It Truly Is A Wonderful Life: Lessons learned from a Christmas classic

On Christmas Eve this year, instead of going to church, I went to a different kind of service. My fiancée, her older sister, their mother and I went to the Art House Cinema and Pub in Billings to see Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I’d never seen this movie on the big screen. Suddenly having the opportunity to do so was something I couldn’t pass up.
As long as I can remember, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a Christmas tradition for my family. When I was a child, I remember my mom bringing a box a Kleenex to the family room along with the popcorn. Every year, my father was a mess. The cheery ending always got to him. Tears of joy would stream down his face.
“George Bailey taught me how to be a nice guy,” he’s told me. “He’s taught me how to truly appreciate life.”

A retired Presbyterian pastor, my dad would use the mesmerizing clip of George Bailey (played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart) outside of his mother’s home. The camera zooms in close on Stewart, who looks scared and on the verge of insanity. His mother didn’t recognize him. No one knows him and everything is awry. Clarence, George’s angel, gave the struggling character a great gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him.
In this scene Clarence (a convincing Henry Travers) delivers the masterful line, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it?”
By high school, that message was speaking to me, and I started introducing the movie to friends myself and carrying on the Christmas tradition. As I grew and experienced, I’d always come back to the film. Like my father, I started needing the Kleenex for the climax.
Now as a small-town reporter and musician embracing the community of 5,000 I’ve chosen to call home, the message of the movie is more powerful than ever.
Too often the message is lost, too often we choose not to count our blessings and instead focus on the negatives. We get down on ourselves for not working harder, for not being as ambitious as we once were, for not living our dreams. We worry about retirement and how much money we have in the bank.
Don’t get me wrong; by no means can one movie flip a switch and change your life forever. Life isn’t that easy, and it especially hasn’t been that easy for my fiancée’s family. Early in 2015, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s been fighting it through chemo treatments and surgeries and, although its been challenging, she is keeping a healthy attitude and is not giving up. However, the more positive gestures she can muster, the better.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is not just an entertaining, captivating way to spend an evening, although it certainly is that as well. If you open your eyes and your heart, the movie can serve as much more, reminding us what’s most important in life: relationships.
I stop and take a moment to focus on these relationships. I think about the people who have changed my life and the people whose lives I have impacted. I step away from finances – whether they are favorable or not so favorable – and think instead about those I love and those who love me in return.
When I do this, I realize what Clarence helped George realize: it truly is a wonderful life. Whether it’s Christmas time or mid-June, we all can use this reminder. That’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie. That’s why, every year, I need the Kleenex. Seeing this classic helps me appreciate the people here in Lewistown and the friends I’ve made. I appreciate and love my new family. I feel rich with relationships, and that’s what matters to me.
As Clarence wrote to George, “no man is a failure who has friends.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Jan. 2016)

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“Inner City Blues” experienced firsthand by rural reporter

“Hey, call the cops. I’ve just been shot,” the man said.
He walked slow, appearing tired, worn and shocked.
Had he been shot?
The man held his arm and walked haltingly and uncomfortably to the nearest seat in the lobby of the Cincinnati Greyhound Station.
I was there waiting to board a bus to Asheville, North Carolina, to spend time with my sister, brother-in-law and my two little nephews. I’d just been spending time with my fiancee’s family in South Lebanon, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. I had planned on renting a car from the Cincinnati area, but no cars were available.
“We’re not really sure what’s going on,” a Florence, Kentucky Enterprise rental car employee told me. “I ain’t never seen it like this.”
Desperate to find a way to see my family, I checked the Greyhound schedule and found a late-night ride that’d get me there.
Little did I know by doing so I’d get acquainted with the violence all too common in Cincinnati City limits.


