From the time he entered the league in 1987, Reggie Miller was always trying to prove he belonged on the list of the NBA’s top shooting guards.
Miller told a story to Jimmy Kimmel about his first meeting with Michael Jordan as a rookie. Miller had outscored him 10-4 in the first half, and as the teams headed to their locker rooms for intermission, the rookie made the mistake of trash-talking Jordan, saying there was a “new kid in town.”
Well, as the old Jim Croce song goes, you don’t tug on Superman’s cape. Jordan outscored Miller 40-2 in the second half, leading the Bulls to a victory. And after the final buzzer, Miller says Jordan told him, “Be sure you never talk to black Jesus like that.” Whether or not Miller’s account of that trash-talking episode is 100 percent accurate, it’s clear a new rivalry was born.
The animosity between Miller and Jordan blew up in February 1993 during a game in Indianapolis when Miller bumped into Jordan after tipping in a fastbreak basket. Jordan charged after the Pacers’ guard, scratching his face, then throwing a punch, as players from both teams rushed to separate the two stars.
Miller was ejected from the game, but Jordan was allowed to continue without even being given a foul (which drew a predictably harsh reaction from the packed house at Market Square Arena). The Bulls won the game, but the league later reviewed the tape and Jordan was fined and suspended for one game. The three officials working the game said Jordan was allowed to continue because none of them saw him throw a punch.
Those incidents served as a back-drop for the 1998 Eastern Conference finals. The Bulls had finished four games better than Indiana during the regular season, but the teams went 2-2 head-to-head, and the Pacers entered the series with a lot of confidence.
Being extended to a full seven games was almost unheard of during the Bulls’ six championship runs. In those years, only the Knicks in Round 2 of the 1992 playoffs were able to take a series to the limit against Phil Jackson’s team. That is, until the Pacers gave the Bulls perhaps their toughest challenge of the dynasty era.
NBC Sports Chicago is broadcasting the entirety of the 1998 Eastern Conference finals over the next nine days (Game 1 airs Wednesday at 4 p.m. CT), and as you watch the drama unfold, keep an extra close eye on the Jordan-Miller matchup. Jordan was 35 years old, Miller 32, and both players knew it could be the only time they would meet under the playoff spotlight.
Jordan and Miller each came up with some huge shots along the way, with the home team winning all seven games in the series. Buckle up for some hard-nose, physical basketball featuring two star guards who really didn’t like each other.
Through May 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing every 1998 Chicago Bulls NBA Playoff game (21 total). Find the full schedule here.