town—but Reggie is the Face Emeritus. Before there was Tyrese, there was Reggie, the California kid who fell in love with Indianapolis and vice versa. “I have a love-love relationship with a lot of you guys in this room,” he says with a smile. (Yes, that includes me, in case you were wondering.)

I’ll never forget texting Miller as rumors flew that he might join forces with the 2008 Celtics for a last-ditch run at a ring. I told him, “When you make a decision, please clue me in.” And he did, calling one night around 11:30 p.m.

He knew the Celtics were going to be a contender—they ended up winning the title that year—but he couldn’t fathom wearing any uniform other than the Pacers.

“I couldn’t imagine celebrating a championship anywhere other than Indiana,” he told me that night.

Friday, just days after signing a new contract to remain with TNT, Miller addressed a number of subjects with an Indy-dominated collection of media.

On his favorite All-Star memory (he played in five, his first in Miami):

“You always remember your first. I remember walking into the locker room [in 1990] for the first time and there’s Larry (Bird), Isiah [Thomas], [Michael] Jordan, Joe Dumars, [Robert] Parrish, Charles [Barkley], Patrick, [Ewing[, and I’m thinking to myself, what am I doing here, right? It turns out, of the 24 guys in that game, 23 are in the Hall of Fame and several are in the [NBA’s] Top 75.

“I just remember being humbled and walking over to the corner, not looking anybody in the eye. I couldn’t believe I was there. I know, I’m playing against them every night, but it’s different when you’re in the same room and hearing all the conversations between some of these greats and you’re amongst them.

“So I’m sure that’s what some of these [younger] guys will be experiencing when a LeBron walks into the room. I mean, it’s that type of feeling you can talk about all you want, but until you actually experience it, that’s what makes it cool. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-time All Star or a 20-time All Star like LeBron, you still get up for this game.”

On making the All Star game more competitive than it’s been the last couple of years, when players have not played hard and defense has been nonexistent:

“I’m glad they went back to East versus West. We always wanted to beat the West. We talked a lot of noise about which conference was best, who had the better players and you wanted to dominate on the world’s biggest stage. I mean, all basketball fans watch this game because you have all the best players. We wanted to embarrass the West.

“Michael [Jordan] would come in and give that talk, `We ain’t losing, we want the money. … We ain’t losing to those dudes,’ and it resonated with us, so hopefully somebody is giving that speech in the locker room [Sunday] because it’s East versus West again.”

On the love affair he has with Indiana and vice versa (or how a California guy became a Hoosier):

“It’s a real sense of community here. The coolest thing was come playoff time, when I’d be leaving my house to come downtown to Market Square, there would be kids outside with signs, banners, posters; they spent all day thinking of something to write, cheering you on. I always felt we were in this together. We laughed and we did a lot of crying together and that’s what I loved about my 18 years here.

“When I was drafted in ’87, I didn’t know much about Indiana or the Pacers other than I knew they loved basketball there, but I didn’t know much else. I knew I wasn’t their [the fans’] No. 1 choice—we all know who that was [IU’s Steve Alford]—but I had that `I’ll show ‘em’ attitude. I knew they respected players and teams that played hard and that was the only way I knew how to play.”

On his compelling interview with Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas for a show called Indiana Glory, which will air at 4:30 p.m. this Saturday on TNT:

“Wow. It was jaw dropping, eye-opening. When I was first approached, I was going to get Larry and Larry doesn’t talk to anybody these days. Then they told me, `We’re going to add Isiah,’ and I was like, `I don’t think Larry’s going to want that to happen.’ `No, Larry’s cool with it.’ `Really? And we can talk about things?’ `Yep, nothing is off the board.’ OK, so then I went into journalistic mode because there are things that happened in the ‘80’s, a lot of stuff, and we went there. And the stories that were coming out and the battles they had and the things that were said, it was like, I remembered it vaguely, some of the stuff that happened. `Rodman said what? And Isiah said what?’ I’ve never seen Larry so animated. … I look at Larry like a god. I patterned my game after him. To hear Isiah talk about the Celtics and Larry, you will come away with a different appreciation for them. It was very cool.”

On the direction the current Pacers are heading:

“An upward trajectory, in my opinion. Management has done a great job. Especially when you’re in a small market, you have to draft well, and once you start to win, that’s when you get your free agents because they want to come to a winning organization, they want to play a style of basketball that’s fun. When you lead the league in scoring and have a dynamic point guard like Tyrese, you know you’re going to get your touches, you’re going to get your looks.

“Look at the Eastern Conference. Obviously, Boston is separating themselves, but after that, people talk about Milwaukee, but they’re (3-7) since they made the coaching change (to Doc Rivers). We—I shouldn’t say `we’ … THEY—beat Milwaukee four out of five. So if I’m Indiana, I’m saying, `Why not?’ You get locked into a series, anything can happen.”

On Haliburton and the pressure he’s under to not only lead the Pacers to the playoffs, but to produce in the post-season :

“We’ll find out come playoff time, knock on wood. I assume they’re going to make the playoffs. I think when they made the trade [Domantas Sabonis for Haliburton], people were somewhat up in arms about giving up a proven All-Star in Sabonis and you’re wondering about your return. But you look at this season and how Tyrese has balled out and really put the franchise on his back, and what he did during the In-Season Tournament. There’s demands and pressure that comes with all of that. The next expectation for him is: Can he deliver in the playoffs? I’m hoping and wishing that’s the next step for him.”

He continues:

“[Haliburton] brings people together. If you watch him, it’s never about him, it’s about us. … And the way his teammates look at him, it’s the way they look at LeBron, the way they look at [Nikola] Jokic, the way they look at Giannis: `We can do anything with this dude out there.’ And I see that. I really believe he can carry this team to a championship. I’m so excited to see them make the playoffs. If they make the playoffs because they’re teetering on the edge of the play-in. But they’ve beaten all the top teams in the East. Beaten Boston, beaten Milwaukee, beaten Philly, just beat New York in New York. So if I’m them, I’m thinking, Why not us?”

To read the full interview, including segments about Miller’s thoughts on Pascal Siakam, the Steph Curry versus Sabrina Ionescu 3-point shootout, and more, check out Musings of An Old Sportswriter, Bob Kravitz’s Substack blog.