The must-see 'Winning Time' headed for Sundance
With the Lakers taking on LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers tonight, basketball junkies will no doubt be reliving all of the great NBA rivalries of the past, none more storied than the titanic mid-1990s clashes between the Reggie Miller-led Indiana Pacers and the Patrick Ewing-led New York Knicks. The two teams' rough 'n' tumble Eastern Conference playoff showdowns form the heart of the delightful new documentary "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks," which makes its debut this weekend at the Sundance Film Festival. (For more Sundance coverage, see the 24 Frames blog.)
I'll be writing about it more later in the basketball season -- the film will air on ESPN in March -- but if you're going to be at Sundance, don't miss it. Directed by Dan Klores, who's carved out a name for himself making sports-oriented documentaries (including "Black Magic," a portrait of the early days of black college basketball), "Winning Time" does a great job of capturing the intensity of the tumultuous, often nasty rivalry between two heavyweight NBA franchises. Its focus is Miller, an impossibly skinny 6-foot-7 dead-eye jump-shooter who rose to especially astounding heights against the Knicks.
Perhaps his most legendary performance was in the 1994 Eastern Conference finals. Though they were decided underdogs, the Pacers stole a game from the Knicks at the Garden, thanks to Miller's heroics, which included his scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter to put the game away. The game became a cause celebre because Miller was clearly inspired by a taunting match with filmmaker Spike Lee, who was seated courtside, heckling Miller. However, after Miller buried the Knicks, it was Lee who briefly became the most hated man in New York, derided on the front pages of the New York tabloids.
"Winning Time" revisits all the drama, even offering a revealing interview with an unrepentant Lee, who still has the tabloid headlines framed on the walls of his office. Miller was often loathed by his rivals for his trash-talking -- even his sister, Cheryl Miller, a tremendous basketball player in her own right, freely admits that he was the world's most obnoxious baby brother. But like Kobe Bryant today, Miller was a clutch performer and a winner, which makes it all the more pleasing to see a film that does justice to his hard-court exploits.
Watch one of Miller's great highlights, where he ended up scoring 8 points in 8 seconds at the end of a game to bury the Knicks:
Photo: Reggie Miller, left, and Patrick Ewing in 1995. Credit: Associated Press