Photo taken minutes prior to encounter, Sept. 2015

Holding his side, the man bent down and sat in a chair, looking like every move was torture.  I could see blood showing on his white boxers hanging out of his saggy jeans. As I looked closer, I could see more blood splattered on his navy blue hoodie. The man looked pale, almost lifeless.
“I’ve been shot,” he said with a weak, defeated voice, more to himself than to anyone else.
He put his head down briefly. I waited for him to say something else, unsure of what to do. I was shocked myself.
No one else had noticed him yet.
“Knoxville, Tennessee,” a Greyhound employee yelled. “Now boarding Knoxville.”
I thought about calling 9-1-1, but I kept thinking to myself, ‘where is the shooter?’ I could not shake the thought.
Surely the cops would be here any minute. Right?
He lifted his head and looked around. There was a little blood on his neck tattoos. I didn’t know how many times he’d been shot, but it looked like he’d definitely taken a bullet to the chest. The rest of the blood was probably a result of bloody fingers.
I started walking toward the boarding area, looking for an employee to tell about the troubled man.
“This man’s been shot,” I heard someone yell. Others gathered around the man as he collapsed on to the tile floor. In seconds, a big black police officer wearing a helmet walked through the double doors. He went right to the man, who now had a small gathering of people around him.
I later discovered, in an article by WSMV Cincinnati, the gunshot victim was a 34-year-old Bethel, Ohio resident who drove three miles from Avondale to Cincinnati before pulling over to get help. He had a 23-year-old woman with him in the vehicle. She was grazed in the knee by a bullet.
According to a news report, there are no suspects. The man claimed the gunshots came from another vehicle when they were at an intersection.
Sadly, this is just one example of Cincinnati crime spiking. According to a recent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the number of shootings on city streets has gone from 236 in 2014 to 320 in 2015 as of Sept. 1, and the year is far from over.
Although the shooting on Sept. 16 is technically an Avondale incident, it certainly made its way into the inner city and made an impression on those at the Greyhound Station, shining a negative light on the place once known to many as Porkopolis.
“This is bad for business,” a short black man with a small Afro said, as we got ready to board. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
A girl in her twenties with short hair, tattoos on her arms and a piercing in her lip looked at me and said, “What the hell, man? This is my first time at a Greyhound Station.”
“Me too,” I said.

Taking a seat in the Greyhound, I listened to Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” as we passed the entrance to the station. It was lit up like the Vegas strip with blue and red lights. Cop cars, an ambulance, a news crew; it was a true crime scene. This wasn’t Lewistown, and it wasn’t where I could see myself living.
It is easy to take what we have for granted, but the more we travel the easier it is appreciate home.
Having the quality of life we do in a quiet, peaceful, safe, beautiful place – well, it’s hard to beat, and I’d take it over inner city life any day.
When you go out and see the world, you learn a lot about yourself. Even when you are out of your comfort zone starting at gunshot man, it’s worth it. It’s times like these when home is appreciated the most.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Sept. 2015)

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Six days alone: Lewistown man found in Little Belts

Monday, Oct. 30 was just another day for 83-year-old Tacoma, Washington native Donald Maesner, but it would lead to six days of desolation and near starvation on an isolated road in the Little Belts.

An avid hunter who just moved from Moore to Lewistown about two months ago, Maesner thought he’d go explore the Little Belts and see if he’d have any luck spotting big game. It was the only thing he could think to do that sunny fall morning. And why not? He’d wanted to be a little more active and get out, which isn’t always easy. Life has been slower and harder since his wife, Virginia, passed away two years ago. They’d been married 55 years.

“I grabbed my rifle and took off,” Maesner said. “I grabbed a diet drink, a hot chocolate and a breakfast sandwich from McDonald’s, and then I headed out past Utica, past the Circle Bar and took a right. I went to the ranger station and then took a right across the river up toward the ridge. My boy and I had done this trip before.”

But this time, Maesner said, he had a little trouble.

“I got turned around in my Ford Pickup,” he said. “I went down a road where I didn’t see any tracks. I went about 18 miles and thought I’d come out the other side. It dead-ended.”

Maesner couldn’t help but feel a little concerned.

“The road was terrible,” he said. “There were a lot of rocks and stumps. Coming back out, one driver-side tire came off the rim. I kept going another 5-6 miles. Then another tire started coming off of the back passenger side. I got another 4-5 miles, and that’s when the other front tire came off.”

That’s when he stopped.

“I just sat there,” he said. “I was there all day Monday and I didn’t get too excited. It wasn’t bad, really, except I didn’t have anything to eat. I had a space blanket, which really was one of the best things I had. It helped keep me warm, along with the heater, which I would use about once an hour. I had half a tank of gas so I could let the truck and the heat run when necessary. I was using my head.”

Maesner didn’t panic. Trying to see if someone was out there, Maesner took his rifle out and shot a box of shells – three shells at a time.

“I did that about four days in a row,” he said. “I also honked my horn incessantly. Three or four times each hour.”

Determined to live, Maesner stayed warm with his space blanket and stayed hydrated by drinking melted snow from atop the truck. He feels fortunate it snowed as much as it did. He didn’t have to get out of his truck and search for snow. He couldn’t anyhow. By the fourth day, he was physically unable to get to his truck.

