Memories Of Gold
By Michelle Smith
Reggie Miller had returned to his home in Indiana not too long ago and was going through some things when he came across his Olympic gold medal from the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
He promptly packed it away, put it in his carry-on suitcase and brought it back to California.
"I thought about wearing it through security to see if the TSA people would make me take off my medal," Miller says with a laugh.
Miller, who has played for NBA titles in his long career with the Indiana Pacers, was a five-time NBA All-Star and played in NCAA Tournament games back when he was a UCLA Bruin, said that his one Olympic experience - on the 1996 team that included the likes of Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen - holds a distinctive place in his career.
"It's near the top," Miller said. "It is one thing to win a championship for an individual team, but playing for your country, to have those three letters branded across your chest, it takes on new meaning."
Miller was not part of the original 1992 Dream Team that included Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. He played for Team USA during the 1994 World Championships and then in the 1996 Olympic tournament.
"I think there are a lot of guys who thought they would never get this opportunity, because it was for the collegiate players," Miller said. "It was the one thing missing on a lot of people's resumes. When they gave the pros a chance to play, there was nothing better."
Miller remembers how many players on that team - which was dubbed Dream Team III and also included Karl Malone, John Stockton and David Robinson and was coached by Lenny Wilkens - went from superstars to role players. He includes himself.
"All of these guys were No. 1 options on their own team, guys who had to do a lot of scoring and rebounding and it's different with this collection of talent," Miller said. "Everyone had a specific role. I knew my role was to play tough defense. And I knew I was the zone buster. If teams were going to set up in a zone, I was going to shoot that zone down. No one was playing more than 20-25 minutes, so you could give maximum effort. That applied to All-Stars and future Hall of Famers."
Miller said he made sure he had a full Olympic experience in Atlanta. He went to other events, mingled with the other Olympic athletes.
"For me, it was pretty simple. I wasn't like Barkley or Pippen, who couldn't go out because they would get mobbed. They were like prisoners," Miller said. "I would go out and walk around go out to events. My favorite was ping pong, I'm a big ping pong player and I loved seeing the best in the world. I enjoyed the whole experience."
Miller said he will never forget the emotion of walking into the Georgia Dome, filled with nearly 60,000 people, to play with his teammates, the fans chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A." Team USA won its games in that tournament by an average margin of 31.8 points, defeating Yugoslavia in the gold-medal game.
"There was nothing like running out there as a team, and absolutely nothing like bowing your head down to get that gold medal around your neck. All 12 guys, up on one podium. People think it's funny for us to say that, but it's so different in the Olympic setting."
Miller said he kept everything from that experience. The shirts, the warm-ups, the shoes, even the socks.
"No way, you don't throw anything away," Miller said.
Miller, living in Southern California, is looking forward to the Pac-12 basketball season, now just weeks away. Miller still holds UCLA single-season records for most league points, highest league scoring average, and most free throws.
"Top to bottom, I think this is going to be a very competitive conference," Mller said. "I still am catching myself to remember to say Pac-12, but I think this is a great. The new rivalries, they just add power to your conference. The more the merrier."