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April 3, 2012

GASKINS: Miller gave us thrills

Growing up, Larry Bird was my favorite basketball player. I appreciated his all-around game, but I loved his outside shooting most of all.

How much did I like Bird? I was told in a high school practice that I might idolize Larry, but I played like his younger brother Eddie. Henceforth, “Eddie” has been my nickname.

Once Larry Bird began to slow down in the early 1990s, I found myself gravitating toward another great shooter — Reggie Miller.

I was thrilled to hear Monday that Miller had been selected for induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September. Boom, baby! It’s a well-deserved honor for the greatest Pacer of at least my lifetime and perhaps of all time.

How much do I like Miller? I include No. 31 as a nod to Miller (and also baseball great Greg Maddux) in the email address I use for my fantasy sports teams.

Like any Blue and Gold fan, I have my favorite Miller moments. Some of mine are:

• When he exploded for a franchise-record 57 points against the Charlotte Hornets early in the 1992-93 season. Bird had retired following the previous season, and I had found my new favorite player.

• When he scored 39 points, including an outrageous 25 in the fourth quarter, to stun the hated New York Knicks in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.

• When he broke loose for eight points in 8.9 seconds to stun the Knicks, again, in Game 1 of a 1995 Eastern Conference semifinal series.

• Ripping the Knicks for 38 points in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference semifinals.

(Yes, I loved the Pacers-Knicks rivalry in the 1990s!)

• The game-winning 3-pointer, and subsequent celebration, in Game 4 of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals against Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. I’ll always remember Miller running to the other end of the court where he repeatedly jumped and spun around as Market Square Arena rocked — and Larry Bird, then the Pacers’ first-year coach, stood calm and expressionless.

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