By Steve Kerr, Yahoo! Sports
April 1, 2005
Indiana Pacers fans who witnessed Reggie Miller's 31-point outburst in Thursday night's overtime victory over Miami must be wondering the same thing: Why on earth would Reggie retire at the end of the season?
After all, Miller is scoring 14 points per game, leading the NBA in free-throw shooting and providing the leadership that has carried the Pacers through one of the most trying seasons any team has experienced in recent memory. And best of all, he's taking the team to the playoffs against all odds.
Still, Miller appeared adamant that his decision was final when he announced his intentions on Feb. 10. There was no speech, no drawn-out diatribe, no self-promoting soliloquy. Just a simple "It's time," and that was that.
Reggie has made his decision and who in his right mind can question his intentions? Only he knows how he truly feels, and surely Miller's body is hurting after 18 years of running around picks, throwing his body into the gargantuans in the lane and picking himself up off the floor time and again. (Before I retired two seasons ago, there were nights when I was in such pain I felt like someone was stabbing me in the knees – and I didn't play anywhere near the minutes Reggie has logged over the years.) But the amazing run the Pacers have put together in the face of suspensions, injuries and general adversity has magnified the fact that Reggie remains one of the most influential players in the NBA. His statistics aren't what they once were, and there are surely nights when his 39-year-old body just won't respond to his mind's commands. In a league with many young, inexperienced players with no idea of what it takes to be great, though, Miller shines as a beacon of professionalism, effort and knowledge.
Reggie's teammates routinely marvel at his practice routine and diligent work ethic. He continues to hone his jump shot with daily practice, long after he established himself as one of the great shooters in league history.
As great of a jump shooter Miller is, his most important contribution to the Pacers probably comes off the floor in the way he carries himself. He has never once questioned a coach. He has never called out a teammate in public. He comes to work every night, as evidenced by the fact that he's missed just 86 games in 18 seasons. It's this type of leadership that has carried Indiana to the improbable playoff run they're currently enjoying. With 11 games left in the regular season, the Pacers are 37-34 and solidly in the seventh spot in the East, just a half game behind Cleveland for sixth.
With this strong finish, Indiana fans have to be thinking how good this team could be a year from now. Ron Artest will return from his suspension, Jermaine O'Neal's shoulder will be healed and Jamaal Tinsley should be back and ready to go. And with the confidence gained from a successful season under terribly adverse conditions, the Pacers could enter the 2005-06 season with championship aspirations.
Of course, to win a title, it would help to have a deadeye shooter who provides leadership, character and a tremendous will to win.
Nobody would hold it against Miller if he changed his mind and came back for one more run at the championship that has eluded him all these years. Actually, I could think of a handful of Eastern Conference foes who would probably prefer that he moved on, but most fans would love to see him give it one more go around. He has proven this season that he has plenty left in his tank, and he has certainly earned the right to change his decision and not be criticized for it.
But if Miller sticks to his word and calls it quits after this season, the NBA will miss him desperately. That's why it's all the more important to enjoy these last few weeks of what is turning into an amazing end to a Hall of Fame career – and an improbably successful Indiana Pacers season.
Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst.