View Full Version : Tales from Spike Lee Vol. I

02-05-2004, 02:02 PM
The following is an excerpt from Spike Lee's 1997 book, Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir with Ralph Wiley.

as told by Spike Lee:

The Pacers' star was a willowy 6-7 shooter named Reggie Miller, out of UCLA. Had been in the league seven years at the time. Reggie couldn’t dominate the boards like Barkley, or on D like Jordan. But Reggie Miller could score with anybody. This we found out.

The Series was tied at two games apiece going into game five at the Garden. At that time, we were starting Oakley and 6-10 Charles Smith up front, Patrick in the middle, and Derek Harper and Starks at guard, bringing Mase, Hubert Davis, and Greg Anthony off the bench, and sometimes Herb Williams. It was a solid eight-man rotation, defensive minded. Ro Blackman was not in the rotation, but still on the roster, had been one of the best scorers in the league. He was 6-6. He’d lost a step but hadn’t lost his stroke. The stroke is the last thing to go. Calvin Murphy is somewhere demonstrating his free throw proficiency or dropping j’s in his street clothes even as we speak, probably. But Pat preferred to play fresh, younger legs. Riley seemed to have all the ducks in a row. It seemed to me many fans in the Garden might as well have been at Tavern on the Green or Elaine’s. It was now the chichi thing to do – go see the Knicks and be seen.

“It become prohibitive, the ticket prices,” said Bill Bradley. “The people that come to the arena now are like a studio audience; they are going to be part of the show.”

We jumped on them, 28-16 in the first quarter and led at halftime, 43-35. Starks and Hubert Davis were doing a good job on Miller, and Patrick was on that day – 10 of 15 from the field, 29 points. This was the swing game, game five. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Knicks led, 70-58, and there was no way for the Pacers to come back, not against our defense. I began to get on Reggie, just a little, like a normal fan, as blue-seaters can be called. It gave him something else to concentrate on, and quite by accident, I found myself to be too correct.

Reggie Miller’s fourth quarter started with the Pacers putting a team of center LaSalle Thompson, forward Dale Davis, a monster on D and the boards, a nonentity named Kenny Williams, a backup point guard, not a starter but a New York ballplayer named Vern Fleming.

The quarter started with Reggie hitting a three-point over Hubert. It wasn’t Hubert’s fault. It seemed as if Reggie had let fly as soon as he crossed half-court. All net. Knicks by nine.

At this time I was still having fun. I shouted to the Knicks guards to touch him, find Reggie, stay up on him. Stay up on him and make him put it on the floor. He wasn’t going to beat us by driving to the basket. At this point I was unconcerned, especially with Riley sending in Starks to replace Hubert Davis. There was no way for Reggie to beat us all. With 10:23 left, the Pacers ran Reggie off some screens and he caught and turned and fired all in one motion, from 24 feet away. Rip. Uh-oh. He was getting warm: 72-64, Knicks. I turned to Tonya and said, “Are we in trouble here?” Greg Anthony is a good athlete, good defensive player, but until this time he had not shown much O. He was in the game now, made a steal, and then threw the ball away. I shot up out of my seat, said not a word. Coach Brown shot up off the Pacers’ bench at the same time, screaming instructions. Miller mid-range j: 72-68. Riley got Harper and Charles Smith back in there. It made no difference. Miller, off a creative set designed by Brown to get him free, Starks struggling through the screen, the screen is moving! Moving screen! Neither Joe Crawford nor Jack Madden paid me any attention. Reggie from the corner. Swish: 72-70.

“He got hot,” Starks told me later. “Hubert was on him at the beginning of the quarter, and then all of a sudden he exploded, he went off. I couldn’t believe it, because I was in his face the majority of the time. When a player gets hot in this league…”

Ewing lost the ball. Workman hit two free throws to tie the game at 72, Thompson made a steal, Reggie on a breakaway, pulled up a good 3 feet behind the 3-point arc. He let fly, then turned and looked directly in my face as the ball split the net. His third 3-pointer of the period, with 7:40 left in the game, made it 75-72, Indiana. With every shot after that, Reggie was looking at me, going, “Yeah! Yeah!” I got caught up. I yelled back. And the Garden fans and everybody in a national TV audience saw. It was like Reggie was playing me as well as the Knicks. He pointed at me. He gestured. I pointed back at him. His nostrils flared. “Let’s get on this guy!” I screamed.

