Trash-talking is common in pro sports. Basketball great Larry Bird was one of the most legendary smack-talkers of his time. When Reggie Miller was a rookie, he did his best to psych out the Hall of Famer and failed miserably. Luckily, this didn’t stop Miller from having a storied NBA career. He was even fortunate enough to play for Bird from 1997 to 2000.
Reggie Miller vs. Larry Bird
When Miller entered the league in 1987, Bird and the Boston Celtics were already legendary. They had won three NBA championships in the 1980s, and Bird was the MVP three years running (1984-1986). But Miller didn’t seem to care about any of that.
In a snippet from his book, I Love Being the Enemy, NBAmixes recounts his story of razzing the All-Star. A close game between the Celtics and Pacers was coming down to free throws. With only 20 seconds left, Bird was fouled and sent to the free-throw line.
To distract him from making the shot, Miller tried trash-talking, saying, “Hey, hey!” Bird, irritated by this, turned his head to look at Miller, “You got to be kidding me. Rook, you got to be kidding me.” He sunk the first free throw and continued on his rant. “Rook, I’m the best shooter in the league right now. In the league. Understand? And you’re up here trying to say something?”
After he easily sunk the next shot, Miller said he felt like an idiot trying to get under the skin of the great Bird, especially in front of Bird’s teammates who found the whole scene hilarious.
Miller’s illustrious NBA career
Despite making a fool of himself as a rookie, Miller went on to have a top-notch NBA career. He played for 18 years with the Indiana Pacers and is considered one of their best players ever. He was noted for his deadly three-point shooting, especially in clutch situations. Always a consistent free-throw shooter, he led the league in free-throw percentage five times throughout his career.
Always one to play the bad guy, Miller loved to get under the opposing team’s skin. He was a trash talker, cocky, and difficult to defend, but he could always back up his smack-talking with his play. His finesse and shooting ability would earn him induction into the Hall of Fame in 2012.
From opponent to coach, Bird is back with Miller
Bird and Miller reunited again in 1997, but in a different capacity. Not as opponents but instead, as coach and player. Two of the best trash talkers were back together and working toward a common goal.
That season was an incredible year for Miller and the Pacers. When Bird joined the organization as head coach, he had his doubters, but they were quickly silenced and won over by his vision and work ethic. According to NBA.com, the players responded to Bird’s calm and trusting approach. He made them work hard and believe in themselves.
Miller and Bird led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1998, where they took Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls to a nail-biting Game 7 where the Bulls pulled off the win, 88-83. That loss was tough to swallow, but the team regrouped and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals the following year and the NBA finals in 2000. Miller’s strong play and Bird’s coaching tactics were part of the reason the team went so far.
The success of the Pacers also brought the one-time rivals closer together. No longer were they competing against each other, but this trash-talking duo was looking to win the championship together.