Back in 1998, it was Michael Jordan vs. Pacers
(WISH) — ESPN’S docuseries “The Last Dance” has captivated the world as Michael Jordan shares untold stories of his final season in Chicago.
But News 8’s Olivia Ray dug into the archives to share the Pacers’ version of MJ’s finale.
“As a Pacers fan, you wonder what life would have been like if two guys weren’t born: Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Would we have four or five banners hanging up at Bankers Life (Fieldhouse)?” said Eddie White, senior director of public relations for Pacers Sports and Entertainment.
The year 1998 is one of those missing banners that White refers to. It’s also the year that the Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ dynasty ended in the NBA.
But, spoiler alert, that season does not have a happy ending for the Pacers. So, Ray dug into the archives and spoke with Pacers personnel to share their side of the story.
“I wasn’t aware that that was ‘The Last Dance,’ but you knew there were some things going on up there,” David Benner, Pacers director of media relations, said. “It was Michael Jordan. It was the Bulls. They were the two-time defending champions. We had them on the ropes. And we let it go.”
Benner remembers how closely contested the Eastern Conference Finals were in 1998.
He said, “I remember winning Game 6 and Mark Jackson telling me that I had to wear the exact same clothes to Game 7 that I wore in Game 6. So, I basically packed up the same suit.”
The Pacers took Michael Jordan and the Bulls the full seven games that postseason, but came up 5 points short in the final match-up.
Benner said, “I think that we kind of blew it, or else the last dance might not have all the clout that it does now.”
And the other major plot twist of MJ’s incredible career unfolded in what used to be Market Square Arena, in March of 1995. It was the day Michael Jordan resurrected his basketball career, coming out of retirement against the Pacers, in what will forever be known as one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
“I remember parking my car or walking to Market Square Arena, and there were two things that, that, that these people were just passing out on the street. On one side it said, ‘Jordan’s back,’ and on the other side it said ‘Reggie attack’,” White recalled.
The Bulls vs. Pacers rivalry was born because of the brutal Reggie Miller and Jordan battles.
“It’s one of those things where when you get on the court, those two guys had no friends other than their teammates and they would do whatever it took to win a game. And you know, Reggie was a pest,” said Benner.
White added, “He (Reggie Miller) didn’t care that Michael was Michael.”
Michael Jordan forever changed the game of basketball, but also forever tainted Indiana’s franchise, because the Pacers could never quite get the job done, and still never have.
“I think if you asked MJ, you know, he knew that one of the teams that he had to get past to get to the finals was the Indiana Pacers and the names may have changed, but Donnie Walsh year in, year out would put teams together that would be competitive and be kind of a thorn in the side of Michael,” White added. “So, I think the Pacers were always right. They’re competitive and I think that’s something that Pacers fans ought to be very proud about.”