ESPN 30 for 30: Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks 
Director: Dan Klores
A couple of weeks ago Amazon had an awesome Father’s Day sale going on for the ESPN Films 30 for 30 Limited Edition Collector Set. Basically the set was on sale for 1/3 of the regular price, and it included all 30 documentaries as well as a vintage ESPN hat. It was a hell of a deal, and I couldn’t help but treat myself to it.
If you are unfamiliar with the series, 30 for 30 is a collection of 30 documentaries that aired on ESPN and its sister networks from 2009 to 2010. Sportswriter Bill Simmons came up with the idea to have a wide variety of filmmakers reflect on the sports stories/events/people that mattered to them, and had them create an hour long documentary about them. There are some pretty big names attached to the project, including Spike Jonze, NBA star Steve Nash and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams“), and the various films cover a number of different sports.
The first feature I decided to watch was Dan Klores’ “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks”, partly because I had heard nothing but good things about it, and also because I grew up watching 1990s NBA basketball. I remember the epic rivalries back then, including the Pacers vs. the Knicks. This is a rivalry that heated up and kicked into high gear during the two years Michael Jordan was on hiatus playing baseball. Without the Bulls dominating the league, there was a huge opportunity open for another team to take their place. Both Indiana and New York felt they could be the best, and they met in the playoffs both years.
While the documentary is entirely about the rivalry, it focuses heavily on Reggie Miller and the memorable moments involving him in their battles. These are truly classic moments from 90s basketball:
1) John Starks’ infamous headbutt and Miller’s dramatic overselling of it. Miller is a notorious trash talker and it grew to be too much for his New York arch rival, who attacked Reggie and got himself kicked out of the game. Looking back at the footage, it looked like teammates Charles Oakley and Patrick Ewing were going to beat the shit out of Starks, and that’s a scary sight.
2) Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. Diehard Knicks fan Spike Lee was sitting courtside and kept antagonizing Reggie as the Knicks were in control of the game. All of a sudden, something clicked with Miller and he went nuts and started draining shot after shot, eventually ending the game with 39 points (24 in the 4th quarter) and leading the Pacers to victory. Spike Lee was immediately chosen as the scapegoat for his team’s loss.
3) Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Finals. One of the most incredible feats ever accomplished in NBA history. The Pacers were down by six points with 18.7 seconds left. Miller hits a 3, steals the inbound pass, dribbles back and hits another 3, then seals the game with two free throws. Eight points in nine seconds. It’s remarkable to see this, even to this day.
The documentary touches on all three of these classic moments, and includes some awesome rare footage including a lot of the trash talk between Miller and Lee. There are also details of other elements of the rivalry including the whole “Hicks vs. Knicks” region battle, and issues with racism. Klores really does a great job piecing everything together and getting input from all of those involved, even getting soundbites from Patrick Ewing and John Starks about their devastating last-second shot misses.
You don’t have to be a Knicks or Pacers fan to enjoy Winning Time. NBA fans will get the most out of this, but even non-fans can appreciate the story behind this rivalry. Hell, my girlfriend who can’t stand professional basketball even got a kick out of the little bit she saw. Winning Time is an excellent documentary that had me feeling nostalgic for the days of my youth. I can only hope that all of the 30 for 30 documentaries are even half this good.