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Everybody Was A Rookie, Even Reggie Miller

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Dick Harter, this is your life.

If you tuned into NBA TV at any time on Monday, then you got a brief history on current Indiana Pacers assistant coach Dick Harter. You saw the longtime NBA bench coach as an assistant for Jack Ramsey in Indiana during the late-80's. You saw him assist Pat Riley on the bench of the New York Knicks during the mid-90's, and you saw him again as the defensive specialist for Larry Bird's late-90's Pacers teams. Yes, Monday is Dick Harter Day on NBA TV.

Of course, others see it a little differently. Today also happens to be the day when Reggie Miller turns 44 years old. As Bruno writes in his blog, NBA TV is celebrating his birthday with classic games from the Pacers past. I guess Harter will have to wait until his 79th birthday on Oct. 14 to get his full recognition.

So until then, we got a firsthand look at the career of Miller, which on NBA TV spanned from his first game until the 2002 playoffs. I gave a rundown of each game that was broadcast in this post, and if you own the Pacers Greatest Hits DVD, then you know three of these games (the 25-point fourth quarter, eight points in nine seconds, Reggie beats the Bulls) better than the floorboards of Market Square Arena.

During Monday's marathon, my main goal was to catch the Orlando-Indiana Memorial Day Miracle in its entirety for the first time since I watched it live. But, really, the most interesting game in the NBA TV lineup was Reggie Miller's first professional appearance against the Philadelphia 76ers. I had never seen it. I'm not sure if I have seen a replay or highlight from it. It is like finding lost video of the Beatles playing in Hamburg.

This is when Reggie was a blank slate. In today's world, we watch rookies, such as Roy Hibbert and Brandon Rush last season, by critiquing their every move as we want immediacy in declaring them a bust or future All-Star. Now here's a chance to watch a rookie when we already know the answer.

So for those who didn't catch the 6 a.m. wake-up call (or weren't up late enough for the 10:30 p.m. night cap) replay of Reggie's debut, here are some notes taken while I viewed the game from a distance of 22 years after it was played. Fasten your seat belt into your nearest DeLorean and travel back to Nov. 6, 1987.

76ers (36-46) vs. Pacers (38-44)

