The children's museum of Indianapolis is usually closed on Mondays, unless you happen to be the Indiana Pacers' 26-year-old shooting star, who also happens to host a local cable-TV talk show for teenagers, which happens to be taped at the museum. The sight of Reggie Miller in the flesh—what little there is in 183 pounds spread tightly over 6'7" of legs, arms, ears and jawline—arriving in his BMW has a security guard squawking for clearance, and soon Miller is inside and pointing out his favorite attractions: the train sets, the dinosaurs, the carousel, the intricate dollhouses preserved in glass cases. "This place is a great getaway for me," he says. "You're never too old to be too young."
Reaching the top floor of this kids' paradise, Miller passes by a funhouse mirror. The mirror's distortion stretches Miller's legs to his neck. He smiles as he sizes himself up: "Manute Bol." Then he hops to another mirror that collapses his chest to his waist: "Muggsy Bogues." And finally he stands before a third that makes him appear normally proportioned but larger than life. He pauses: "Reggie Miller."
Who can fault Reggie Miller for feeling 10 feet tall? He will make $3 million this season, his fifth as a shooting guard for the Pacers—the now up-tempo, upscale Pacers, who bearded the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last spring before bowing three games to two. Over the past two seasons, Miller has averaged more than 23 points per game, shot better than 51% from the field and sunk more three-point shots than anyone but Michael Adams of the Washington Bullets.
As a marksman, Miller is without peer or fear, but he doesn't just fire and fall back. His all-around game has continued to grow—and that growth isn't the result of the distortion in a funhouse mirror. He has a quick first step and a driving, floating one-hander, and in 1990-91, his accuracy from the free throw line was a league-leading 91.8%. Miller plays like, well, an inquisitive kid in an empty museum, eager to discover things about his game and enjoying every minute of the process. Says Indiana coach Bob Hill, "In the NBA, you have to take fun seriously, and Reggie does that. He loves the game so much, he loves shooting drills. He loves to scrimmage. He loves to play."
November 11, 1991
Hill expects Miller to expand his game even more this season, by defending more aggressively and attacking end-to-end. If Miller can lead the fast break, he will force opposing teams to spread their defenses, which in turn will create more opportunities for forward Chuck Person and the rest of the sharp-shooting Pacers. "I think Reggie's ready to make the next step, to become the type of player who makes plays for other players," says Pacer president Donnie Walsh. Hill has already been impressed by the strides Miller made in the off-season. "Reggie got a lot stronger," he says.
Miller's game has reached such a level that he is on the short list for the remaining NBA roster spot—or for a replacement slot if one should be needed—on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team. If he's named, Barcelona's most charming story might be the Millers' tale: Reggie's 27-year-old sister, Cheryl, an '84 gold medalist who hasn't suited up since suffering a knee injury four years ago, might attempt a comeback for the Games. As much as the prospect of both brother and sister being in Barcelona excites Reggie, so also does the thought of the international three-point arc. "What is it, like 21 feet? 21½?" he asks. (It's 20'7", nearly a yard less than the NBA distance.) "Oh, man, I could underhand it in from there."
While Miller may call himself Hollywood—he's from Riverside, Calif., by way of UCLA—he has become as much a fixture in Indianapolis as A.J. Foyt. There is no small irony in this, since the local populace booed long and loud when Walsh used the 11th pick in the '87 draft for someone who wasn't Steve Al-ford, a Hoosier purebred. Back then Miller didn't possess the most savory of reputations, having been assailed for mess-talking, ref-baiting and hotdogging while in college. Most of it was overblown, some of it wasn't.
But Miller has cleaned up his act considerably, and he has a likable, down-to-earth quality. At his semifurnished lakeside home, where the TV sets (seven) outnumber the bedrooms (five), juice is served in plastic giveaway glasses from White Castle. When Miller finds the wallpaper hanger working on the master bathroom, he is sure to flick on the guy's favorite radio station to make him feel at home. Last spring, when a Pacer ball boy celebrated prom night, Miller handed him the keys to his BMW.
Miller's newfound popularity in Indianapolis comes, in part, from a weekly bit on WFBQ-95 FM during morning drive time that is one of the highest-rated radio shows in the country in its time slot and for its market size. And there also is the Reggie Miller Show, which is entering its third season and possibly moving soon from cable TV to the Fox network. About once a week after the NBA season starts, Miller will skitter down a wrought-iron spiral staircase, greet 200 woofing teenagers and tip off a half-hour program that deals with everything from sex to drugs to pick-and-rolls. Celebrity guests have ranged from Larry Bird to the New Kids on the Block, but the show also examines tough issues, with Miller asking questions and working his knee-high audience with the authority of an Oprah or a Phil.
"Kids could tell if he wasn't into it, but Reggie loves doing the show," says Billy Knight, an Indiana assistant coach and formerly the team's community relations director. "He's honest, and he speaks from the heart."
At times, the show can be moving. A 16-year-old girl once told how she had slugged down five beers at lunch and then crashed her car into a sedan with a family of four, killing the mother. The image of her crying as she told her story stayed with Miller for weeks. "If that helped one person in the audience or at home, then that's one less person I have to worry about—because I worry about them," he says. "The show is for them; it's not for me. The kids come to learn the topic. And to see all of them out there looking up at the stage and paying attention and raising their hands, asking questions, I like that."
