Sure, Reggie Miller is looking forward to the NBA All-Star Game on Sunday. But the Turner analyst is just as intrigued by an event that usually is an afterthought on the schedule: the team practices NBA TV will carry Saturday afternoon.
“I will say, this year I’m a little more excited for Saturday’s practice,” Miller said Friday in an interview to promote the coverage, “especially for the West in light of the perceived friction between Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, four Warriors, with their head coach [Steve Kerr].
“It adds a little bit to it, because you kind of want to see what the body language is. Now you’re on a bus with just the West team, now you’re in a locker room with KD and Russ. You don’t have to shake hands before a game or after a game, but you have to be in the same vicinity. You have to be on the court together. You have to go over the dummy plays at the All-Star practice.
“So I’m kind of curious. I’m excited this year. That practice, I cannot wait, because I want to see body language. I want to see, have they made up? Are they talking?”
Westbrook and Durant had a testy on-court exchange when the Thunder hosted the Warriors last Saturday in Durant’s first visit to his old home arena. There was no handshake after the game.
If there is ongoing tension even when they return to being teammates this weekend, Miller can relate.
“I had beefs with players, and there was no secret that MJ [Michael Jordan] and I never got along,” Miller said. “I respected the hell out of him, but it was a little, at times, awkward during a couple of All-Star Games we played together.”
All-Star Games across pro sports have lost much of their luster in an era in which fans can see stars from across the continent on a regular basis. But Turner generally manages to have fun with it, mostly by not taking it too seriously.
“Absolutely,” Miller said, “because No. 1, I, we, Turner, Charles [Barkley], Kenny [Smith], Shaq [Shaquille O’Neal], C-Webb [Chris Webber], [Kevin] Harlan, [Marv] Albert, we have the best seats in the house all weekend. So we’re up close and personal not only with these unbelievable athletes, but the star power that comes with it . . . It’s just a true exhibition, and you get to see these guys really in a different light.”
Miller, 51, is in his 12th season in television after 18 as a player, so younger fans are more aware of his current career than his former one. But it has given him a front-row seat to changes in the game that have made it barely recognizable compared to his mid-1990s heyday.
Would Miller have been able to adapt his personality and his game to the current style? He said maybe not to the former, but yes to the latter.
“I hope I would have been able to adapt, but knowing my personality and knowing how frustrated I get calling the game and seeing these baby fouls and little love taps being called flagrant,” he said, “No. 1, I would have been broke because I would have been past the limit of 16 technical fouls and [gotten] a suspension and all of that.
“But not so much me, because I wasn’t the enforcer on our team. I’m wondering how my Davis boys [Dale and Antonio] would have done. I’m more so worried about them, because a lot like Charles [Barkley] and Patrick [Ewing] and Mase [Anthony Mason] and Buck Williams, guys that had to cross the line a little bit to send a message, how would they have adapted to today’s rules?
“When I first came in the league, there were only two officials. So you could really get away with a lot . . . Now you have a fourth official, which is big brother. They review everything. If you wanted to send a message back at someone, like we used to do in the ’90s, crack someone upside the head, the league would go back the next day and maybe fine you. But during the game, it was, ‘Hey, we missed it; oh, well, we’ll let the league handle it.’
“Now because of technology and social media and great high-definition TVs, and you have everyone on their DVR where you can rewind, they don’t have to get it right in real time, just twirl their finger and say, ‘We’re going to the monitor.’
“It would have been hard for my Davis boys, Antonio and Dale, for me to say, ‘Hey, go put a love tap on John [Starks] for me.’ They really can’t do that now.”
All that being said, Miller’s long-range shooting touch would have been more valuable than ever in the late 2010s.
“I probably would have been averaging 12 to 15 threes a game, that’s the plus side, and the longevity,” he said. “These guys, these teams, never practice anymore. They don’t play back-to-backs unless they’re forced to. So, yeah, longevity. I played 18 years. In today’s game I probably could have stretched that to 23 or 24.
“But I couldn’t. My personality, if I was healthy enough to play, I’m going to play! I felt that at 75, 80 percent, even if I had a sprained ankle, if I’m out there on the floor, I could be Deion Sanders. You’ve got to respect me, because you know I can shoot the three. So I know I’ve got Rik Smits down low. You’re going to play me different if I have the ball, even if I’m at 75, 80 percent, just for the simple fact that you do not want me to make that three. That’s helping my team out.
“Now, guys, if they’re 75 percent, oh, they have to wait a week to get 100 percent. Are you kidding me? Who’s 100 percent? Remember, the freedom of movement kind of came in in [commissioner] David Stern’s last three or four years. They wanted the scores to go up after the Pistons ‘Bad Boys’ and the Pistons of the ’90s and your Knicks and my Pacers. We were physical; they didn’t want that. And Miami, with [Pat] Riley down there. [Stern] wanted freedom of movement. He didn’t want 85 to 88 [scores].”