I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read the one and only book written by my favourite baller of all time, Reggie Miller.
I Love Being the Enemy is an apt title. Reggie made a name and a career out of being the villain, especially in Madison Square Garden in New York, where his play is the stuff of legend. He was the guy who poured in 25 points in the fourth quarter against the Knicks in the 1994 NBA Playoffs while jawing against Spike Lee on the sidelines, then killed them with his mind-boggling 8 points in 9 seconds the year after. He pushed off Michael Jordan for that game-winning three in 1998, and remains one of the only people in the world who ever made his Airness lose his cool (and try to scratch his eyes out). He banked in a 38-foot turnaround three in the 2002 playoffs against the Nets to force overtime, then dunked over three defenders to force another.
No matter what anyone says about him, Reggie Miller is an inspiration. He may be a bit of a dick sometimes, but he owns up to it like a man, gives his respect where its due, and never crosses the line. That’s the kind of dick every dick should aspire to be. And let’s not forget, despite his alien-stick-figure appearance, the massive balls he has to be able to take — and hit — some of the biggest shots in NBA history. No wonder I fell in love with this man right from the get-go.
I Love Being the Enemy, just like Reggie, is somewhat unusual. Rather than the typical sports memoir with clear themes or topics for each chapter, it’s written like a journal of sorts, penned by Reggie sporadically throughout the course of the 1994-1995 NBA season. It came at a perfect time too, as some of you might recall that was the season right after Reggie became a household name with his 25-point fourth quarter at the Garden, and covers his 8-points-9-seconds heroics later in the playoffs. The Pacers were considered up-and-coming contenders, with passing maestro Mark Jackson manning the point, the Dunkin’ Dutchman Rik Smits in the post, and the Davis boys, Dale and Antonio, doing all the bruising dirty work down low. It was also the season when Michael Jordan returned to the league mid-way through the season following his baseball stint, and the very first game he played upon his return was of course in Indiana against Reggie.
Each entry is written under a specific date like a diary, though every now and then he would go back in time to talk about things in his past, his family, his teammates, his opponents and what he thought about the game in general. As a result, the book is all over the place. There is no doubt an invisible structure holding it all together, though when reading it you feel as though it’s jumping from person to person and place to place. I didn’t have a problem with this approach per se, but it does make it harder to go back and search for passages you enjoyed.
Stylistically, the book is Reggie through and through. Though it’s technically co-written with sportswriter Gene Wojciechowski, the feel is all Reggie, and you can almost hear his voice in your head as you read the lines. It’s chatty, it’s funny and it’s sincere. On the downside, this also means it’s not the most well-written book, complete with all of Reggie’s rambling and superfluous verbal habits, like “To be honest”, “Let’s face it” and so forth.
For me, the book is a confirmation of many things I already knew about Reggie, though there are some things in there that surprised me. I knew he was an unlikely sports star, having required braces on his legs until he was four. He wasn’t supposed to walk or run, let alone become the best shooter in the best basketball league on the planet. I knew he lived in the shadow of his sister Cheryl — arguably the greatest women’s player of all time — for most of his life, and wouldn’t be able to beat her one-on-one until he could literally dunk on her. Just about everyone now knows about the infamous story when Reggie was gloating about his 39-point game in high school until Cheryl casually noted that she scored 105 on the same night. I knew he was superstitious and taped two quarters under his wrist band to remind himself to always play hard because his father once told him that his play wasn’t worth 50 cents.
Cheryl and Reggie at the latter’s Hall of Fame ceremony
What I didn’t realize was how ridiculous Reggie’s work ethic was. He was always the first in to practice and the game arena and the last to leave, no matter who else played on the team. It was just the way he was. I didn’t know how much respect he had for all his coaches, even if he doesn’t always agree with them. In fact, he treated everyone on his team with respect, never talking behind anyone’s back or airing grievances to the media. As his ex-coach Larry Brown said, Reggie approached the game “the right way.”
With so many airheads, problem childs and douchebags in the league, Reggie was a surprisingly reasonable guy whose on court and off court personas were completely different. Like most professional athletes, he has an ego, but for him it was all about winning and not scoring a whole bunch of points. At various times throughout the book he notes that his teammates, coaches and the media all questioned why he didn’t take more shots, though for him it was about doing whatever he could to guide the team to victory. He also never took his success for granted. I knew he wanted to win a ring very badly, but I didn’t know he had such an appreciation for how hard it is to win games and survive in the NBA. That’s why he actually said he would have retired by 35 if he had won a ring.
I have many favourite parts in this book. I loved the respect Reggie had for Michael Jordan, whom he felt sorry for because of the way he was hounded by the press. Reggie spoke with a passion and anger when it came to the way Jordan was forced to live his life in a bubble, and it was his belief that Jordan retired because he was fed up with the constant attention and drummed-up controversies. For Reggie, Jordan was the ultimate measuring stick — he would hold and push and grab and trip Jordan to beat him in a game, but the amount of respect he had for No. 23 as a player was unparalleled. I’m sure it didn’t hurt when Jordan told Reggie that he was the second-best shooting guard in the league. Oh, and I absolutely loved this story, which he recently retold on Jimmy Kimmel.
Larry Bird, who was not yet Reggie’s coach at the time, also featured in a few golden nuggets. There was of course the infamous “present” he delivered to teammate Chuck Person during a Christmas game, and I also laughed out loud when Reggie recounted how he once tried to psyche Bird out by trash-talking him at the free throw line. Michael Jordan might be the GOAT, but for me, Larry Legend will always be the man.
The young Reggie tales were also great. The battles in the backyard with Cheryl and his brothers, his “crazy” college years, and my personal fave, the street ball hustle he and Cheryl would pull on unsuspecting players. Reggie would play against bigger, stronger kids on the block, and when money got involved he’d call out his shy-looking sister from behind the bushes. They’d up the bet after looking amateurish, and then, BAM, turn on their games and smoke the poor bastards. I so wish they had footage of that.
Another aspect of the book I found interesting was all the stuff Reggie said about players and other issues at the time, which we can now reflect on 20 years into the future. For instance, Reggie raved on about two rookies at the time, Jason Kidd and Grant Hill, calling them future superstars in the making (they’d go on to win co-Rookie of the Year and fulfill that prophecy), but he also said Kidd was great because he doesn’t get involved in politics with his coach. As some of you might know, Kidd would go on to be ushered out of Brooklyn as coach precisely because he got too involved in team politics.
Reggie also spoke of the need for a rookie salary cap, noting that it was crazy and detrimental for players for rookies to come into the league earning more than the vets. He was right about that and he was also right about the greatness of Penny Hardaway, who would later eliminate the Pacers that season. The best prediction, if you can call it that, is his thoughts on former Clippers owner Donald Sterling, whom he didn’t think very highly of.
Not all his predictions were right, of course. Reggie did think JR. Rider was going to be something special, and he believed Kevin Garnett should have gone to college. He also thought OJ Simpson was innocent and that his marriage was going to last forever (oops!). Oh, and he thought he’d never make it into the Hall of Fame.
If I were being objective, I’d tell you that I Love Being the Enemy is just another sports memoir on the market that doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from its competitors. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of the genre, though it reads better today than it did 20 years ago because we now know what kind of career Reggie will be remembered for and the hindsight to reflect on the things he wrote at the time. I’d say it’s a solid read for the average basketball fan and a must for lovers and haters of Reggie alike.