  • The starters for your 1987-88 Indiana Pacers include: Vern Fleming, John Long, Herb Williams, Chuck Person and Steve Stipanovich. I am already regretting my decision to watch this game. Not the best starting lineup in Pacers history.
  • Seriously, if you thought Conseco "Reggie Miller" Fieldhouse was empty last year, check out the Spectrum in 1987. That place is a ghost town. If they didn't count Charles Barkley as the equivalence of 50 people, the attendance figure would be a negative number. I guess Reggie wasn't a big draw at the time.
  • Stipanovich starts the game with an offensive foul. I'll give him credit for the stache' however. It's already apparent that the best move he makes all year is not to shave that off.
  • The television broadcast team has decided that viewers don't need to know the time on the clock at any point in the game. That's great news for people writing down game notes 22 years later. Let's try thinking ahead next time.
  • Fortunately for the Pacers, Barkley doesn't seem too interested in playing. Unfortunately for the Pacers, reigning rookie of the year Chuck Person decides to change that by shoving his fellow Auburn-alum all over the court, resulting in Barkley throwing his entire body and right elbow into Person's head as they jog back down court. Now Barkley is interested. Not good news for the Pacers.
  • The late, great Wayman Tisdale enters the game as the Pacers sixth man. The play-by-play man notes that, "Tisdale has a poor assist-ratio. He doesn't like to pass."
  • The Legend enters! With the Pacers down 17-11 in the first quarter, scrawny Reggie Miller enters into the game. The rookie looks like he just slammed a case of the 1987 version of Red Bull as he's in three places at once on the court. On offense, however, the excitement is causing spacing issues as Reggie crowds the lane causing a cluster of blue and gold jerseys to thwart Vern Fleming's attempt at driving the lane. In nine seconds of playing time, Reggie does not score eight points. I guess that just comes with experience.
  • On his first few possessions, Reggie stands near the post and doesn't come out to the wing. He looks like he's waiting for a Dale Davis screen. Just another four years Reggie. Hang in there.
  • Tisdale's stat line so far: 6 points, 0 passes. Literally. I thought the announcer was being a little harsh, but Tisdale will not pass the ball. Person and Tisdale will combine for 36 shots in this game. These two should not be on the court at the same time.
  • End of first quarter: Sixers up 29-16.
  • Scott Skiles starts the second quarter at the point. I'll assume the white powder on his nose is just from a donut on press row.
  • Reggie gets his first highlight. After settling down on defense, Reggie blocks the turnaround jumper, runs the length of the court and ends up wide-open under the right side of the basket for the easy lay-up. Only 25,277 more to go. The announcer notes, "Miller had that reputation as a great outside shooter in college, but the Pacers have been impressed with his all-around play."
  • With the Sixers up 31-20, Reggie receives the ball at the top of the key, dribbles twice and launches a long-distance jumper. The ball swishes through the net, but both feet are on the line. So close to being that elusive first 3-pointer.
  • As Reggie stands waiting for the ball wide-open on the left wing, Stipanovich decides to keep it himself and launches a contested brick like it's his job. Pacers fans rejoice on the next possession. Tisdale passed the ball! It even resulted in a Chuck Person 3-pointer. The announcer quips, "Hey, there's a Tisdale pass." The sarcasm drenches my TV screen.
  • Halftime: Sixers 51, Pacers 42
  • Reggie sits on the bench throughout the duration of the third quarter. Pacers can't keep it close. End of the 3rd: Sixers 83, Pacers 67.
  • At the start of the fourth quarter, Reggie throws down a two-handed dunk despite getting fouled. Reggie sinks his first NBA free throw for his first three-point play. Only 6,236 free throws more to go.
  • On the next possession, Reggie forgets he's playing in the Spectrum and thinks its Madison Square Garden, circa 1994. Reggie launches what the announcer deems a "5-point shot" from way beyond the left wing that just glances off the front of the rim. Let's throw it back to the announcer for this one. "He played here in Philadelphia last year and shot it from outside of the gym. He'll really shoot it from anywhere." The man is a prophet.
  • As Barkley and Person continue to throw each other to the ground in the post, Reggie figures out something that will serve him well. He begins running back-and-forth along the baseline to break free from his defender. This is halfway through the fourth quarter of his first game. That really didn't take too long to figure out.
  • Tisdale passes to himself off the backboard for the easy layup. It's gone from annoying to being extremely impressive. He has it down to a science.
  • Even the announcers realize the importance of the next event as they finally give the time. With 1:52 remaining in the game and the Pacers down 11 points, Reggie escapes the defense to get open on the right wing. After calling for the ball, Reggie launches the second of 6,486 attempts from beyond-the-arc and it tickles the twine to become the first of 2,560 career 3-pointers made. It's like watching Edison create his first invention or Einstein solve his first equation. The rest is history.
  • Despite Reggie's 3-ball, the Pacers collapse and they open the season with a 108-95 loss. Reggie finishes with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He also tallies three steals and two assists. Person leads the team with 21 points, but Barkley gets an easy 29 on 10-of-13 shooting.

Two things that I want to say after watching this game. 1) What is it going to take to get somebody to release Volume 2 of the Pacers Greatest Games? If you don't own Volume 1, you should. It came in handy 46 times last season. Demoralized after the Pacers give up a double-digit lead? Put in the DVD and rejoice after Reggie destroys the Knicks again, again and again. But I need more games, including rare artifacts like Reggie's 57-point game at Charlotte (does tape exist of this?). Also, these "special edition" DVD's should be equipped with a feature that allows you to watch the game synched with Mark and Slick's original radio broadcast. I'm hoping this can be done within the next 25 years.

The second interesting note is watching the 87-88 Pacers and realizing that this team won two more games that season than the 08-09 Pacers. It's interesting because it makes you wonder where the 09-10 Pacers are in the evolution of team history. The 87-88 team missed the playoffs, and they would miss them again the next year before a string of four straight first-round exits. Only Miller and Fleming would be around for the 93-94 ECF surge. So where are the 09-10 Pacers? The core is Danny Granger, Hibbert, Rush and Tyler Hansbrough, so will any of the other role players be around when the core is finally ready for the playoffs?

I keep comparing the early-Danny Granger years to the early-Reggie Miller years because they seem somewhat similar. The Pacers were/are building from nothing. The Pacers were/are needing a low-post scoring option. The Pacers were/are trying to improve their defense and intensity. The Pacers were/are trying to fill the pieces of the puzzle around a core of a couple of players. The Pacers were/are looking for leadership from someone who was never really expected to give it when they were drafted.

Hopefully, on a wonderful April 20th day in twenty years, NBA TV will run a gauntlet of legendary playoff games celebrating the career of Danny Granger. And when they replay the team's nail biting win over the Cavs in 2009, we'll see the seeds of the future, while making jokes about player's mustaches as well as T.J. Ford's inability to pass the ball.

And if Dick Harter is still on the sideline in every game highlighted that day, well, that's just icing on the cake.