The Truth About Spike Lee And Reggie Miller's Feud

Usually, when you hear of intense rivalries in professional sports, they're between two players, not a player and a fan. But the latter is the case with Reggie Miller and Spike Lee. Miller, who retired from the NBA in 2005, is considered one of the league's best all-time shooters. He also made the list of the NBA's top 75 players of all time. As for Lee, he's known for making a string of classic films, including "Do the Right Thing" and "Malcolm X." He's an Oscar winner as well, nabbing a golden statue in 2019 for 'BlacKkKlansman."

Another thing about Lee: he's an ardent New York Knicks fan and has been since growing up in Brooklyn. By the time the mid-'90s rolled around, he got into it with Miller on several occasions, and their feud is considered one of the best sports beefs ever. There are some things about their quarrel that have fallen under the radar, however. Have no fear, because we are in the business of making the unknown known. So let's dive into it and unearth the truth of Spike Lee and Reggie Miller's famous feud.

Reggie Miller said that Spike Lee started it all

Getting booed, jeered, and yelled at by opposing fans could be considered an occupational hazard in professional sports. Just ask Reggie Miller, who dealt with Spike Lee's perpetual taunts. Miller said those jabs started their infamous back-and-forth. 

"Look, I will say this about Spike: God Bless him. I love him," said Miller on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2015. "...But he talks too much. He talks too damn much, and when you're trying to play a game, you hear the fans and you hear hecklers and guys booing you and stuff like that, but Spike takes it a little I decided to bring him onto the court and make him part of the game."

During an interview on the "Dan Patrick Show," Miller revealed some of the things that Lee would say to him, which had to do with Basketball Hall of Famer and basketball legend Cheryl Miller, Reggie's older sister. Possibly, Lee was aware that Cheryl used to always beat her brother at one-on-one when they were kids and he chose to weaponize that truth. "It started with him and the Cheryl chants and 'Cheryl was better,'" Reggie told Patrick about his beef with Lee. "That's kind of what started it, and he got everyone around him involved ... I'm like, is he really saying this?" Yes, Reggie, he really was.

Reggie Miller and the infamous choking gesture

It was the choking gesture that would go down in sports history, but before we get into it, let's start from the beginning: It was June, 1, 1994, and Spike Lee's beloved New York Knicks were facing Reggie Miller's Indiana Pacers in the playoffs. The most intense moment in that Game 5 matchup came in the fourth quarter when the two men were jawing at each other heavily. But Miller backed up his part of the trash-talking by scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter, including five three-pointers. In the end, the lanky shooting guard helped the Pacers beat the Knicks 93-86 in a comeback victory.

His performance has gone down in NBA playoff history as one of the best (says The Washington Post), but there's just as much talk surrounding the infamous choking gesture. During the fourth quarter, Miller put his hands around his throat and looked at Lee, as if to say the Knicks choked in the game since they had a 12-point lead going into the fourth. Then after the game, two things happened: One, Miller officially became a superstar, and two, Lee would be forever considered his archnemesis. At least as far as the press saw it.

Spike was blamed for Reggie's amazing performance

In the eyes of New York Knicks fans and the local New York media, Spike Lee failed to "Do the Right Thing" when he taunted Reggie Miller in that 1994 playoff game where Miller had 25 fourth-quarter points. Onlookers speculated that Lee taunting Miller only inspired him to raise the level of his game. But Lee refused to embrace that narrative and instead accused Miller of making a lewd gesture during their exchange. There isn't any footage to back up Lee's claim, but in one part of the game, Miller can be seen shooting him the evil eye while mouthing something that didn't look like kind words.

″That's garbage,″ said the filmmaker (per the Associated Press) about him being the cause of Miller's outstanding play. ″I did not provoke him. He wants to beat the Knicks, not Spike Lee. That last thing [he did] was in bad taste ... My wife was sitting with me, and she was highly offended." 

Lee even made the cover of the New York Daily News after the Game 5 loss with a headline reading "Thanks A lot Spike." Years later, PBS shared a photo of the New York director holding a framed image of the page, which shows a younger version of himself sitting in Madison Square Garden's front row, leaning forward and yelling. 

Spike Lee knew his exchanges with Reggie were intense

In 2017 on "The Knick of Time Show," Spike Lee said that when he usually trash-talks players it isn't meant to be "mean-spirited," but his back-and-forth with Reggie Miller was something different. "The thing with Reggie Miller was really the only thing that escalated to that level," Lee explained. "For the most, it's just been love. I respect the players, they respect me, we have fun. ... The thing with Reggie Miller was an exception. ... That went to another level."

Years earlier, in a 1995 interview that was published when the Knicks and Pacers met again in the playoffs, Lee talked about another confrontation he had with Miller. "On the court, he was yelling at me again, saying...all kinds of stuff," Lee told Newsday (via The Baltimore Sun). "He looked like he was trying to charge me. He had to be restrained. My wife said he was a maniac. He lost his mind. We've seen this before."

Lee then followed those claims up with a theory — that Miller benefitted from playing so well on a big stage. Plus, one could also say that Miller became more popular after getting into it with Lee in a nationally televised series. "He plays in a very small market, Indiana," Lee told the press. "For a long time, he hasn't gotten that much pub. The series with the Knicks enabled him to show what he could do in front of a national audience."

Reggie and Spike staged a bet

It turns out that Reggie Miller and Spike Lee's trash-talking wasn't just on the court; they also did it in between games. Miller spoke about it when he visited "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2015, saying that he and Lee made a bet on who'd win the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers. 