Larry Brown was calm as the Pacers gathered around him. He seemed to be having fun. This was not his first group out there, except Davis and Reggie, but they were on a roll, so he broke his rotation and let them stay. Offensively, the game was in Reggie’s hands now, and that’s where Brown wanted it. It was their only way. The Knicks defense was impenetrable, but Reggie didn’t have to penetrate. He could bomb from deep. Reggie had made a 12-point Knicks lead evaporate in a scant four minutes and twenty seconds. The Knicks came back out, but now Reggie was unconscious, zoned, locked in, and I was in the middle of his bombsight. At 6:59, another 3 from deep, off a triple-screen. Reggie came back down the court pointing at this chest, with a De Niroesque scowl leveled directly at me. I stood straight up. “Get up on this guy, willya! Come on!” At 5:52, Reggie hit his fifth 3-pointer of the fourth quarter on a pass from Dale Davis and a screen from Thompson, giving Indiana an 8-point lead, 81-73, and as Riley called a twenty-second time-out, Reggie gestured at me as he sauntered back to the Indiana bench.

You could have fried an egg on my forehead. Marv Albert, by now the national announcer for NBC, was saying on the air that I was not part of the game and that I “should realize that.” Marv, you’re from Brooklyn too. What, you want me to just sit here? At 500 bananas a pop? What on earth did I have to do with Reggie setting an NBA playoff record with five 3-pointers in a quarter? And there was still 5:52 left! I was into it now, exhorting the Knicks to come back and make Reggie pay. The Knicks did claw back into it, scoring the next 6 to cut the lead to 2.

Bas as soon as the defense’s eyes left Reggie Miller, there he was again, getting a good look at it, from 19 feet away, all net, barely even disturbing the net, with 2:45 left. Then, as Oakley stepped out to try to double Reggie on the next trip, Dale Davis went backdoor for a pillar-crashing lob-slam that seemed to be right on top of my head. Reggie hit two free throws with 2:25 left, making it 87-79. The Pacers played the passing lanes, doubled Patrick at every turn, and the Knicks tried, to force it in there to him and were unsuccessful at it, and we were reduced to fouling. Workman hit two free throws with 42.5 seconds left, and then a triumphant Reggie hit two more free throws after a hard foul by Oakley with 21.1 seconds left, giving Indiana a 10-point lead, 93-83. After Oakley fouled, Reggie’s eyes found mine. And all eyes at the Garden followed his. They knew where he was looking. Reggie gesticulated. I gesticulated back. There was nothing to be done – not by me. I might as well have been catatonic as Patrick hit a meaningless three with 2.3 seconds left.

Then it was over, and Reggie Miller, Larry Brown, and the rest of them were running off the floor, through the dark square passageway. The Knicks had lost. Miller scored 25 fourth–quarter points – the twelve-minute equivalent of a 100-point game, including a playoff record five threes, to give Indiana a game five win over the Knicks at the Garden, putting the Pacers up three games to two, with the chance to close us out two days later at Market Square Arena in Indy.

“I’ve seen guys go off, have big quarters, but not under those circumstances,” Larry Brown would tell me later. “A game that was that important to a franchise, against a superior defensive team like the Knicks were then, and, most importantly, Spike, with the people we had on the floor at the time. LaSalle Thompson was at center. He’d been injured and had barely played that whole year. He was no offensive threat at all. We had Kenny Williams out there, and also Heywoode Workman for defense. And I never saw anything like it. I just sat there and became a spectator.”