Miller grew up the fourth of five children. His oldest brother, Saul Jr., is an Air Force master sergeant and a saxophonist with the Airmen of Note, an elite Air Force band; his other brother, Darrell, caught for the California Angels and now directs community relations for the club; and his younger sister, Tammy, played volleyball at Cal State-Fullerton. "In our family, we all have to support each other," his father, Saul Sr., says. "Help everyone improve." A retired computer systems analyst for a hospital, Saul Sr. taught Reggie his shooting form on the family's backyard hoop, though the kid's range was the ruination of the flower bed tended by his mother, Carrie. Last summer, Saul worked Reggie out, stopwatch, clipboard and whistle in hand. "I'm not a coach, but I do teach fundamentals," he says, "That means teaching when to do, what to do, how to do." Which for Reggie meant getting up at 7 a.m., then running sprints and doing shooting and dribbling drills for two hours.
Reggie still puts so much stock in Saul's opinion that he tapes two quarters under the sweatband on his left wrist before every game to remind him of the time after a high school game when his dad told him he hadn't played worth 50 cents.
Reggie can also thank three of the brightest stars of the past decade for his basketball education. The first of these was Cheryl, a three-time college Player of the Year at USC, and the most exciting distaff performer ever. She cast a long shadow over Reggie; the day he went for 39 in high school, she went for 105. To this day, fans still warble her name derisively when Miller steps onto the court, a ploy Saul Sr. calls "giving him the Cheryl."
It's almost odd that none of this has strained their relationship. "What people don't understand is that every point I scored was because of him," says Cheryl, now a sports reporter for ABC-TV. "I had no work ethic. Reggie taught me the value of practice. He was always out there shooting." Says Reggie, "I'll always be her little brother, because no guy is ever going to match what Cheryl did. But she gave me something to reach for. When people yell her name, that's an orchestra to me, because it makes me concentrate. They're trying to get in my mind and mess with me, and I think that's why I'm strong-willed."
The two talk several times a week; Reggie also has a bedroom set aside just for her in Indianapolis. "Not only is she my older sister, she's my best friend, she's my confidante," he says. "Players from other teams always want to talk to me to see who she's going out with now, so they can try to see her. But ain't none of you all basketball players getting any closer to my sister. It's going to be some doctor, some lawyer, some highly qualified person." Cheryl, likewise, looks out for her baby brother; the thought of him speeding along in the NBA's fast lane gives her pause. "I keep thinking about a 5'5" kid with a potbelly getting screamed at to get out of Mom's garden," she says.
The second guiding light for Miller after Cheryl is the Lakers' Magic Johnson, who had admired the way Reggie played his slight rear end off in pickup games at UCLA. "Magic and [ex-Laker] Michael Cooper took me under their wings," Miller recalls. "They just told me to watch, listen and learn." The talks have lately centered on how Miller can help the Pacers rise to the next level. Through Magic, Miller met his girlfriend of a year, Marita Stavrou. But despite Johnson's influence, Miller spurned Magic's suggestion that he play out his option and join the Lakers next season. Instead, Reggie signed a six-year, $17 million deal with the Pacers and bought his house northeast of the city. "I want to do what guys like Magic and Larry have done," he says. "I want everybody to know who the Pacers are."
Cheryl and Magic helped prepare Miller for the ultimate postgrad instructor, Chicago's Michael Jordan. "I love challenges," Reggie says. "And playing against Michael is the biggest chess match in the world." An early lesson came in Miller's second year during an exhibition game against the Bulls, in which he played Jordan close to even for the first three quarters. At Person's goading, Miller got into Jordan's ear, whereupon Jordan lit him up for 20 points in the fourth quarter. Check and mate. "We were walking off the court, and Michael looked at me and said, 'Don't you ever talk mess with me again,' and walked away," Miller recalls. "I was like, You are absolutely right, Mister Jordan."
But Miller has neither stopped barking nor biting. He says he gets completely "geeked" to face Jordan four or five times a season: Two of Miller's three 40-plus games have come against the Bulls. Two years ago, Miller told SI that the battle of the '90s would be "Hollywood versus Air." When someone reminded Jordan of Miller's remark while the two were playing cards last summer in L.A., Jordan acknowledged that things seemed to be shaping up that way. "This was coming from the guy who talks to God," Miller says. "I mean, he's got the phone number—the direct line. So that felt pretty good."
If Miller develops as much as Hill is hoping he will, there could be friction with Person. It was Person who stepped forward last season in the playoffs, assaulting Boston with his jumpers and his jabbering. But both players believe theirs to be a good working relationship, and Hill's gentlemen-start-your-engines offense should provide enough shots to keep everyone happy.
"Two really good athletes can cause problems and be detrimental to the team," Person says. "But right now everything is working out well. There are no hidden agendas."
Well, Miller may have a little one. A banner hanging in the entranceway of the children's museum reads: OUR MISSION IS TO ENRICH THE LIVES OF CHILDREN. "I play for my teammates and the adults, but I really play for the kids," Miller says. "I play to see a kid's reaction—'Oh, man, did you see that?'—that's what I really love."