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Best: Reggie Miller time in ESPN film

Pacers guard Reggie Miller was one of the

Pacers guard Reggie Miller was one of the Knicks' arch villains during the 1990s. (June 1, 1995)

Reggie Miller is a middle-aged man now, still trim and energetic but with his sharp edges smoothed by time and perspective.

So when he talks about the city that once loved to hate him, little of the old competitive animosity is evident in his tone. Mostly, he remembers what great fun it all was.

"Running out of the tunnel in Madison Square Garden, it's the ultimate,'' he said last week over soft drinks at a midtown Manhattan hotel, about a mile from the arena. "Those fans, all the booing and yelling and chanting, I loved it. People ask: Did that make you upset, hurt your feelings? Truly, I loved it. I loved that.

"For grown men and women, from 8 in the morning 'til game time, to think about going to the Garden just to scream at No. 31? All day, focused on ruining your night? I loved that.''

It was a memorable era, one that peaked during the Michael Jordan interregnum of 1994 and '95, when the Knicks and Pacers split a pair of classic playoff series.

Those series, and that time, are the focus of "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks,'' which premieres Sunday night as the latest in ESPN's "30 for 30'' documentary series.

It is an entertaining 68 minutes that lean on humor - and, cleverly, opera music - to relive the relationship between Miller and Big Town, including talking heads such as Spike Lee, John Starks and a charming, relaxed Patrick Ewing.

It's a good thing Miller agreed to participate after initial reluctance. "I didn't want to bring up old wounds; those were very tense and tenuous times,'' he said. "I was like - been there, done that.''

But Knicks president Donnie Walsh, his old pal from Indiana, persuaded him to talk to producer Dan Klores, who sold him.

And?

"It's hilarious,'' said Miller, 44, now an analyst for TNT. "It's better than what I thought. And I like that people will see Patrick Ewing in a different light.

"Knowing him, I knew that's how Patrick is all the time. But you [journalists] never saw that side of him.''

Miller rarely left Manhattan hotel rooms as a player, but even though he now ventures out, he is wary. He receives both warm and not-so-warm greetings.

Hours before the New York premiere, he said he was "really, really nervous'' about how he would be received. "I don't think they're going to like the film, I just don't,'' he said. "I think I'm going to get killed over this. But I'm here. Spike was scared to come to Indiana . I'm not scared to come to New York.''

Miller never was as a player, either, when among other springtime exploits, he taunted Lee in '94 and scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to steal Game 1 in '95.

Watching the film recalls a different NBA era, one also captured in HBO's current offering about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

What happened to bitter rivalries?

"That's what's missing in today's game,'' said Miller, who cited player movement and a crackdown on physical tactics.

"You can't play the same way now,'' he said. "You can't touch the best player. I mean, that was Patrick and Charles Oakley's whole job: to take me out of the air, to take Michael Jordan out of the air.''

The documentary does not extend to Miller's playoffs against the Knicks in 1999 and 2000, but one thing has not changed all these years later:

The Knicks and Pacers still seek their first championships since winning it all in the NBA and ABA, respectively, in 1973.

"Until the day I die, that will be the one thing that's missing,'' Miller said. "I would change all the last-minute shots and heroics to win it one time, to even be a complementary player and win it one time.

"As much passion and as hard as both those teams played, we both never won the big prize.''

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