“I never got too far,” he said. “One day I went about a half a mile, but I had learned not to leave my vehicle, so I stayed nearby until I couldn’t get out of the truck anymore. It was awful. I was peeing my pants. My kidneys shut down.”

By Thursday, Maesner started to give up on someone finding him during the week, but he had hope a hunter would come across his truck when the weekend rolled around. He just had to make it that long.

“I knew someone was going to come find me,” he said. “I knew it. How could I be there a week without anyone finding me? But just in case I couldn’t hold out, I started writing letters to my kids. I call them my death letters.”

The “just in case” goodbye letters also helped pass the time, which was another challenge Maesner faced.

“I had a lot of time to think,” he said.

He also had a lot of time to play on his phone. He didn’t have service, but he did have solitaire.

“I played 159 games,” he said.

On that 159th game, however, he was interrupted.

“I had my head bent over, playing my game, when I heard someone knocking on the window,” he said. “I thought ‘what the heck?’” I looked up and there was a man. He helped me out of the truck, put me on the four-wheeler and drove me out of there. He had a cabin out there and got me a candy bar. That was the first thing I ate. From there we took off in his truck and he got me to the hospital.”


The man was Ken Shaver, a Lewistown native whose family owns a cabin out at the Little Belts. Earlier in the week he’d purchased the four-wheeler – a Polaris Ranger – and he wanted to take it for a ride in familiar territory.

That’s when he saw Maesner’s red truck right in the middle of the road.

Right away, Shaver could tell the truck was stuck. He examined the tires and saw the empty, worn rims.

“Something in my mind told me to check inside,” he said, “so I shut off my Ranger and walked up to the window.”

When he looked in the truck, he saw Maesner with his head down, and he immediately assumed the worst.

“I thought, ‘oh my God, I just found a dead guy,’” Shaver said. “I didn’t know what to do. My mind was racing.”

Hoping he was wrong, Shaver tapped on the window, and he immediately got Maesner’s attention.

“He had tears in his eyes,” Shaver said, “and he kept asking me if I was real.”


Ken Shaver, left, and Don Maesner celebrate Don’s return home

Strange hallucinations

Maesner may not have heard anything while he waited for help in the Little Belts, but by the third day starvation started messing with him.

“On the third night I started seeing Weimareners and Golden Retrievers,” he said. “I saw about 50-75 dogs. One little black-and-white dog hung out beside the car door every night.”

By the fourth night Maesner’s hallucinations even created a little music festival, albeit without volume.

“There were two Texas bands – one on the left and one on the right,” Maesner said. “There were about 10 people in each band jumping up and down hurrahing and all that. Most of them were older men with big white beards. I also started seeing mobile homes with men, women and children all around. The people were walking around, shuffling their feet and staring at me.”

On the fifth night, Santa came to visit.

“There was an 8-foot Santa and a 7-foot Santa,” Maesner said. “That made me excited. I rolled down the window and told them to get the hell out of here unless you’re going to bring me some food.”

Maesner said all of the visions he was having were people waiting for him to die, but he wouldn’t have it. He wasn’t ready.

“I’d had enough of it,” he said. “I didn’t want to be one of the living dead walking around.”


Don Maesner reads some of his “death letters” in acute care, two days after being found

All in the timing

Looking back, Maesner he wouldn’t have made it if Shaver didn’t find him precisely when he did.

“I was afraid I’d be gone by the end of the hour if he didn’t find me,” he said. “Ken saved my life.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Shaver said in response. ”It was the grace of God.”

When he found him, Shaver said he could tell Maesner didn’t have much time left. It was clear in his appearance, his condition and the words he’d written, as his last letter was left on the dash.

“It was the last letter he wanted people to find,” Shaver said. “He wrote which crematory he wanted his body to be sent and he said something about 83 years old being a long time.”

Shaver agrees 83 years is a long time, and it’s OK for him to accept that he can’t get around like he once could.

Helping Maesner out of Central Montana Medical Center, where he stayed in acute care from Saturday to Monday, Shaver gave him a gentle tip to prevent tragic events in the future.

“Don’t leave the house,” he joked. “That’s where you went wrong.”

“If I do go somewhere,” I’ll let someone know,” Maesner said, “and I’ll bring food…and a space blanket.”

Maesner shook his head.

“What a thing,” he said.

