As we sit and talk, signs of an era gone by confront me in every direction. LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It” blasts from an overhead speaker; Independence Day plays on a loop on a Sony Trinitron in the background; amidst a clutter of 3rd Rock From the Sun collector’s coasters, a deeply doggy-eared copy of John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief rests on a coffee table at our knees.
Reggie Miller surrounds himself with the 1990s. He breathes life into it, and it breathes life into him. Such is the curse of anyone tasked with keeping the flame.
Miller’s zeal for the 90s comes as little surprise to hoops junkies, of course. For nearly a decade, since hanging up his jumper in favor of becoming a TNT basketball color commentator, Miller has astonished (well…irritated) viewers with his uncanny (incessant, unending, irrepressible, annoying) ability to relate absolutely anything that happens in an NBA game today to its 1990s equivalent.
“Keeping the 90s alive is not a job I asked for or ever imagined I’d have,” Miller says as he pops the cap off his third Clearly Canadian of the afternoon, “but when duty rang, I answered the bell.”
As Miller sees it, 90s basketball hangs in a precarious balance. While it hasn’t yet vaulted fully into the annals of history, a new generation of fans scantly remembers it, if they remember it at all. While it resides in limbo, the former sharp shooter fears that important members of his era will get lost in the shuffle.
“Sure, everyone’s is going to remember the big guns: MJ, Scottie, Chuck, Ewing, Hakeem, Karl, Stock, The Glove, The Admiral, perhaps even my partner-in-crime, The Dunking Dutchman…,” Miller says. “But what about the real 90s bruhs? The fellas that made that decade tick? Where’s the love for those grinders? They deserve a place in history too! That’s why, when I’m calling action today, if I see something like an average player knock down a routine jumper, I’m apt to yell out something along the lines of: ‘WET LIKE MARIO ELIE!’ or, ‘MY GOODNESS, IT’S THE SECOND COMING OF ROBERT PACK!’ or even, ‘LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, DO MY EYES DECEIVE ME OR HAS MAHMOUD ABDUL-RAUF JUST DESCENDED FROM THE RAFTERS!?’.”
Miller says that in the last couple years, since Mark Jackson left the play-by-play booth to become the coach of the Golden State Warriors and Greg Anthony became more exclusively devoted to college hoops, the solitude and magnitude of his task has really dawned on him.
“It’s just me out there man. I’m the only guy on the airwaves still really reppin’ the ‘90s correct,” he says as he changes into a No Fear t-shirt, a pair of Umbros and sparkling new L.A. Lights. “Shaq? C-Webb? Those aren’t real 90s guys. Chuck and Kenny are 90s to the max, but they’re more concerned with playing clowning on each other than speaking up for their era. Kerr is 90s too, but he seems to think his job is to provide meaningful insight. Who’s left? Steve Smith and Dennis Scott on NBATV? C’mon man. It’s all on Reggie! If I stop talking 90s, the light goes out. I won’t let that happen. Not on my watch.”