The Internet reaction, even coming on the heels of a lazy Labor Day holiday, was swift and decisive: Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson can think and say great things about former teammate Reggie Miller, but the former Pacers legend (and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) is most definitely not the third-greatest shooting guard in NBA history. Despite what Jackson thinks, and what might get trumped up between now and Miller's induction on Friday.
The Indianapolis Star's Mike Wells, who had to take some indirect heat for merely acting as the messenger for Jackson's Jax-styled analysis, published the quotes in a blog post on Monday night:
"When you take Michael Jordan and you take Kobe Bryant out of the discussion, he's as good as any two-guard that has ever played the game," Jackson said.
First, the semantics.
"As good as any two-guard that has ever played the game" can mean anything. Derrick Coleman was probably "as good as any power forward that ever played the game," but he betrayed his talent and underachieved for years. Jackson is not, explicitly, ruling Miller as the third-finest shooting guard to ever lace them up. I suppose.
Now, the other parts.
Mark Jackson is a man that offered consistent and incessantly intellectually dishonest work during his time as ABC/ESPN's lead analyst. He's one of the better passing point guards of all time, and he may very well turn the Golden State Warriors into something special as a coach, but in terms of analysis (or even just offering anecdotal wisdom as a longtime NBA vet from his place in the booth), Jackson was a miserable listen. Hellbent on creating catchphrases, averse to actual work to keep up with the league. He was your classic, "I played for 17 years, that should be enough"-ex jock.
If that seems harsh, tune into NBA TV between now and the start of the season, as it replays older games. Take in some of his work. The man was on TV for endless hours, and nothing resulted from it. Which would be no big deal if he wasn't the NBA's lead analyst during that spell. He was the voice that ABC/ESPN chose, he was on our set for years during some of the finest basketball I've ever seen, and his work shaped our view of that era.
(Sorry. I had a staycation over Labor Day. Probably should have gone out in the sun.)
So, Mark Jackson didn't think much in a quick interview before referring to Reggie Miller as, more or less, the finest shooting guard to play the game outside of Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant (you'll recall that Jackson once listed Bryant as the best player in NBA history; not sure what he's done recently to fall behind MJ in Jackson's eyes). No bigs, right?
Maybe he forgot that Dwyane Wade just about single-handedly carried his Miami Heat to a title in 2006. Maybe he thinks Clyde Drexler is too much of a complainer. Maybe he considered George Gervin to be a small forward, Allen Iverson to be a point guard, and Earl Monroe too much of a ball-dominator. Maybe Joe Dumars was too nice, and Vince Carter too full of insouciance. Maybe Manu Ginobili's numbers were too per-minute (Jackson: "huh?") intensive. Maybe Ray Allen was seen as too much of a Miller acolyte.
Maybe because Jerry West works in the Golden State Warrior front office, and is technically Jackson's boss, can't receive a vote because they work on the same team?
We'll get into Miller's relative merits as the week moves along, a needed venture as he takes to the Hall, but this is just athlete silliness at its worst. It's just fine for Reggie Miller to be pretty damn good. Just fine for him to be amongst the greats, a fantastic example of how to change your game on the fly and stay potent deep into your 30s. The guy was a marvel, even if you couldn't stand him, until the very end. Miller retired in 2005 just three months before his 40th birthday, but it's no stretch to suggest he could have played capable and starter-level NBA basketball for at least one or two more seasons.
He was fantastic. An absolute killer thrust into the strangest of roles. One of the most famous players in the game, working out of Indianapolis. One of the more prominent stars in the league, despite offering production that at times left him as the third-best shooting guard in his own conference. Asked to carry a very good Pacer team deep into the playoffs every year despite basically being one very good player among many very good players on his team, and not a transcendent destroyer of worlds like Jordan or Bryant (or, ahem, Jerry West or Dwyane Wade).
Someone to be admired. Someone to be respected.
What's wrong with that, Mark Jackson? Why the needless barroom ranking tripe?
Reggie Miller will be deservedly inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. Let's just let this accomplishment stand on its own, without needless qualification.
(UPDATE: Four years ago, Jackson ranked Jerry West ahead of Miller in his vote for all-time shooting guards. Dude, Jerry West, what did you say to him?!?)