Two of a kind
Pacers' Miller will be missed, Ginobili unforgettable
Posted: Thursday May 19, 2005

This is not intended to jinx the Indiana Pacers as they attempt to avoid elimination Thursday night at home against Detroit in Game 6 of their Eastern Conference second-round playoff series. But I needed to say goodbye to Reggie Miller, and, well, let's just say I believe this will be my last chance.

Miller is not one of those players about whom fans wring their hands and say, "Oh, man, how are we going to replace him?" He's not an immortal, but after a career of clutch 3-point shots, Miller is probably headed to the Hall of Fame -- I'd vote for him. And privately, NBA officials are truly saddened by Miller's departure. The public sees a league weakened by young players who are clueless about diplomacy, and, for several fabulous weeks late in the season, good ol' 39-year-old Reg gave us a compelling, and gloriously ancient, story line.

If Indy-Detroit harkens the past, Thursday night's other game (San Antonio at Seattle) presents the future. This is not to suggest that the Spurs' Manu Ginobili is better than, say, Cleveland's LeBron James. But if you listed the young players you'd pay to see right now, the Spurs' whirling dervish of a swingman, the lefty who led Argentina to the gold medal last summer, would be right there, along with James and Miami's Dwyane Wade.

So, for this week's five-pack, here are five reasons we'll miss Reggie, and five things we can look forward to for at least the next decade from Ginobili.

From Reggie, we'll miss ...
1. His physique ... or lack of it.
Look back at those games from ancient days -- the 1980s -- and it looks like a different species of human being is playing the game. Even Magic Johnson was skinny. These days it looks linebackers have taken the court; LeBron resembles a heavyweight fighter. But Reggie gave hope for skinny people everywhere, the Stick Figure working his way through Muscle Land.

2. His loyalty and attachment to one city
Reggie seemed anything but Hoosier-like when the Pacers made him the 11th pick of the '87 draft. A cocky California kid in Indianapolis? No way that would work. But some of Reggie rubbed off on Indy, and some of Indy rubbed off on Reggie, and the result was a love affair that, in this age of free agency and trade demands, is truly unique.

3. His game within a game
Reggie is not the only player who has mastered the art of running off screens, catching and shooting -- Detroit's Rip Hamilton is good at it -- but he is the best. Plus, no one did it with Reggie's flair: the long, looping sprint that sometimes took him out of bounds, the duck-behinds and all the other little techniques that made it look like a game of freeze tag on the playground. And, of course, the dramatic splay-legged release and, quite often, the little thespian drama that enabled Miller to also get to the free throw line. The man made more than his share of four-point plays

4. His graceful acceptance of a diminished role

Reggie was a bit of a chest-pounding player, but, when he started to age and lose his legs, he seamlessly ceded the role of primary scorer and team cynosure to others. Even loose cannons such as Ron Artest.

5. His giving back to the game
Fewer and fewer players understand their responsibility to be gracious to fans and media. Reggie never forgot his.

From Manu, we'll look forward to ...

1. His being a complete player
He can shoot 3s, he has -- gasp! -- a mid-range jumper, he takes it to the hoop, he plays D, he rebounds, he passes, he moves without the ball, he ... I'm out of verbs.

2. His composure
No one plays harder than Ginobili. But for all his emotion, and for all he gets bumped around, he rarely loses his head. Knock him down, and he simply gets up and goes to the foul line.

3. His entertainment value
Ginobili is a fundamentally sound player, but he sprinkles a dash of paprika on everything he does . He finishes his wild forays to the basket with finger rolls. He appears seemingly out of nowhere to make a steal or grab a rebound in a crowd. A lot of players, LeBron among them, certainly, raise the temperature of the audience with pure athleticism; Ginobili works in more mysterious ways, like a character in a play who dashes on and off stage, amping up the excitement every time he does.

4. His willingness to defer
Ginobili understands that the Spurs are still Tim Duncan's team. There are long stretches when he disappears from the offense and allows Duncan, and sometimes point guard Tony Parker, to take over. Whether or not this will continue is another matter. I do sense a growing impatience when he's not at the center of the action.

5. His giving back to the game (See Reggie.)
One of the great sights at any Spurs postgame session in the locker room is watching Ginobili offer answers in three languages. The Spanish-speaking journalists want him, the Italian-speaking journalists want him, the English-speaking journalists want him. He complies with all of them. And to think that many athletes -- some journalists, too -- can't make themselves understood in one language