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Sunday, May 24, 2015

The day that Miller surprised my daughter

Posted Friday, September 7, 2012, at 6:34 PM

By the time this column graces Saturday's sports pages of the Greene County Daily World, Reginald Wayne Miller will be a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

Reggie and former ABA Indiana Pacer great Mel Daniels were inducted into the Hall Friday night.

Miller, who played every second of his 18-year NBA career in a Blue and Gold Pacer uniform, is very deserving of his enshrinement. So is Daniels, who is the second player to be named from the ABA Committee, which tabbed Artis Gilmore in 2011.

I have countless memories of "Miller Moments," if you will, when the 6-7 product of Riverside, Calif. stuck the dagger in the hearts of opposing players and fans with the game on the line with his late-game heroics and would amaze everyone watching.

But as it would turn out, it wasn't his unorthodox shooting stroke, but the stroke of a thin, gold-colored marker that I remember the most.

This story begins over two decades ago when Pacer general manager Donnie Walsh had the insight to draft Miller instead of local favorite Steve Alford with the 11th pick in 1987.

In the days before digital photography, the Pacers would send the media 8 x 10 photo sheets of every player and coach. They would include an action shot and what we call a mug shot (head and shoulder photo) that could be scanned in and used throughout the season.

Since nobody else wanted them, I ended up accumulating them through the years. They are in boxes with 1970s issues of Basketball Digest.

Needless to say, I have several ones of Miller.

After the Pacers all-time leading scorer and the 14th leading scorer (25,279 points) in the history of professional basketball and just one of 37 players to scored at least 20,000 points retired and started working as a commentator for TNT, I got the idea of sending two photo sheets to Miller to autograph, one for my best friend and another for myself.

I figured I had nothing to lose but a little time looking up the address for TNT Sports, a little postage and a couple of manila envelopes, yes I enclosed a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make it as easy as possible. Even if I never saw them again, I still had several Miller sheets in reserve. A memorabilia collector can never have too many of a good thing.

One, I wasn't sure that Miller would even receive the package and how would he respond to a couple of Pacer fans asking for a couple of autographs.

I laid on it pretty thick about how great it was to be an Indiana fan during those years when he helped fill up Market Square Arena and later Conseco Fieldhouse, leading the Pacers to five conference finals in seven years and a trip to the NBA Finals in 2000. It was no lie, but somehow I felt like I was trying to sell ice to an Eskimo.

My daughter, who doesn't care for the Pacers ever since Miller retired seven years ago, told me there was no way that Reggie would ever be bothered with such trivial matters and that I was wasting my time and energy. I thought she could be right, but a sports fan can still dream, can't he?

All I could think about was Reggie fighting back tears on the night of his official retirement, telling fans, You think I have given you so much, but I have been the one blessed to be a Pacer and a Hoosier for 18 years. I was hoping he would remember us fans and wasn't just caught in the moment of saying good-bye back then.

Since I wanted to give the signed photo to my friend for a Christmas present, I mailed the package in early November, trying to make sure of delivery by Dec. 25.

To be honest, a couple of weeks went by and I almost forgot about it. Every now and then, I would wonder, thinking, "maybe sometime soon."

Several days later and in mid-December, I was on my front porch when our mailman arrived, just before I was ready to leave for work. I took the mail from him before he had a chance to put it in our box.

I was thumbing through some bills and junk mail when I got to this manila envelope.

It had my name and address scribbled in cursive, with no return address.

For just a second, I thought, "What in the hell is this."

But even before I could make out the postmark was from Atlanta, the home of TNT and Turner Enterprises, I recognized my own bad handwriting. All I could do was yell, "It's here."

I could barely hold back my excitement as I tore open the package, there were those two photos enclosed.

In barely legible gold marker on both, Miller penned, "Boom Baby, Reggie Miller."

Former Pacer coach and now color commentator was legendary for saying "Boom Baby," whenever Miller drained one of his 2,500-plus 3-pointers. Miller still operates Boom Baby Productions. Needless to say, I could relate to Boom Baby instead of sincerely yours.

Just for a minute or two, I had a Miller moment and did some trash talking to my daughter as I proudly showed her the pictures.

In the back of my mind, I was thinking, "He actually did it," and I think I was maybe more surprised than she was.

I thought about the irony of me standing in front of the mailman, instead of him folding those precious pictures and stuffing them in our little mailbox. It was the same timing as a Miller trey against the evil empire -- New York Knicks.

Later that month, I gave that framed photo to my friend. I told him this story, but he still couldn't believe it. We both have them proudly displayed. No matter what gifts I have given him since, none will ever measure up to that.

I realize that in real life heroes are our parents and loved ones that sacrificed to make life easier for us, but ...

On Friday night, Miller and Daniels, who helped the Pacers win three ABA championships (1970, 1972 and 1973), took center stage in the basketball world in Springfield, where Dr. James A. Naismith invented the game.

Instead of thinking about Miller's golden shooting stroke that made Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Pat Riley, Spike Lee and even on occasion Michael Jordan cringe or all the great moments that eventually led him to the top of the basketball mountain last night, all I can remember is the few strokes of that golden pen that made believers of my daughter, myself and my best friend.

Thanks for the memories and thanks for the autographs, Reggie.

Boom Baby.

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at hargisbj@gmail.com or at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12.

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