As hard as it was for him to do, ex-NBA star Reggie Miller picked up his telephone and called his neighbor, workout partner, and friend, Kevin Garnett of the Celtics, to tell him he planned on staying an ex-NBA star.
The Celtics made a strong attempt in August to add one of the NBA's all-time greatest shooters to a star-studded roster that included Paul Pierce and newcomers Garnett and Ray Allen. But after hours of working out with Garnett, and after strong consideration, Miller, 42, opted to remain retired. Tonight, the five-time All-Star will be around the Celtics for the first time since he turned them down as he does color commentary for TNT for the game against the Knicks at TD Banknorth Garden.
"It was tough. I didn't want to disappoint [Garnett]," said Miller in a recent telephone interview. "I almost was coming back. It was up to the 23d hour. I was like, 'I'm doing it. I'm just going to do it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it.'
"Then I slept on it and I was like, 'I just don't think I can do it.' When it was quiet on the phone and I explained to him that I did not want to disappoint him or let him down, he understood that."
Miller, the NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers, is the Pacers' all-time leader in points and steals, and played his entire 18-year career in Indiana. After retiring following the 2005 playoffs, he formed a movie production company, Boom Baby Productions, and took the job with Turner Sports.
The Pacers, Mavericks, and Cavaliers all had made fruitless efforts to bring him out of retirement. But when director of basketball operations Danny Ainge called Miller about joining the improved Celtics, he listened.
"I got a call from Danny and he was like, 'This is not a joke,' " Miller said. " 'We're dead serious. We really could use you.' That really piqued my interest. I said, 'OK, if I'm going to do this I have to do it the right way. Why don't you give me some time to actually get in shape to see if I could actually do it.' And he would call every day to see how my workouts went.
"Then KG started coming by. And that's what put the pressure on me."
Garnett and Miller live in the same Malibu, Calif., neighborhood and had previously worked out together at nearby Pepperdine University. Once Garnett heard about Miller's interest in the Celtics, he "had to jump right on it" and convinced Miller to take part in workouts at Pepperdine.
"When we would shoot you could see the greatness right off the bat," said Garnett. "At times, you could see the perfectionist."
Said Miller: "It was just he and I and a bunch of onlookers who were mesmerized by Kevin in a gym." Although Miller said he would have had no problem coming off the bench for Boston, it would have been "tough" and "awkward" for him to wear something other than a Pacers uniform. And while he felt he could take the grind of the NBA physically, mentally was a different story. He turned down the Celtics Aug. 24.
"If you're not mentally prepared or mentally into it, you cannot compete," Miller said.
"I told him basketball was a team sport. You're not out there by yourself," Garnett said of Miller's decision. "His [thinking] went a little deeper than that. I don't think any less of him. If anything, I think a little more just because, I don't know, for me it was more of an honor, man. You know what I mean? I never have worked out with anyone of that magnitude. It was more of an honor to be part of the process and call someone like that my friend."
Miller predicted the Celtics will win the Eastern Conference and lose to the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals. While Boston presented a legitimate opportunity to make a run at an elusive NBA championship, it wasn't enough to bring back Miller.
"Look, if I came back and Boston would have got to the conference finals, I would have been very happy," Miller said. "But what if I would have got there and we lost in the first round? Done like a Dallas [last season]. Nothing is guaranteed at all. Nothing is."
While Miller has received countless calls from friends about the Celtics' 11-2 start, he says he doesn't regret his decision.
"After Boston, I told everyone, 'That's it. No more. No more calls. That's it.' I'm safe and secure with my job at Turner. I'm happy," Miller said.
Said TNT play-by-play announcer Marv Albert: "It's just as well that Reggie's comeback with the Celtics didn't work out because [Knicks fan and famed filmmaker] Spike Lee had intended to buy season tickets to heckle Reggie for all 41 Boston home games."