In 1994, the rivalry between the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks was paramount, and in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals in Madison Square Garden, it took a leap into an even higher dimension. To set the stage, the Pacers trailed by 12 going into the fourth quarter as the Knicks looked to be in control of the game. What happened next seemed as if it was scripted for a movie. Pacers guard Reggie Miller started to heat up, hitting his first couple of jumpers in the quarter. At that point he began a personal battle with director Spike Lee, which was probably something Miller used just to get an edge. He ultimately responded to Lee’s taunts by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter, catapulting the Pacers to a 93-86 victory. The New York Daily News ran a headline saying, “Thanks A Lot Spike,” and Miller earned the nickname “Knick Killer,” making him a hated enemy of New York fans for many years to come.
Miller’s back and forth trash talk with Lee was an entertaining sideshow to the Pacers-Knicks main event. Perhaps Miller’s most famous jab was flashing the choke sign at Lee.
“Spike was yapping over on the sidelines,” says Miller. “He was saying, ‘You guys stink. You guys are still hicks,’” which generated the “Knicks vs. Hicks” taunt.
Commenting on Lee’s constant provocations of Miller, sportscaster Ahmad Rashad says:
“If you go to playgrounds across the country, there’s always one little guy who can’t play very well. But he stands over there and talks all crap. He’s the instigator. And so, when great players come in, not only do they want to beat you, but they want to shut him up, too.”
Miller certainly shut Lee up during the 1995 NBA Playoffs when he scored eight points in the final 8.9 seconds to steal Game One by two points.
Responding to fans’ questions whether the rivalry was just theater, Miller says, “Absolutely 100 percent, it was not an act. I could not stand Spike and the Knicks, and certainly they could not stand me.”