(as published by the Lewistown News-Argus Nov. 8, 2017)

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Wibaux band rocks the Gem at album-release party

“Shut up, dude, I’m trying to listen to your song,” a friend said as we were taking a seat at the Gem Theatre in Wibaux.

An extension of the Beaver Creek Brewery, the Gem is host to fine dining and an impressive stage setup. On this particular night, the band belonged to brewery co-owner Jim Devine. At 6-foot-6, his friends have been known to call him “Mighty Big,” a nickname he also uses for his band, Mighty Big Jim and the Tall Boys.

Since we met in 2009, Jim and I have written a number of songs together, and his band put seven of them on their self-titled debut album. They were just getting started, playing the album in its entirety, starting with “Dyin’ Town,” when I walked in the door.

My friends at the table were getting into it, and so was I, losing myself in the dark groove of the song, thinking back to when we wrote on a cold January night in Lewistown three years earlier.

“That was one of the worst drives I’ve ever done,” Jim said. “The roads were shit, but, if I had bailed, we wouldn’t have those songs, Chuck.”

Another song that came out of that weekend was “Beaten Down By Love,” a cryptic, captivating heartbreak ballad that’s also on the MBJ album.

This one also caught my friend’s attention.

“What’s this one about?” he asked.

“It’s about my friend getting his heart broken in Memphis,” I said. “I hate Memphis.”

MBJ and the Tall Boys did the song justice. On the album, it’s Jim’s best vocal performance, and Casey’s solo is ridiculous in all the right ways.

Good to be home

Returning to the brewery for the first time in more than a year, one of the first things that struck me was how much the band had grown. Casey Malkuch, lead guitarist and vocalist, had never sounded better. Same goes for Jim, who also happens to be co-owner of the brewery and theater.

Drummer Jayson Eslick and bassist Jon Redlin were also outstanding, keeping the beat while also adding personal flair over flavorful fills. They were in the pocket.

Katelynne Eslick, Jayson’s wife, excelled with her background vocals, stealing the show when it was her time to shine on Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and the band’s newest original, “Take My Pain Away,” which she co-wrote with the guys in Nashville.

Katelynne, known best as “Princess Kate,” is surrounded by family in the band. In addition to her husband being in the group, her father, Jamie Sharples, plays keys and organ. When they played The Band’s “The Weight,” he practically brought the house down, building the song up and giving it a “Highway 61 Revisited” edge.

Versatile, talented and entertaining, Mighty Big Jim and the Tall Boys are exactly what you want for a house band. In a town of 600 just miles out from the North Dakota border, they’re especially rare, and, on Feb. 17, they were very much appreciated.

“It’s awesome to see so many people out,” Jim said. “We should release a CD every week.”

The 11-song album (tracked at the Gem and mastered in Los Angeles) is almost all original, with the exception of “Jolene.”


Mighty Big Jim and the Tall Boys

At the release party, as I said, they played every song on the CD. Playing this many originals in Eastern Montana doesn’t happen very often—unless you’re a national act selling tickets—but MBJ and the Tall Boys had the crowd with them from start to finish as they rocked out to “Memphis,” got down to the Wibaux funk on “Get it Right,” felt the easy groove of “Riverwalk (the album version features Beach Boys session musician Randy Leago on sax),” tripped to a Jerry Garcia-guitar inspired “Wrong Side of Town” and shared a moment of reflection and hope with the heartbreaking yet optimistic “Without You Here.”

Being there for the show I was met with a sense of overwhelming pride. I was especially touched by the renditions of the songs Jim and I wrote together. Often I was struck with goosebumps, nodding my head and grinning.

I stopped talking and let the music take me away, or take me back to when the songs were merely ideas. Now they become something more, something greater, and I dug it.

So did my friend.

“Nice song, dude,” he said, bumping knuckles with me. We were in it together. It’s in these moments we realize why we write songs in the first place, and I’m excited to say there will be many more.

(as published in Last Best News)

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“100 Happy Days” a worthwhile challenge

A few months ago, I noticed a friend of mine in Louisville, Kentucky taking a different approach to Facebook. Instead of complaining about politics or venting about something else that bothered her, like so many of her friends were doing, she thought she’d focus on the positive, challenging herself to post something upbeat for 100 straight days (#100HappyDays). The first couple of times I saw it I thought, “what a great idea!”
Writer Kurt Vonnegut once said, “It’s a terrible waste to be happy and not notice it,” so I took my friend up on the challenge, beginning May 1. The first post was about coming home from work to my beautiful wife, Kari. At the time, we hadn’t been married a year (our anniversary fell on Happy Day 49. We celebrated by staying in a yurt in Flathead Valley, which very well could be the highlight of the 100 days). Kari was the reason for many of the happy days.
Once I got in the groove of posting happy thoughts every night, it became pretty easy – even natural. My general attitude and approach toward life started improving. I didn’t let myself get bogged down by the negative, and, if something unpleasant happened, I didn’t let it dictate my mood.


