in the spring, i find myself watching less and less movies because i end up watching more and more basketball. to make up for this lack, i sometimes watch movies about basketball. unfortunately, most movies about basketball are almost unwatchable. hoop dreams is good and i have a friend who swears by pistol: the birth of a legend, but there seems to be little else worth watching. including winning time (the (f)espn documentary about reggie miller which was also featured in sundance).
do most documentary filmmakers even take documentaries seriously? do they even think about what a documentary is or even what it could be? or do they just stick to a formula?
in other words, you’ve seen this before: uninspired and uncontextualized music behind some badly edited archival footage broken up with interviews of media(ted) personalities.
winning time: reggie miller vs the new york knicks focuses on three events: (1) reggie miller never being able to win a basketball game against his sister (cheryl miller, arguable one of the best basketball players ever to play the game), (2) game 5 (i think) of the 94 playoff series between the pacers and the knicks in madison square garden where reggie miller scored like 25 points in the fourth quarter while trash talking spike lee (and, by extension, all of madison square garden) the entire time and (3) game 1 from the 95 playoff series where reggie miller scored 8 points in like 12 seconds in one of the most amazing comebacks in (professional) sports history.
in the 5th game of the 94 playoff series, reggie miller was having a terrible game. he’d missed shot after shot and found the pacers down by double digits in the fourth quarter. spike lee, of course, is sitting court-side and starts trash talking miller (who, according to the documentary, is the best trash talker in the history of basketball). then the entire crowd at madison square garden joins in as miller steps up to the free throw line with the crowd chanting cheryl. from that point forward, miller kills it. he makes 3 pointer after three pointer, even pulling up of the dribble 30 feet from the basket with a hand in his face. he makes everything. and after each make, he immediately turns to spike lee to trash talk some more. reggie miller claims that 80% of his trash talking is just to get himself psyched up to play better, while the other 20% is to see if he can possibly get in his opponents head. in this case, miller was able to get into the heads of the entire audience at madison square garden.
but rather than actually showing miller making shot after shot and then challenging the audience after each make, winning time prefers featuring sport personalities talking about the performance. the filmmakers (and (f)espn in general), don’t trust the game to tell it’s own story.
fast-forward a year. game 1 of the 95 playoff series between the pacers in the knicks. the pacers find themselves down by six with 18 seconds remaining and then this happens:
john starks, who was fouled right after miller makes those two threes and then misses both his free throws because he was too stunned by what just happened, explains it best: “did that dude just do what he did?”
but almost everyone else interviewed in the documentary (and especially ahmad rashad) just wanted to talk about reggie miller’s balls — how reggie proved the size of his balls by stepping out to the three-point line after the steal, the balls it takes to even make those shots and so on. but why the focus on balls? it’s almost like many of these sports writers and sports personalities wondered about reggie miller’s manhood until he proved himself in this moment precisely because cheryl miller has always been the better basketball player. i think a similar attitude is behind the chants of cheryl in the game the year before. but it’s precisely these kinds of attitudes that obscure the fact that cheryl miller is one of the best basketball players, male or female, of her time. i mean, she scored 105 points in a game once, won multiple titles and a gold medal. so i think when reggie heard those chants of cheryl in the garden in 94, he didn’t see it as a dis, but as a challenge: you guys think i’m like cheryl? well i’ll show you cheryl and dominate the rest of this game.
i hope when someone makes the cheryl miller documentary, they don’t rely on the same tired filmmaking reverted to in winning time.
also, here you can find a great article on the road and terminator salvation.