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Staff Picks: The Athlete Who Ruined My Childhood
Welcome to “Staff Picks,” a segment where we bring you the most impactful plays, memorable characters, or surreal TV and radio moments from our collective sports-clogged consciousness. In this week’s tear-soaked edition, we look at those athletes who scarred us emotionally as children.
Dan Fogarty: Seven-year-old me already disliked Reggie Miller in the spring of 1995.
During Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals the previous year, he had scored 25 points in the 4th quarter against my Knicks. He had also gotten into a much-publicized confrontation with Spike Lee during that game, and although I had no idea who Spike Lee was, I distinctly remember seeing this photo on the back page of the New York Post the next day. Seven-year-old me was not familiar with Do The Right Thing, but seven-year-old me did know when someone was calling out my basketball team, and, by extension, my hometown. This strange-looking man had to be stopped.
The following year, when the Knicks and Pacers met in the first round of the playoffs, my dislike of Reggie Miller would morph into full-fledged hate. For three reasons.
One, John Starks was my favorite Knick. He was undersized, shot a lot of threes, and was extremely streaky (these are three very likable attributes to a seven-year-old). Reggie Miller abused John Starks during that 1995 playoff series, both on the court, and in his head. Just look at this clip from Dan Klores’ spectacular documentary on Miller and the Knicks: Reggie Miller embarrassed my favorite player. Crushing.
Two, he was the catalyst of the most depressing sequence of events I have ever seen happen during a sporting event. In Game 1 of that ’95 series, with the Pacers down by six with 18.7 seconds left, Miller hit a three, stole an inbounds pass, hit another three, watched a usually sure-handed John Starks miss two free throws with his trademark sneer, then casually hit two free throws to win the game. That adds up to eight points in 8.9 seconds. Which leads me to…
Reason three of why I hated Reggie Miller: he was a tremendous source of anxiety for little me. After that eight point sequence, I was convinced he could do anything. So any time he touched the ball in the 4th quarter of any playoff series against the Knicks (which was a lot), my heart rate went up. He was a boogeyman in a Pacers jersey.
Dave Levy: I wasn’t alive for Bucky Dent and I was too young to really remember the heartbreak of ’86, but as an impressionable Red Sox fan, the enemy wasn’t just one person, it was an entire evil empire. Since I’m picking just one athlete who ruined my childhood, though, I can’t pick an entire dynasty. So I figured I could pick one of the players who, to me, represents that era: Chuck Knoblauch.
There are more iconic Yankees from that period (Jeter, the turncoat Clemens, Tino, even Torre), but here’s the thing about Knoblauch: he fits the party line of what made the ’98, ’99 and ’00 Yankees. He was a career .290 guy, already with a ring, a good glove and an ability to get the hit that mattered.
Maybe it was because of the obvious flaw that for some reason disappeared against the Red Sox (i.e., that whole throwing to first problem), but it always felt like he was involved in every one of those big plays. I’ll never forget his phantom tag in the ’99 ALCS- which honestly is the closest he ever came to putting a dagger into my own team. It isn’t one moment that causes this sentiment. He just represents what New Englanders are trained to hate when it comes to the generations of angst.
The only people who obsess over these Yankee role players are Yankee fans and bitter New Englanders, and it’s amazing how much of a force that was on us. Pre-04 Red Sox fans all came to the pain of the Yankee dynasty one way or another. And back in the “you spend too much” and “woe is us” era, it tended to be those role players. No matter who those guys were (fill in “Paul O’Neill” or “Scott Brosius” if you’d like, by the way, for this rant) my childhood was gone when I learned about those big meanies from New York – like Chuck Knoblauch – who never would let us win.
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