Kari and I celebrating our one-year anniversary in Flathead Valley

As I continued the challenge, it turned out I wasn’t alone. Kari joined me, too, striving more toward happiness and not letting things get to her. Facebook friends from all over supported me, some commenting or liking nearly every post, encouraging me with comments like, “Really enjoying these posts. Reminds me to breathe and appreciate the minutes of each day” or “I hope you will continue to enlighten us with your optimistic comments. You may have started this to remind yourself how wonderful life is, but you’ve reminded the rest of us as well. Your posts are a refreshing change from all the weird stuff that seems to find its way to Facebook.”
I was never obsessing over how many likes or comments I got, but I always appreciated the feedback, and I was enthused to see people getting into it. I had people stop me at the grocery store and thank me. People stopped me at the gym and elsewhere around town, too, saying they appreciated seeing something positive on social media and enjoyed the perspective.
There was the occasional complaint.
“Your happy days are making me sick,” a friend in Brooklyn joked, adding that he was glad to hear things were going well out west.


Playing with my band at the “I love the ’90s” skate park benefit show

One of my favorite parts of this challenge was how it coincided with the progress of Big Spring Skatepark. On Happy Day 13 my band played the “I love the 90s” concert to raise funds for the park, which had its grand opening on Happy Day 101 (I had to do an extra day for this reason). Jeff Ament, Pearl Jam’s bass player and founder of Montana Pool Service, matched funds raised for the skate park. He came to town for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Kari and I got to meet him, which was an exciting way to end this journey to joy, especially considering how much we love Pearl Jam.
If not for Ament, my last post would have been the video of Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” which I used for Happy Day 100. Although sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek, that song – like Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” or Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds (don’t worry about a thing)” are mood enhancers and, ultimately, that’s what I was hoping to do with this challenge. During these 100 days, music was often what lifted me up. I had a lot of shows, be it at Jack’s Hangar, on the Charlie Russell Chew Choo, at church or on the street. Performing – or writing songs – made for some of the best moments. Phone calls and visits with good friends were also uplifting, as was getting out in nature with Kari, especially hikes, long walks or visits to hot springs (or even Warm Springs). Reading, too, and writing pieces from the heart, got me smiling.


Kari and I with Pearl Jam’s Jeff Ament at Big Spring Skatepark grand opening

Days spent with family were some of the best, whether playing a show with my dad or taking my mom out for dinner. My dad and I saw the “Godfather” on the big screen. My mom got a ride with a friend to Lewistown and got to see me play in the gazebo during the Central Montana Fair. Kari and her mother came with me to see my mom at one point, and we all made dinner and shared so many laughs. These were all remarkable days, as were days spent hanging out with my stepson, brother-in-law or taking the “weimarmonster,” Buster, for a walk.
While taking this challenge, I also appreciated my job more. I appreciated life more. I appreciated every day more. Happiness became a habit, as did living a good life. I started living with a focus on resilience and optimism. I made it a goal each day to become aware of the present moment and appreciate what I have, which helped lay a foundation for genuine progress toward sustained joy.
Why not live like this all the time? Sure, there will be challenges, there will be curveballs, but there is so much out there we take for granted. Look around. Take a breath. Joy runs deep. If you’re happy, don’t waste it, embrace it; not just on social media, but that’s a great place to start. I challenge you.

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)

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Learning to live with a cat…again

Despite growing up with a cat named Phil, I’ve always considered myself more of a dog person. Don’t get me wrong: Phil was great (rest in peace, buddy). However, I found myself bonding more with our Labradors.
Phil and I were cool, but the dogs were always up for attention and always excited to see me when I’d get home. Phil was hot and cold. Sometimes he liked to cuddle, sometimes he liked to hang out on the couch, too, but usually he did his own thing, and would get a little annoyed if we gave him too much love.
That’s one of the big differences between cats and dogs: dogs are tremendously loyal and caring while cats are too cool for school. They usually play it down if they are excited about something, just like a teenager receiving an award or scoring the winning basket. Emotion? That’s optional.

