He entered the league firing jumpers for the Pacers and, 18 years later, Reggie Miller left the same way. When he retired last spring, despite the entreaties of management, teammates and coaches (as assistant coach Chuck Person told me at the time, "There's a lot of juice left in that orange."), he broke a million Hoosier hearts. And with good reason. In many ways, Miller was the last of a breed: the NBA star identified with a city, through good and bad, as much a civic icon as an athlete.
In an era of free agency, contract-year effort and team-hopping stars, Miller never wanted to leave Indiana, never asked to be traded for one last "chance at a title." To understand how remarkable his career was, consider that the current stars with the longest tenure with a single team are Kevin Garnett (10 years with the Timberwolves), Allen Iverson (nine with the 76ers) and Kobe Bryant (nine with the Lakers).
It wasn't just his longevity or loyalty that made Miller special. He was the constant on the Pacers. For two decades, he trained the same way, arriving early at the arena to complete his methodical (and delightfully superstitious) pregame ritual. He was always on time, always prepared; he never "slept in by mistake" or needed to make a "statement" through his actions. He just played basketball, and expected his teammates to hold to his high standards.
After the Palace brawl last season, Miller showed up to work, as if nothing had happened, and steadied the team. "I have never seen him miss a practice, and I go to every one," GM Donnie Walsh said last spring. "Everything I wanted the franchise to stand for, he represents."
Though Miller was stingy with the media in his later years -- an irony considering he is now an analyst and studio host for TNT, and from early indications a very good one -- he was always courteous and, when he did speak, engaging and thoughtful. He loved the fans and they loved him back, showering him with chants of Reg-gie! and wearing his number 31 jersey as if it were part of some citywide dress code.
He made countless big shots, took up permanent residence in the fitful nightmares of Knicks fans and played his last season at near All-Star level. He was a class act, through and through -- "very loyal to the game," as Indiana team president Larry Bird put it -- and one of the true professionals in a league not always known for them. For that he deserves to be named Sportsman of the Year. You'll be missed, Reggie.
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Sports Illustrated will announce the 2005 Sportsman of the Year winner on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. Check back every weekday until then to read more Sportsman picks from SI writers.