Press the reset button

Diane,

Being a Pacers fan recently has been a waking nightmare, a sleep terror without sleep.  It’s been a juicy ball of headache and ass-pain.  It has sucked.

We don’t have it as bad as the fans of such long-flailing franchises as the Clippers, but at times it feels like we’re trying to make up the ground as quickly as possible.  In recent years, as you (& everybody) knows, the Pacers have been in the thick of the worst brawl in league history, been responsible for shooting guns in strip club parking lots and beating up patrons in bars, and turned “Ron Artest” and “Stephen Jackson” from names into punchlines.  And if all that wasn’t enough, they also underachieved in every season for the last few, during which they quickly descended from favorites to make the Finals to chumps in dire need of a rebuilt roster.  Yes: it has suh-uhh-UHHHcked to be a Pacers fan for the last few years.

The cherry on the crap sundae was that the beginning of this slide coincided with the retirement of a beloved veteran.  One Reggie Miller.  Regardless of what people outside of Indiana thought of him (it ranged from general affection to outright loathing for his antics and trash-talking), in this state Reggie was a first-name-only guy, the 8-points-in-6-seconds guy, the Greatest American Hero combined with Joe Strummer and Moses.  In Reggie’s twilight years, the team seemed poised for a shot at glory.  They had young, talented building blocks who were just reaching maturity, and Reg was still shooting the fucking lights out.  The day of the brawl in Detroit – just seconds before the brawl started, by my estimation – they were considered by many to be the best team in the league.  The Pistons were the dominant, iron-willed champs from the previous year, and the Pacers were smoking them on their home court.  Ben Wallace sensed it too.  You could see it in his bewildered, angry eyes.  And he snapped.  He threw a towel.  It landed on a (metaphorical) powder keg.

Six months or so later, the Pacers limped to the edge of a bottomless pit and dropped in like a corpse.  And then Reggie retired with no ring on his finger.  One of the three or so best clutch basketball players of all time gave a teary speech and a fond farewell, and rode into the sunset without a title.

Fuck me, Diane, I’m getting a little choked up here.  And I’m getting an urge to go choke (read: get choked by) Ron Artest.

That’s all the old news.  Today we hear the new news, and it’s making me crazy.  Reggie, y’see, is considering coming back to the NBA.

Just not as a Pacer.

The Boston Celtics have been dealing like mad this off-season, putting together a sort of ringless veteran dream team.  They have somehow put together Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen.  This isn’t the best roster in the league, now that those three guys combine for 250 years of age and about eighty million hours of basketball played, but it’s enough to waltz through the Eastern Conference, more than likely, which means they just need to win a couple lucky games against the Spurs or the Suns to pick up their collective first NBA title.  And bully for them, I says.  Just don’t go un-retiring my favorite legend.  Just don’t slap a green jersey on a guy who never played in anything but blue and gold (and home white).

Is it any wonder that when they extended the offer, Reggie took a long, hard look at it?  Not really.  Every player dreams of winning a title, especially so the players who carry their teams for so many exhausting years – always almost, but never quite, getting there.  Reggie played in just one Finals series against a crushing Lakers team.  The next time he should have been in the Finals, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson got themselves suspended – almost put in front of a firing squad – and the chance evaporated. 

No, it doesn’t surprise me that Reggie would want another shot.  I want another shot.  I want to press the reset button – to go back in time to the moment that Ben Wallace threw that idiotic towel, and slap some gum or something on there so it would just stick to his hand.  (While I’m at it, maybe I could also pay for some therapy for Ron Artest and his crazy brain.  And put out a hit on Stephen Jackson.)  If the team had held it together and won it all with Miller at the controls, I would have cried.  I’m not kidding, and I’m not ashamed of it.  I laughed and jumped around my living room like a moron when the Colts won this year, but Reggie – Reggie would have been different.  Nobody worked harder than he did to get something, even something so essentially meaningless, so perversely transitory.  A stat in a book.  A ring on a finger.  But if he’d gotten it, I would have cried.  That’s how much it would have meant to me.