Did Coach Brown notice that I was dying over there? “I was too busy coaching,” he said. “I didn’t realize it until I saw you bury your head at the end. Everybody blamed you, Spike. And it was good to see somebody else get blamed for a change.”

Reggie had snatched my heart out of body, then capped on me on top of that. Marv Albert said I had to realize I was not part of the game. Reggie made me part of it, then left me lying there. Until the next game. Game six, two days away, on Friday, at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. If anything was left of me by then after the scavengers finished picking at me. “Spike Lee lost the game, he got Reggie pissed off.” Those were the words of Madison Square Garden President Bob Gutkowski. “Spike definitely said something that set him off. I’m not sure what it was, but Reggie sure took us on a ride after that,” said Indiana Pacer Antonio Davis. “Sometimes [Spike Lee] opens his mouth a little too much and gets the other guys going. Tonight was one of those nights,” added Reggie Miller.

Reggie had played it – and me – like a Stradivarius. He stared at me and gave me the choke sign, his hand around his throat, then moved his hands to his privates. That’s when it got ugly up in there. He was like a rabid dog and had to be restrained by his teammates. He ran off the court yelling, “Chokers! Chokers!” He had finished with 39 points, several disrespectful gestures. And he also should have sent out some nice Christmas cards to the refs that year. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so inconsolable on the one hand, livid on the other, that Reggie had brought me into it and then done what he did. I took it personally. It was heat of battle. At the time it was hard not to take it personally. He focused on me. It was between the brothers. Later, he apologized. It can happen, between teammates – or brothers. Oakley and Starks are always going at it, and it seems they are always yelling at each other on the court. Yet Starks waves it off. “Oh, naw, that’s going to happen in a family, especially when you’re trying to accomplish something together,” he says.

At other times, this byplay is fun, like two years before, whenever Michael Jordan hit a couple of shots, he looked at me and said, “Uh-oh, I’m getting warm, Spike. Uh-oh, I’m getting hot now.” Or when he starts hitting shots and then he looks over and I turn and look the other way. All that makes the game more exciting. I remember the last good year Mark Price, the Cleveland point guard, had. He was having a terrible game. They were warming up for the second half; I’m reading the stat sheet. Loud. “Mark Price. Two-for-ten, five turnovers.” He came over, started to laugh. Hmm, Mark, do we have a chill tonight? Are we coming down with something? In the third quarter, he must have hit five deep bombs in a row, one of them right in front of me. The ball went in with a rip of nylon, and just as it did, he turned and mulled my baseball cap down over my eyes. That stuff is good-natured. The only times I thought it wasn’t were the times involving Scottie and the Reggie thing. I know it intensifies in the playoffs.

On our way home from game five, things were sort of quiet between Tonya and me. Then she said, “He fed off you, that’s what happened. He used your energy.” She was perfunctory. Wasn’t a scolding or anything. We can have our debates. She likes to go to the ball games, and that is important to me, that she would, maybe in the way that it is important to a man for a woman to like his brothers, or at least be able to tolerate them. Or at least get along. A man does want that to happen. I know she would rather be ringside at a World Championship title fight in boxing, even though she doesn’t care for Mike Tyson. To put it her way, she has “issues” with Tyson. I don’t care how many times I say Tyson, she has “issues” with him. At the same time, she would go to the mat with me quick over Tupac Shakur. I don’t care how many times she might say that Tupac was misunderstood, I had “issues” with him. But what could I say now? Reggie probably had used me. But I was just being me. Reggie brought the playground to the Garden, and I was in his way. I was mad. I took it personally. Later on, somebody tried to tell me he didn’t even know Tonya was there. It was between him and me. I had put myself in that position by being the kind of fan I am, by getting the best seats in the house. I was right there. It was another sellout of the Garden. Nobody went home happy. I didn’t. Tonya said there’d be another game another day. I didn’t say there was no way I’d miss it. But then, I didn’t have to say it. She already knew. At the same time, Pat Riley was telling the press, “There was a massive thud of everybody jumping off the bandwagon. There will be the same resounding thud of everybody jumping back on.”