Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Reggie Miller, One of the Few

By Chris Lindshield

Reggie Miller, through his older sister Cheryl, announced his retirement on Thursday February 10th, effective at the end of the season. His departure from the game brings to close a remarkable career.

Even more astounding these days, however, is that Reggie played every game with the Indiana Pacers. In recent years, we've seen the greats in all sports shop themselves around to competitors in the hopes of winning a title instead of staying with the only team they've ever played for. From Karl Malone's foray with the Los Angeles Lakers to Ray Borque's championship fulfillment with the Colorado Avalanche, superstars have left their beloved fans in a quest to make their career complete.

Gone are the days where players like Dan Marino, Tony Gywnn, John Stockton, and Barry Larkin played their final games with the team that let them play their first. Instead of complaining about the lack of loyalty in this free agent era, let's celebrate the great ones who stayed around and gave the fans something to cheer about. Below are players from the NBA who suited up for more than 14 years for only one team.

First on the list is John Stockton. Drafted in 1984 by the Utah Jazz, he played for 19 years in Salt Lake City. No NBA player has played longer with one team. Of a possible 1,526 games he could have played, he was in 1,504 for the Jazz. Even though the dreaded mantle of "never won a championship" hangs over him, his accomplishments are in no way diminished. He is the NBA all-time leader in both assists and steals. He finished with 15,806 assists, and of the nine times a player has finished with 1,000 assists in year, Stockton owns seven of them. His 3,265 steals lead the next closest player, Michael Jordan, by over 700.

Just behind Stockton is Reggie Miller. He spent 18 years with the Indiana Pacers after being drafted out of UCLA. The Pacers fans booed when the selection was announced. They were hoping for local boy and new NCAA champion Steve Alford. Instead, they got the future leader in three-point field goals made. Reggie's 2,508, and counting, threes lead Dale Ellis by almost 800. Granted, he has taken about 2,000 more than anyone else. Like Stockton, Reggie never won a championship, but again that won't tarnish his legacy. He'll be remembered more for his flying three-pointers off the low pick, or his fourth quarter scoring outbursts against the New York Knicks.

Number three is from a few decades ago. John Havlicek, one of the great Celtics, played 16 years in Boston. During his career, Hondo won eight championships, leaving only his thumbs ringless. His 26,395 points rank 10th best all-time, despite never winning a scoring title. The closest he came was second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1970-71. His nearly 46,500 minutes place him seventh among all players, despite spending the early part of his career as a sixth man. Of the many Celtics who spent their entire career with the team, his tenure was the longest.

Behind Havlicek, there are a few players who spent 14-year careers with one team. Starting with the oldest, there is Elgin Baylor. Like Stockton and Miller, he never won a championship, running into Havlicek and the Celtics. Amazingly talented, his playing days were plagued by bad timing. He set the single-game scoring record of the time with 71, but was overshadowed by the prolific, both on and off the court, Wilt Chamberlain.

And even when he led the Lakers to the Finals, they faced the Celtics who won 11 championships in 13 years. Even the government seemed to be against him. He was required to perform military service during the 1961-62 season, and only played in 48 games that year. Though his career was destined to be in the shadow of others, Baylor's 14 acrobatic years have earned him a beloved place with Lakers fans.

Another Laker with 14 years of loyalty played alongside Elgin Baylor. His name is Jerry West. Recognized by basketball aficionados and casual fans as the source of the league's logo, his skills on the court deserve even more recognition. West was an all-star 14 times, and he and Elgin Baylor led the Lakers to nine NBA Finals. Unlike Baylor, West got the coveted championship ring in 1972. West, nicknamed Mr. Clutch, retired as only the third person to eclipse 25,000 total points. Even after retirement, West has dominated the game. His management of the Lakers led to their 1980s dynasty, and he might be starting the same for the Memphis Grizzlies.

Perhaps one of the most underrated on the list is the Detroit Piston's Joe Dumars. He also played 14 years with the same team, and was a key member of the Pistons' back-to-back championship teams in 1989 and 1990. And like Jerry West he went on to an office role with the only team he played for. His influence helped rebuild the Pistons and helped them win last years NBA Finals.

The final player with 14 years or more on one team is David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs. Nicknamed "The Admiral" for his college ball in the Navy, Robinson played on two championship Spur teams. Along with Hakeem Olajuwon, who's last year in Toronto excluded him from making the list, he is the only other player to win a scoring, rebounding, and shot-blocking title.

Many players came close to 14 years with the same team. Bill Russel, Larry Bird, and Kevin McHale all spent 13 years with the Celtics. Magic Johnson had 13 years with the Lakers, and Isaiah Thomas had 13 years with the Pistons. Two other players almost qualified. Dolph Schayes played 16 years with Syracuse Nationals, but spent the last year of his career with the Philadelphia 76ers. And, as mentioned earlier, there is also Karl Malone. His 18 years with the Jazz ended with his joining the Lakers in the quest for a ring. But despite his departure, the game's second-leading scorer should be remembered for all his years in Utah, rather than the partial season in Los Angeles.

A few younger players have the potential to be on this list when they retire a few years down the road. Tim Duncan of the Spurs has played for eight years, and based on his commitment, he could finish his career there. Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Tinberwolves has nine years under his belt, and Dirk Nowitzki has seven years with the Dallas Mavericks. But who knows what will happen in the next decade? As a fan, all we can do is be thankful for the players who do stay, and give us someone to cheer for.

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