Today, I am of two minds about Reggie.  Part of me wants him to come back and get his ring.  No matter what it takes and no matter which team he plays for.  And I have no problem rooting for Garnett or Pierce or Allen, all pretty good guys and hard workers who also never got their break.  Those four guys all deserve any shot they can get.  If Reggie wants to be a part of it, I understand.  But at the same time – in different colors?  In a different city?  And when he retires again, will he give his goodbye speech, his second one, in Boston’s arena instead of Conseco Fieldhouse?

It’s crazy, this possessiveness.  I don’t know where it comes from.  I don’t really understand why fans have the regional attachments they do, considering that pro sports franchises are just businesses.  They will always go where the money is, and they have no loyalties – not to their players, or the cities that provide for them, or the fans.  And Reggie Miller was never a Hoosier.  He grew up in LA.  So why do I want him in a Pacers uniform?

I couldn’t say and for the moment, at least, I’m not going to try.  I just know that I do.

If Reggie Miller comes back to the league as a Celtic, I hope he wins it all.  I know if he does, I’m probably going to shed a few tears on his behalf.  The same ones I’ve held in reserve ever since he missed his two best shots at it.  But I have a feeling I’m going to sleep badly that night.  Reggie has a chance to press the reset button, but Pacers fans never will.

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One Response to Press the reset button

  1. My friend Lorbos/Lucky was generous enough to e-mail me this response, and I am thieving enough to reproduce it here without his explicit permission:

    “Yeah, I may even disagree with you about the whole being happy for Reggie thing. I lost a lot of respect for Karl Malone when he moved to the Lakers in a bald effort (no pun intended) to ride the coattails of a favorite. Gary Payton’s ring, I tend to regard as an asterisk near the end of a brilliant career as public face of the Sonics. Should Reggie earn a title playing a Jalen Rose-type role for the Celtics this year, it would seem cheap and very minor, perhaps the 9th or 10th most remarkable item on his basketball resume.

    “Now, if a team like the Celtics hires him to be an assistant coach, and he gets his ring that way, I would feel totally different about that. I’d feel complete pride, shaking my head with a silly, ‘aw shucks, what a complete person!’ expression of admiration on my face, while at the same time conceding that, as one of 5+ assistant coaches ad in his first year on the job, his actual impact on their season would be probably far less than as the Old Man Time figure who hopped off the bench whenever the team was in foul trouble something awful, or during some stretch when Ray Allen was nursing a sprained wrist, and actually knocked down a few shots or drew disproportionate defensive attention away from KG on the block.

    “How can my slice my feelings so irrationally? I imagine it has something to do with sensing an honor in failing. You mention getting all teary during Reggie’s final press conference as a player, and I’m willing to bet that you let it go at the same time I did: ‘I didn’t get the ultimate prize, but I tried. I tried. Every day, for eighteen years, I tried.’ That’s just so beautiful.

    “And I bet there were misty eyes at other times, when grown men consider guys like John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Barkley… men who seemingly had always been there, who could have won it in any given year. But they didn’t. That, I think, is why the ring is so coveted. I’ll take that sentiment even farther: that’s what makes basketball such a fantastic sport. Despite the commissioner’s efforts to turn it into a game where great point guards are rewarded for going 1-on-5, it’s hard to imagine another game where a team of 5 players who are individually inferior to their counterparts on the other side can, nevertheless, win just by complementing each other better than the other team does. Those big names aren’t necessarily an advantage until every teammate and coach understands how to make it an advantage.

    “A basketball team, like a pack of wolves, can be so much more than the sum of its parts, a magical algebra that resonates very deeply inside us social creatures. It is not baseball, where one literally can literally simulate how a dream team would do, where a GM can swap roster spots and predict with shocking certainty how many runs his team will score. It is not football; even though a football team is only as good as its weakest player on the field, that game contains so many moving parts, and so many discrete, discontinuous bits of action. Only basketball can provide make the cinematic story of a bunch of small, scrawny, hayseeds from the sticks taking down the larger, more organized, better financed kids from the big city, seem even remotely credible.

    “So I love it when the best players ever never get a ring, almost as much as I love it when a team like the Knicks can spend the equivalent of the combined defense budgets of 70 sovereign nations on a team that never even gets close to making the playoffs.

    “p.s. Why do you keep calling me ‘Diane?'”

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