If the Knicks were victorious, Miller would have to visit Mike Tyson, who was in an Indiana prison for a rape conviction at the time. If the Pacers won, Lee would have to put Miller's now ex-wife Marita Stavrou in one of his films. The Knicks beat the Pacers in the series 4 games to 3, so Miller had to pay up. But let's just say that his visit to the prison didn't go smoothly. 

"Do you know this dude would not come out and see me," said Miller. "I stayed in the waiting room for three hours thinking that Mike was going to come out and we were going to be [on either side of the] glass and we were going to pick up the phone ... The brother never came out." Maybe Tyson, who's a native New Yorker, is a Knicks fan and he was still upset over Miller torching the team.

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Reggie Miller taunted Spike Lee over a jersey

So, yeah, a lot of heated talk went down between Spike Lee and Reggie Miller in the years of 1994 and 1995, but they had one exchange that was far less hostile. It happened on March 20, 1995, before a game between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. At the time, cameras caught Miller walking up to Lee and handing him a signed Pacers jersey with his number 31 on it.

But where was all the ribbing and trash-talking over the jersey? Because it wasn't seen. Well, It came over 25 years later when Miller posted a photo of Lee holding it. "He was ALWAYS a closeted @pacers fan," wrote Miller on Instagram Stories, which was later captured by Sports Illustrated.

There's no doubt that the "Jungle Fever" filmmaker would deny Miller's claim, but he isn't above spending time in Indiana and talking to Pacers fans about their rivalry. He mingled with them in 2017 while shooting promotional footage for the hat company Lids Sports Group, based in Indiana. Per IndyStar, Lee signed a photo of Miller shooting one of his famous jumpers with a shot of himself in the background. And during that same visit, the passionate Knicks fan told the publication that despite his back-and-forth with Miller, he never had any issues with the state of Indiana or its residents. He even called Miller a friend.

Spike Lee's beef with Reggie Miller was about rooting for the Knicks

Based on Reggie Miller's explanation, he began trash-talking Spike Lee in self-defense. But what was Lee's reasoning for going at the NBA sharp-shooter? It was all about wanting his beloved Knickerbockers to do well and nothing more, according to what he told a New York Times reporter in 1995. "I'm here to enjoy the game, to see the Knicks win," said Lee. "I'm not here to profile."

Some might say that his assertion about not wanting extra attention is believable, considering he's been internationally known since 1986's "She's Gotta Have It" and didn't need to seek more fame. Lee suggested that he enjoyed the tension between himself and the UCLA alum. Sure, he was talking about his love for the intense playoff drama between the Knicks and Pacers, but it seemed that he was speaking about Miller as well. "It's the drama, the tension," Lee explained. "I mean, you come to the game, you don't have lines. You can't write this material. There's always the chance you'll see something great."

Spike gave Reggie the videobomb treatment

Time heals all basketball wounds. Isn't that the saying? No, not really, but it applies here. 

In 2018, when Reggie Miller was on the red carpet of "Uncle Drew" (a film that he was in with other NBA stars), a reporter asked him if he'd ever work with Spike Lee. If nothing else, Miller's answer confirmed that at least some of their bad blood has evaporated. "I would be open to it," he answered in a video posted by the Associated Press. "Spike and I, we've repaired our relationship. We're more cordial towards one another now. So yes, I would be open to taking that call from Mr. Spike Lee."

Proof that the men's tensions have simmered can be seen in online photos of them sitting courtside together. Lee also playfully videobombed Miller when the hoop player-turned commentator was on-air for NBA TV in 2013. "Since its the anniversary of the 8pts, maybe I walk by Spike tonight and give him the choke sign for old times sake," tweeted Miller in the hours leading up to the videobomb. He was referring to his historic game on May 7, 1995, when he scored eight points in nine seconds against the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. As of this writing, there are no reports of Miller giving Lee the choke sign again, so it appears the "School Daze" director got the better of him on that night.

Reggie Miller continued to taunt Spike Lee

Even though Reggie Miller said that he and Spike Lee were on better terms after their war of words, he continued to taunt him. In 2020, Lee accused Chief Executive Officer of Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., James L. Dolan, of mistreating him after the filmmaker was told that he couldn't use the Garden's employee entrance like he usually did. "OOOOHHHHH [how] the MIGHTY have fallen," tweeted Miller about Lee. "This wouldn't happen at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, maybe finally time to switch your allegiance Spike," he added while referencing the Pacers' arena, now called Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Then, the following year, there was more ribbing after the "Mo' Better Blues" creator left a playoff game early when the Knicks were losing to the Atlanta Hawks. "That's a fair-weather fan right there," said Miller as he was commentating on-air. "If he wants to be the number one supporter of the Knicks, you've got to stay here and take it like the guys on the floor." Who knows? But there's a good chance these two will be sending shots at each other forever.

Reggie Miller's choking sign became pop culture

As we stated, the image of Reggie Miller's choking gesture against Spike Lee in that 1994 playoff game would eventually become famous. It's like that much-seen photo of Muhammad Ali standing over a knocked down Sonny Liston or that incredibly popular picture of Michael Jordan flying in the air during the 1988 NBA Slam Dunk contest. So, eventually, Miller's choking image would find its way into pop culture and be seen on t-shirts, mugs, posters, hats, and other items.

The photo has even captured the interest of a younger generation. Well, at least Miller's son Ryker, who got it on a cake for his 8th birthday. Miller posted a photo in August 2021 while explaining that Ryker chose the cake by himself. "Mama Bear @lauralaskowski and I are are [sic] amazed at the little gentleman you're growing into," wrote the California native. "I'm also honored you chose MY FACE to adorn your cake cake cake, you had options, but glad I got the call up.. ❤️❤️❤️ you SOOOOO MUCH MiniMe." So thanks to Ryker, the Miller-Lee saga continues.