The Seattle SuperSonics versus the Chicago Bulls, 1996 NBA Finals. Those VCR tapes of the games I recorded were played out. My poor Quasar begged for mercy. Must have watched them weekly during the following offseason, with a gimpy Nate McMillan giving Seattle an emotional lift in Game 4 with a Sonics win.
All these years later – and now having covered Nate the past two seasons here in Portland – it’s still amazing the kind of defensive commitment he embodied throughout his entire career. We spoke about it briefly as I picked McMillan’s brain about Portland’s own defensive make-up this season.
Anytime the Denver Nuggets come to town, it’s worth grabbing a minute or two with George Karl – who coached Nate in those days – for a good McMillan story alone. Heck, even guys who played sparingly with McMillan still rave about what he was able to do on the floor.
Take Jerry “Ice” Reynolds for example. Talk about a blast from the past. “Ice” spent eight seasons in the NBA as a 6-8 swingman and still remembers fondly his lone season in Seattle (1988-89) playing alongside a then 24-year-old McMillan.
“He was always into the game both mentally and physically,” Reynolds, who now coaches the Jersey Express in the ABA, told me recently.
“I can remember Nate not being a great shooter, but never hesitating to shoot a big shot down the stretch of a game. He was as confident in himself as any player I’ve played with or against.”
What Reynolds said holds a lot of weight. It says a lot about how the Blazers are ran today under McMillan.
You always hear from coaches – Larry Brown loves to use the phrase – about players who “play the right way.” Nate fit the bill as a player. Even as a coach McMillan employs that tagline every now and again as he wants his guys to “play the right way.” I’m thinking if McMillan could have, he would have suited-up in Toronto on Sunday against the Raptors. He was that into the game. It’s only fitting then for the sum of this season – with Portland sitting right behind the Los Angeles Lakers atop the West – that Nate McMillan has “coached the right way.”
Man, I wish I had those VCR tapes now.
pic via: seattletimes.com