"I tried," Reggie Miller said last Thursday evening. After his brilliant career, full of triumph, defeat and dedication, that's really all he could say. He tried to bring Indianapolis a championship, failing to realize the city is cursed in that regard.
But he tried.
How can there be Indiana basketball without Reggie Miller?
The Detroit Pistons were just better than the beleagured Pacers, in just about every conceivable way. The Pacers' attempt to wreak revenge for the Nov. 19, 2004, brawl fell short and now their year is over.
But Reggie tried.
Even the most cynical, unsentimental person had to have been affected by Miller's gracious goodbye to the sport last Thursday. In his final game, Miller scored 27 points, with his final bucket being a three-point shot.
When he left the game with 15.7 seconds left, all 18,345 fans stood and toasted him for his amazing career. Many were crying.
The fans looked stunned as they left Conseco Fieldhouse, as if they didn't know what to do now that their hero was gone for good. It reminded me of how a lot of people I knew were when Kurt Cobain and 2Pac died. How could there be rap music without 2Pac? How can there be Indiana basketball without Reggie Miller?
The remaining Pacers, most of whom are not worthy of breathing the same air as Miller, will somehow have to find a way to win without their Superman.
Basketball fans will have to conceive of a post-Miller era, which right now looks like Jermaine O'Neal, our warrior Ron Artest and a whole bunch of new guys.
"There will be some shuffling and there will be some changes to this team," coach Rick Carlisle said ominously after Thursday's game. "I don't think there's any question about that. We're certainly not going to stand pat. I know that Larry [Bird] and Donnie [Walsh] are going to be proactive on doing what they can to get the team better."
Carlisle is the kind of supervisor that you'd love working under you, because he can crack the whip against lazy employees, but one you probably wouldn't want to work for. Despite the sentimentalism and despite the goodbyes to Reggie, Carlisle looked plenty pissed off. He doesn't like to lose.
So what do we do now? Here are a few suggestions.
An area of Pennsylvania Street was renamed Reggie Miller Court for the playoffs. It is now time for the mayor to make that a permanent change. To not do so would be an insult to the city, the Pacers and those of us who grew up with Reggie Miller.
Remember that every basketball videogame for the next 100 years will have Reggie Miller as a playable character. He will be draining virtual threes well into the 22nd century.
The departure of Miller places the city of Indianapolis into an existential crisis we've not experienced before. There would be no Pacers in Indiana without him. He's all we've known. So does that mean we will somehow cease to exist?
Miller left UCLA the same year I left Indiana University, in 1987. There were oceans of ugly red-and-yellow seats unfilled at Market Square Arena when he joined. The facility was already becoming obsolete.
Only masochists and hoops junkies bothered to come out to the games. Even the beer vendors and popcorn sellers didn't want to be there and climb the punishingly steep stairs. The upper deck was curtained off because it looked bad to show a half-empty arena on TV.
Reggie Miller brought us honor, dignity and class. He helped revitalize downtown Indianapolis and brought untold millions of dollars in revenue to the city. Bill Walton's tie-dye and dancing bear sticker spending in Indiana alone must run into seven figures.
The biggest question facing us is, where do we look for our heroes now? Our politicians are corrupt and devious thieves who are opening the bank vaults for their porcine friends. Our media personalities are migrant workers from out of state looking to trade up to bigger markets.
Richard Lugar? Not charismatic enough. Peyton Manning? Suspiciously squeaky-clean. Jermaine O'Neal? He hates this town. Jeff Gordon? Not butch enough.
Only Artest, The Player Who Suffered For Our Sins, has enough gravitas to be a hero. Like most of us, he's had some hard luck and brought a lot of trouble onto himself.
How many times have you misstepped? Had a drinking problem? Cheated on your spouse? Spent the night in jail on a misdemeanor, maybe? Did you ask for forgiveness? Did you receive it?
Artest is our best and possibly only hope to save our Pacers now that Miller is gone. The fans love him. Others fear him. He is an honorary Hoosier just like Reggie.
Miller embodies sportsmanship, grace and wisdom. He didn't get the ring he wanted but he went out with the same class he exhibited for 18 years.
After the Pacers were demolished in Detroit last Tuesday, I received a poem in the mail from a friend:
Come home, Reggie
We know you're weary
But you have one more game to play.
He came home. And he tried. God bless him.