To the entertainment and delight of Knicks fans everywhere, Reggie Miller is back.
Filmmaker Dan Klores, director of acclaimed documentaries as Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story, Crazy Love, and Black Magic — the history of the rise of basketball in historically black colleges and universities — has resurrected Reggie in all of his infuriating glory.
Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks, which premieres Sunday night on ESPN (9 pm EDT) brings back if not the greatest then certainly the nastiest rivalry in recent NBA history. Time has softened the raw tempers of the 1994 and 1995 Knicks-Pacers playoff series, but it doesn’t take much stoking for the subject to fire up Klores’s talking heads, including Reggie, John Starks, Patrick Ewing, Pacers’ coach Larry Brown, Knicks coach Pat Riley, Indianapolis owner Donnie Walsh, New York Times writer Ira Berkow, and even Reggie’s own sister, Cheryl, who seems to find her brother as irritating today as when they were playing backyard ball in California. (Some say that the ghostly echoes of “Cherrryyl! Cherrryyl!” that Knicks fans chanted to taunt Reggie, as in “You’re not as good as your sister — who, after all, was probably the greatest women’s basketball player of all time — still echo in the upper balconies of the Garden.)
Next to Reggie himself, the most entertaining witness is Spike Lee, who, after all these years still can’t seem to understand why, in one legendary playoff game, Reggie gave him the ultimate choke sign, simultaneously grabbing his throat and crotch. Perhaps Spike’s memory will be improved when he sees himself screaming from courtside “Hey, Reggie! Reggie!” (Marv Albert is overheard saying “I don’t think Spike Lee understands that he isn’t a participant in this game.”)
The day after the game, the Daily News headline read, “Thanks a lot, Spike.”
To those of you who lived through it, Winning Time is a heartwarming trove of golden memories; to those of you who are too young to have lived through it, Winning Time is a revelation as to how much professional basketball could mean in New York.
(Winning Time also airs March 15 and 16, 12 a.m. on ESPN 2 and on March 18, 10:30 p.m. on ESPN Classic)