The savior of our seasonSteve Hammer

I must have drank too much grape soda and eaten too many Bugles last Tuesday night, because I had one hell of a bizarre dream. Think about it. Who's done more to help their franchise this year? Who's taken a team that suffered under fascistic repression and willed them into the playoffs when the rest of the world was ready to pull their feeding tube?

I was dreaming that I was one of the Pacers' assistant coaches and prepping for a game when a light bulb went off over my head. I'd discovered an innovation to Phil Jackson's Triangle Offense that made it virtually unstoppable.

Instead of going low, the SG would go high on the strong side, opening up four offensive opportunities. Double-teaming it was useless. Triple-teaming it made it an easy dish.

The Pacers became an offensive powerhouse, averaging 130 points a game. Dale Davis started averaging 30 and 20. My similar innovation to the Box-1 Zone made the Pacers world champions, breezing through the Pistons and sweeping Phoenix in four for the title.

A downtown parade, drunken rioting and much jubilation was had by all in Indianapolis.

It was a strange dream, because the Pacers could never run a triangle effectively and because they'll probably not make the finals.

But here's a proposition that may, at first, seem as outlandish as my dream. But this one is rooted in reality.

Reggie Miller for NBA MVP.

You heard me. Screw Shaq. Screw A.I. Forget about Steve Nash. In a world with any justice, Reggie would be the league's MVP this year.

Think about it. Who's done more to help their franchise this year? Who's taken a team that suffered under fascistic repression and willed them into the playoffs when the rest of the world was ready to pull their feeding tube?


The events of Nov. 19, 2004, will forever be etched in our minds. Local TV stations have even taken to freeze-framing the videotape of that night at the moment where Ron Artest's arm fouled Ben Wallace as he approached the bucket, like Sept. 11 footage or the Zapruder film.

No franchise has ever been punished as swiftly and as harshly as the Pacers were after that glorious insurrection.

Reggie Miller restored hope where there had been none. Reggie Miller brought life, energy and willpower back to a franchise that was literally in disarray, and he did it the way he has always done it - with class.

A friend of mine said he wished he could print up jerseys of all the classic Indiana high school and college teams with No. 31 and Miller's name on them. He's been as important to the sport of basketball in this state as anyone else in history.

In this, his final season, he's averaged 15 points per game and has at times looked better than any of the other MVP candidates. He's hitting free throws at a record pace and he's exploding for 30-plus points when his team needs it.

More than that, he's restored the faith and confidence of a state shaken by the injuries and suspensions and redeemed a season that appeared lost and miserable.

The NBA is in crisis right now. White people don't like going to games as much as they used to, especially the rich white people who finance those $150 million contracts.

The culture of the game has changed into a street-ball game, almost like the old NBA Jam game, where the backboards shatter and the ball is literally on fire when in the hands of a hot shooter.

The loyalty of the game's fans is very fickle. Wrigley Field was sold out when the Cubs were losing 100 games a year. If the Boston Red Sox fired all their players and replaced them with gerbils, Fenway Park would still be packed for every game.

You could say the same thing about any number of NFL franchises, Indianapolis excluded.

But an NBA team goes through a losing streak and the fans disappear. You could literally hear crickets chirp in Miami a few years ago, it is said. People who go to Charlotte Bobcats or L.A. Clippers games don't have to worry much about finding a good parking space on game night.

Indiana is somewhat of an exception to this, but only because we love our team so much. That's why the events of Nov. 19 were so distressing, coming on the heels of a rigged presidential election. Not only had Bush stolen another election, but NBA Commissioner David Stern stole the Pacers' season just a few weeks later.

Miller fixed all of that with his inspirational second-half surge. He could have played out this season - and the next one, for that matter - lazily, collecting his cash and putting up a minimum effort.

Instead, he's led this shorthanded squad into a position where they have a legitimate shot at a historic season, one in which the possibilities are endless.

Now the Pacers look to the playoffs with several key players returning from injuries. There is still an outside chance that Artest could be activated for the playoffs, although don't lay down any money on it, just like I didn't bet on the Ohio recount.

Regardless, if you take the words "Most Valuable Player" literally, Miller should get it. He transcended adversity and helped restore the esteem of his team, his state and his sport.

He's been more than the "most valuable," he's been invaluable. He should be recognized by the sport as such.