He also feels plenty of motivation. Although recognized as one of the game's premier clutch players, Miller has long labored in the giant shadow of Jordan. The Pacers and Bulls' first playoff meeting was Miller's chance to show he could share tire stage with His Airness.
That's not to say, however, that Miller wanted to talk up a Michael-Reggie matchup. Last week he took pains to avoid comparing himself to Jordan, at one point calling Jordan "the Number 1 two guard in the game" while modestly ranking himself in "the top 10 somewhere." Likewise he shrugged off references to his well-chronicled ability to get under Jordan's skin (the NBA suspended Jordan for one game in 1993 for throwing a punch at Miller on the court) and to Jordan's politically incorrect statement that Miller's hands-on defense made playing him feel like "chicken fighting with a woman." Miller kept saying, "This isn't about me and Michael. This is about the Pacers and the Bulls."
Miller's diplomacy reflected not only common sense but also his new maturity. At 32, in his 11th NBA season, Miller has tried to change his image from that of a pugnacious player who loves to talk trash to that of a confident veteran who lets his play speak for itself. "I'm still going to be feisty on the court, but maybe I don't need to do all that other stuff," Miller says. Adds Marita, "He's learned how to control some of his emotions."
The turning point for Reggie may have come in the early hours of May 15, 1997, when he watched as his and Marita's $2.9 million, 14,000-square-foot dream house outside Indianapolis burned to the ground. Although the Millers had not yet moved in, they lost many prized possessions in the blaze, including Marita's wedding band (stored, ironically, for safekeeping), valued at $45,000; several expensive rugs; a blanket Reggie's mother, Carrie, had knit; and many items related to Reggie's career, such as autographed balls from the Pacers and the '96 U.S. Olympic team.
The fire, believed to have been the work of arsonists and still being investigated by police, left Miller so disturbed that he considered retiring. His best friends on the Pacers, Jackson and forward Dale Davis, did their best to talk him out of it, but only Bird, who had been hired seven days before the blaze, could persuade Miller to keep playing. Says Miller, "He said, 'You've got to move on. This is your team and your city—don't let one bad apple ruin it.' "
Miller wound up enjoying one of his best all-around seasons, averaging 19.5 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 47.7% from the floor, including a career-best 42.9% from three-point range. More important, Miller became more of a team leader. Although his scoring average was its lowest since 1988-89, he distributed the ball more, worked hard on defense and did other things to help the Pacers succeed. "I don't have to score 30 points for us to win," Miller says. "If I score 10 points and we win, I'm just as happy."
That's not to say that Miller—who once dubbed himself Hollywood—doesn't still relish being the Man at crunch time. On May 10, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Miller's Godzilla-like performance (he had 38 points, including a game-tying three-pointer in front of Lee with 5.1 seconds left) was vintage big-game Reggie. The Pacers went on to win, 118-107 in overtime, to take a 3-1 lead in a series they would close out in the next game. "I live for moments like that," Miller says.
Now he would like to add the Bulls to his list of victims, though he understands the enormity of the challenge. For Miller, dethroning Chicago to earn his first trip to the NBA Finals would be more than a great finish to a great season. It would be the ultimate Hollywood ending.