Spike Lee-Reggie Miller beef, explained: Inside the rivalry between Knicks superfan and Pacers legend

The Knicks and Pacers haven’t exactly epitomized playoff success over the last decade. Indiana went nine seasons without winning a playoff series until they broke that streak against the Bucks, while the Knicks snapped the same drought last season with a series win over the Cavaliers.

As longtime NBA fans might know, however, these two teams have quite a history against each other under the bright lights. The Knicks and Pacers faced off five different times in the playoffs during the 1990s and again in 2000, inevitably creating some bad blood between the two sides. 

At the heart of the venom between the Knicks and Pacers was an ongoing beef that pitted then-Indiana star Reggie Miller against Knicks superfan Spike Lee. While the rosters have changed dozens of times since the 1990s, this year’s series between the Knicks and Pacers brings Miller and Lee back into the same building.

Here’s a look back at the beef between Lee and Miller and how it started.

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Spike Lee-Reggie Miller beef, explained

Lee, a fixture at Knicks’ games for three decades, regularly trash-talked opposing players during the franchise’s run of success in the 1990s. Miller was no exception, and the friction between the two grew because Miller was actually willing to give it right back to Lee.

Miller was a member of the Pacers for all six of Indiana’s playoff meetings with the Knicks from 1993-2000, so Lee became a recurring character in his career. Miller said in 2015 that Lee’s taunts were “a little personal,” even referencing his sister, basketball star Cheryl Miller.

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“I made [Lee] part of the game,” Miller told the Dan Patrick Show.

Lee particularly made a point of taunting Miller when the Knicks and Pacers faced off in the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. He also unintentionally sparked something in Miller, who notoriously scored 25 fourth-quarter points in Game 5 of the series while going back and forth with Lee. The Pacers won the game, prompting Miller to do his now-iconic choking gesture, though the Knicks would win the final two games of the series and advance to the NBA Finals. 

Lee believes the tension is behind him and Miller.

“That stuff is two-plus decades old,” Lee told the New York Post. “There’s no rivalry between Reggie and I. It’s all love.”

While the beef might be a thing of the past, Miller isn’t exactly backing down from his role as a Madison Square Garden villain ahead of Game 2, when he will be on the broadcast alongside Brian Anderson and Stan Van Gundy.

“Actually, I’ll be a little hurt if I don’t hear, ‘Reggie sucks.’ I kind of want that,” Miller said in an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show. 

Miller added that while he will call the game fairly as always, Knicks fans should know, “the boogeyman is coming back to town.” 

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Reggie Miller choke gesture

Miller made his iconic choking gesture toward the end of Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals after the Knicks blew a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter. Miller scored 25 points in the fourth quarter alone, and the choking gesture was a taunt toward both Lee and Knicks fans as a whole.

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The Knicks not only blew Game 5, but they lost three straight after jumping out to a 2-0 series lead. New York finished the regular season 10 games better than Indiana, so Miller wasn’t necessarily wrong to characterize the Knicks as chokers. He just needed the Pacers to win one more game, and that win never came.

Miller had another signature playoff moment against the Knicks a year later when he scored eight points in 8.9 seconds to knock off the Knicks in Game 1 of the East Semifinals, also at Madison Square Garden. This time, the Pacers would win the series in seven games. 

Who is Spike Lee?

When he’s not cheering on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, Lee is a film director and producer. He owns 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, a production company he founded in 1979 along with Monty Ross.

Lee won his first Academy Award in 2019 when his film “BlacKkKlansman” won Best Adapted Screenplay. 

Lee’s sports fandom goes beyond the Knicks, though he’s most recognizable when clad in Knicks gear while sitting courtside in Manhattan. Lee is a fan of the Yankees and Rangers as well and has made regular appearances at Yankees postseason games.

The beef between Lee and Miller was featured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. The New York Knicks.”


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