Is the Reggie-Michael Rivalry Really Done?

Reggie Miller and Michael Jordan, who scored 25 points apiece, embrace after the final regular-season meeting of their storied rivalry.
(Chris Bucher/NBAE/Getty Images)
by Conrad Brunner

Feb. 25, 2003

Indianapolis, Feb. 25, 2003 - Called him a "kid," Michael Jordan did.

Talked of Reggie Miller, a 37-year-old veteran of 15 NBA seasons, a guy who actually ranks ahead of Jordan on the all-time lists of games and minutes played, as though he were part of this next generation of NBA stars.

It wasn't a sign of disrespect; quite the contrary.

"The kid has unbelievable heart," Jordan said, "and he showcases it every time he plays."

He did it again Tuesday night, when the oldest player on the team was once again the best. Miller scored 25 points, the last a 3-pointer with 2:50 remaining that put the Pacers ahead 74-73 and brought the Conseco Fieldhouse crowd, again, to its feet.

He would get just one more shot the rest of the way as Washington handed the Pacers their fifth consecutive loss, 83-78. Jordan matched Miller's 25, but received infinitely more help.

"They're having a bad time," said Jordan, "but I think they'll be OK."

Through the years, various shooting guards have been anointed as heirs to Air. Remember Harold Miner? Kendall Gill? Mitch Richmond? Penny Hardaway? Or, for that matter, Vince Carter? In all of that time, Miller has been a constant. Never the most gifted athlete, or spectacular playmaker, Miller has been something else entirely. For all that time, he has merely been great.

"Reggie clearly hasn't been given enough credit," said Isiah Thomas. "You look at the Washington team and you look at our team. Everything that Jordan was trying to do with Washington, Reggie has done with his young team. You've got Jordan try to set an example, teach the young kids how to play, get them to the next level, so forth and so on. Reggie wasn't trying to do that; Reggie has done that. For whatever reason, it wasn't going to be looked at that way.

"Clearly, he's not the type of athlete or player that Jordan was, but when you go down the line and look at Jordan's career and Reggie Miller's career, after Jordan at the two spot, it's been Reggie Miller. Every year, somebody sanctions some other player as the best and Reggie shot 'em out when they played head-to-head. I'm sure he's saying all he can do is go out on the floor and present his body of work."

There is no dishonor in being second to Jordan. But there is a shadow, and Miller has lived in it throughout his career.

Finally, in the latter stages, as the numbers pile up and the clutch shots keep falling, the basketball world is catching up, and Miller is beginning to be regarded with the respect he earned long ago. Even Jordan, who brawled with Miller in an epic 1993 throw-down, who once described playing against him as "chicken fighting with a woman" in a national magazine, has joined the chorus.

"He's not intimidated by anybody," Jordan said. "He feels he plays the game at as high a level as anyone else who plays the game. He came out of UCLA and no one gave him that star status. He's earned it, making big shots, playing with the type of intensity that can lift a ballclub from a loss to a win. You have to appreciate that. You've got to respect that."

Miller has but one real regret about his years opposing Jordan: that they met in the playoffs only once. It was an epic duel, the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals, an electrifying seven-game series the Bulls barely survived. When it was over, you may recall, Scottie Pippen said, "I can't say the best team won."

A player who lives for the playoffs, Miller would've embraced the opportunity to oppose Jordan on the biggest stage more often.

"It would've been nice to have more series - not to say we would've won more but obviously that's where you're measured," Miller said. "Him being the greatest of all-time, it would've been nice to have that Indiana-New York type rivalry with them."

It's quite possible these two teams aren't quite through with one another, though they've played their last regular-season game. Thanks to concurrent slumps by Detroit and New Jersey, the Pacers remain very much in the hunt for the top spot in the East. Washington is one game out of eighth place.

It would be a playoff matchup full of possibilities, beginning with the Jordan-Miller matchup. The Wizards have plenty of villains, including Charles Oakley and assistant coach Patrick Ewing, who would fit right into the postseason profile.

Somehow, it would be fitting for Jordan to resurface, when everyone figured it was over.