Last fall, I started living with a cat again for the first time in years, inheriting one when my wife moved in. Moonlight, a male cat, had to get used to a new home, a new male and kitty litter (he used to be more of an outdoor cat). I won’t lie: the beginning was rough for both of us. One day the basement door was shut and Moonlight peed in my duffle bag. That was ugly.
“He did it to send a message,” I told my wife.
“No, he didn’t,” she said. “He just wasn’t able to get to his kitty litter so he assumed the bag would do.”
Moonlight is a very vocal cat. Before getting his food in the morning, he spends a lot of time meowing. In fact, he’ll keep meowing until he gets his food. Sometimes he’ll continue meowing even after we give him his food.
My wife and I both have said “Shut up, Moonlight” on a number of occasions, usually after already giving him what we thought he wanted.
But, I must say, Moonlight is also a very loving cat. He knows how much we do for him, and he seems to appreciate it, snuggling up with us pretty much every chance he gets. In fact, we usually have to kick him out of the bed at night and send him downstairs (where he sleeps). Then, in the morning, he’ll often jump onto the bed with us after he’s had his food (on weekends, of course. During the week we don’t get the opportunity to get back into bed after feeding him, although it would be nice).
Although at first it was frustrating, I’ve warmed up to living with a cat again, and have bonded with Moonlight. Even my wife’s daughter (who is the rightful owner of the cat) noticed when she was back in town from California this summer.
“He likes you,” she said.
“You know,” I said, “…I like him, too.”

(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus)


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Why I Love the NBA

Editor’s note: Yesterday, Indiana Pacers star Paul George was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for former IU standout Victor Oladipo and Arvydas Sabonis’ son, Domantas. This is the end of an era for the Pacers…again, and, sadly, one that only brought us to the Eastern Conference Finals a couple times (against LeBron’s Heat, and we had no chance). It’s days like today when it’s fun to get nostalgic over the most exciting Pacers era, one that made me an NBA fan for life. Enjoy!

When I was in middle school in the suburbs of Indianapolis, Reggie Miller was the talk of the town. The Indiana Pacers were making noise, mainly thanks to what we all now know as “Miller Time.”
There was no greater clutch performance than Game 1 of the 1995 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, when Reggie shocked the New York Knicks – and the world – by scoring eight points in the final eight seconds, winning the game by 2.
Everyone in Madison Square Garden that evening was blown away. Silence. Shock.
“Did he just did that?” Knicks guard John Starks said afterward, completely dumbfounded.

“This is for Indiana,” Reggie said in the post-game interview. “Indy, this is for you!”
Reggie brought Naptown together that night, and my family was right there in the mix. We’d been watching that game from home earlier in the day, but it didn’t look like the Pacers were going to pull it off. They were behind all game and their body language made us worry they were going to throw in the towel and save themselves for Game 2.
So we went to Damon’s, a rib joint off 96th Street. We tuned in to the game every once in a while, but it wasn’t pretty, especially when we saw there was a 6-point deficit with eight seconds to go.
“Time for plan B,” my dad said.
That’s what we always called it when we knew the Pacers were going to lose (honestly, I don’t know how much faith we had in then-coach Larry Brown).
Paying attention now, we watched Reggie hit a three, but we didn’t think much of it: too little too late.
Then Reggie stole Anthony Mason’s poor inbound pass and had the presence of mind to step behind the three-point line and drill one from downtown.
“Boom Baby!” Slick Leonard yelled ecstatically on Pacers radio.
We loved how he’d call the games so much we usually muted Marv Albert.
“He’s a Knicks fan, anyway,” my dad said of Marv. “He has great pauses, but he wants the Pacers to lose.”
Slick – a local favorite and former Pacers coach – was blasting at Damon’s, and the room erupted. Reggie had tied the game, and we’d all counted our Pacers out. None of us could believe it.
Neither could Starks. And, unfortunately for him, he had to shoot two free throws.
Starks bricked them both, and guess who grabbed the rebound? Reggie.
“I hated Reggie Miller,” Knicks center Patrick Ewing said in an interview years later. “I really hated him.”
One of the best free-throw shooters in NBA history, Reggie made both easily. As usual, he was calm and cool under pressure, living for such a moment, embracing it and delivering.
The crowd at Damon’s went wild, as fellow Hoosiers hugged and gave high-fives. Many of them didn’t even know each other. Some, like my mother, even cried.
I’ve loved the NBA ever since.


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