Trying out a new blog post series today called This Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words. You can probably guess what this series will be, but here’s the concept: I find an interesting picture from Pacers history (from the way, way back in the ABA days to the glorious shots of the current team) and literally write one thousand words on it. This could be a disaster, but it should be a fun one.
I can’t think of a better way to start than with my favorite sports photo of all-time as seen above. Here we go, exactly 1,000 words starting now:
The Context: It’s game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in Reggie’s favorite place to play outside of Indiana, Madison Square Garden. The Pacers are up 2-1 in the series, but down 3 with less than 10 seconds to go in this game. Here’s a 15-minute video that shows all the major events from the game. The shot from the picture is at the 11:48 mark.
The shot occurs after an attempt by Rik Smits to get a quick two fails and a scramble for the rebound ensues. Chris Mullin is able to tap the ball to Mark Jackson, who fires the ball to a now inexplicably wide-open Reggie Miller. After Reggie hits that three with 5.1 seconds left and sends the game into overtime, the Pacers made it an easy victory with a big run and went up 3-1 in the series. The Pacers finished the series in the very next game to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls.
Now that we’ve brushed up on the context of this photo, where should I begin? There are so many things that I love about this picture. Spike Lee directly behind Miller, all of the various reactions from the Knick faithful that have seen this same story with Reggie play out too many times to not know what’s going to happen next, and the one (I’m assuming) Pacers fan to the left with his hands up to indicate the impending three points. It’s a glorious photo and a great moment in Pacers history.
The Knick fans that have already realized what’s about to happen before Reggie has launched the ball from his fingertips:
These fans have clearly been here before. They lived the 30 for 30: Winning Time. The 25 points in the fourth quarter. The 8 points in 9 seconds. These Knicks fans have been hurt before, and they know they’re about to be hurt again by the guy that’s dumped them time and time again. The anguish and grief on these five faces is something you just don’t see in basketball before the shot is even attempted. It’s amazing. If you look through these faces in the proper order, you can even see the Knickerbockers fans going through each of the five stages of grief in this one moment:
- Stage One (Denial): Starting with the fan circled in the far right, we have denial. … Scratch that, we all know the one in denial is amazingly, unbelievably, Spike Lee. All of these other fans have moved on past the denial stage, but good ol’ Spike is still holding on to hope that Knicks killer Reggie Miller is going to miss this wide-open three to tie the game. The one guy who should know first hand more than anyone else what was about to happen is still unwilling to accept his team’s impending doom. I guess you have to give Spike some credit. When all of the other fans have seemingly lost hope, he’s as faithful as ever. Although, I’m not sure if Spike Lee has ever moved past the denial stage when it comes to the Knicks. He’s probably stayed there ever since Reggie flashed that choke sign or Scottie Pippen dunked on Patrick Ewing. I do have to give him credit for consistency; he’ll be in denial for perpetuity.
- Stage Two (Anger): The second stage is represented by the gentleman seated in his courtside location with his hands over his ears. It’s almost like if his hands were to come off of his head, his frustration would cause his skull to rupture and his head would explode. He’s understandably in utter shock that they’ve managed to leave Miller so wide open in a moment like this.
- Stage Three (Bargaining): Our bargainer can be seen with his hands on top of his head in the middle of the picture as if to say, “God, if you make him miss this shot, I’ll do anything. I’ll start coming to church every Sunday. I’ll even stop spending my kid’s college fund on these expensive playoff tickets. Next time, I’ll just sit in the balcony! Anything! Please!” Sadly, the Stage 3 Knick fan’s kid would have to settle for community college.
- Stage Four (Depression): Just to his right, we have the Knick depressive wondering for probably the thousandth time, “Why do I put myself through this year after year? What’s the point? This team is never going to do anything but let me down. I hate sports. I hate the Knicks. I hate life.”
- Stage Five (Acceptance): And finally, we have the Knicks fan circled up and to the right of Spike Lee that has become so accustomed to his disappointments from his favorite basketball team that he has gone through all 5 stages of grief before the shot has left Miller’s hands. Defeat is never easy for a fan to come to terms with, but that smirk on his face indicates he’s already accepted the inevitable. Reggie will hit the shot. The Knicks will lose in overtime. The Pacers will win the series. See you next year, Knicks.
The brothers (maybe father and son?) standing right next to Reggie look like they’re extras in a scene from Jurassic World or Godzilla. They can’t believe that they’re standing so close to a moment that will devastate the Knick faithful like Godzilla devastates the people of Tokyo. And God bless that 1990s white-kid attire they have on. The other children circled are about to experience an important moment in every sports fanatic’s life: the first heartbreak. The first one is always the hardest, young ones. The first is always the hardest.
I’ll finish with this last thought: This picture captures a moment you often hear talked about: the crowd being completely taken out of the game. You can see it in their faces, and the Knicks and their fans never recovered.
And that proves it: This picture is worth exactly 1,000 words.