This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
We begin our farewells this week. Two exceptionally gifted athletes have announced their retirements and this weekend marks the beginning of their swan song performances. That's Reggie Miller, competitor extraordinaire of the Indiana Pacers and cyclist Lance Armstrong who some say has accomplished more than any athlete in the history of all of sport.
By all basketball accounts, the Pacers should be home watching a lot of hoops on television right now, as the Lakers are doing. It was a mediocre year in Indianapolis, with the young studs of the team either injured or out for poor behavior, but at crunch time, 39-year-old dead-eye Reggie found the sweet arc of his youth and the Pacers are the surprise team of the East going into the NBA playoffs this weekend.
Reggie is the King of two aspects of the game I personally admire most. One, he has swished more three-pointers than any player in the history of the game. The three-pointer from way outside, or "Way; Downtown" as Marv Albert calls it. Slam dunks are entertaining, fade-away jumpers are acrobatic, the occasional sky hook is artistic. But the long three-pointer takes your breath away. The three-pointer often serves as the sword that punctures and deflates the opponent. Once the ball backspins off his fingers, Reggie does sometimes seem the fencer. The others are muscling to the basket while Reggie takes a slow sweep step backwards and issues the final, fatal long stroke that renders his enemy crushed.
The other thing about Reggie is that he has been with one team for his entire career, the longest record of anybody playing in the NBA today. This is his 18th, and last, season as a Pacer. Superstars make a career of switching teams, chasing both the gold of big markets and the gold rings of championship teams. But Reggie landed in Indiana out of the 1987 draft and, even though he's never won an NBA Championship there, he's made his home--and many friends--in Indianapolis. His Foundation serves fire victims. He makes countless appearances at schools and charity events. He's loyal and to say that's rare these days is an overblown understatement. This weekend marks the beginning of Reggie's last run. For that reason alone, I'm suddenly a Pacers fan.
Lance Armstrong has said this week that this summer's Tour de France will be his farewell ride down the Champs Elysees, whether it's his seventh victory or not. The Armstrong personal story is as dramatic as a story gets. Diagnosed with multiple cancers, fights his way to a full recovery, then wins perhaps the toughest endurance race in the world a phenomenal record six times. And now, at 33, he doesn't want to regret not spending the kind of quality time with his children that he was never given by a father. No matter what happens--he wins the Tour again, he doesn't. He stays retired. He longs for the saddle and comes out of retirement. The Lance Armstrong story is golden. Period. But the pure sport side of this hero's story will suffer. Millions of Americans who never heard of a breakaway or drafting or the maillot jaune now have a clue as to one of Europe's most revered sports. If Lance had been a soccer player, stadiums across America would be jammed. During his retirement press conference this week, Lance began sayig "After; many years in the professional peleton..." and he continued without anybody stopping him to ask what the peleton is. And yet do you think the Tour de France will sweep our front-page headlines once Lance is home in Austin, Texas, driving his kids to swim practice?
Nearly twenty years of mastery from Reggie Miller. Nearly twenty years of superiority from Lance Armstrong. How lucky we are to know in advance that these two extraordinary athletes will say good-bye at the end of these respective seasons. All the sweeter it will be to bear witness to that last high arc swish into the net, that last climb up a steep switchback in the Alps.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.