INDIANAPOLIS -- Poor Spike Lee. Within the space of 24 hours, he was used twice, once by Reggie Miller, who was in dire need of an enemy, and once by the yapping posse of New York, which was in frantic need of a scapegoat.
As the Knicks lumbered into Market Square Arena last night, needing a victory to survive, too much attention was on Spike Lee and too little on the splendid directorial assets of Reggie Miller and the glaring cerebral defects of the Knicks.
It wasn't the spindly filmmaker from Brooklyn who turned the series around. He was merely a convenient target for Reggie Miller, who was employing paranoia to his own advantage. And it wasn't Lee who couldn't adjust on either end of the court in that ghastly fourth quarter of the fifth game Wednesday night. Those were his home boys, the Knickerbockers, standing around like out-of-towners, gawking at the traffic.
Spike makes a movie about Brooklyn in the early '70s, so naturally he gets homesick for the artifacts of that bygone period in American life. He misses slick basketball. He goes to the Garden. Wrong. Clyde's a broadcaster now. Red sits in the stands. The '70s are over.
But paranoia never goes out of fashion. This is the lesson we must learn from Reggie's rampage. Today's ballplayers surely go overboard with their overt in-your-face trash tactics, but the truth is, athletes and many other competitors have always thrived on enemies.
4 And if you can't find an enemy, you make one up.
That old point guard from the North Country, Bob Dylan, expressed paranoia quite well in his song called "Idiot Wind": "Someone's got it in for me/They're planting stories in the press/ Whoever it is, I wish they'd cut it out quick/ But when they will, I can only guess." Sheer, rampant paranoia.
People say an army travels on its stomach; I say competitive athletes and performers and even people in suits and ties travel on their spleen.
Ty Cobb had to fight his roommate to be first in the shower; he had to be first. Bob Gibson had to throw one high and tight on the first pitch of spring training.
Bill Russell had to glare at anybody who approached him for an autograph or a quote. John Thompson would stick his Georgetown team in Biloxi when the final Four was being held in New Orleans; Hoya Paranoia. They all knew the world was trying to get them, so they got the world first.
I bet it even happens in offices, in law firms. You get the feeling that some weasel of a senior partner is trying to ease his down-on-his-luck brother-in-law into your project; you feel his rapacious eyes squinting at your shoulder blades; you tank up on black coffee and bill the clients for 168 hours in the previous week; you survive.
And if you don't have enemies, you go out and look for them. Bill Bradley came from such an underprivileged background that he didn't feel persecuted; he had to recite a profanely aggressive mantra as he jogged up and down the court in his early years; read his lips.
Reggie Miller learned from his sister. Cheryl Miller could intimidate. I remember her in Moscow at the Goodwill Games in 1986, showing up for the big game with the Evil Empire, wearing her Santa Monica ensemble of floppy Hawaiian shirt, shorts, thongs and shades. Cheryl was cool. She knew you had to intimidate your enemies in order to get by in this lousy world.
Her little brother has grown up to be just like her. Two peas in a pod.
I hate to break the news to Spike and all the citizens squawking to the tabloid press, but Reggie Miller was the director of this movie.
The Knicks were just a bunch of extras, milling around, and Spike Lee was just a bit player. Reggie Miller was the star of this movie.