Reggie Miller was one of the most brutal trash talkers of his time. Just ask Spike Lee. The Indiana Pacers star knew he had the game to back up his self-belief and trash talk, but unknown to fans, one player got under his skin, and he couldn't do anything about it. Interestingly enough, the player he is talking about is not Michael Jordan.
"Drove me absolutely mad with his antics"
The sharpshooter he was referring to was Drazen Petrovic. The Croatian was regarded as one of the most skilled players in his era, but unfortunately, we won't know how much he would have achieved if he were still alive. Petrovic passed away in 1993 due to a car accident. Even though he only played in the NBA for four years, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2002, which is a testament to how good and impactful he really was as a player.
Drazen averaged 22.3 points on 51.8% shooting on the field in his final year. Petrovic also shot 44.9% from the rainbow country and 52.9% on his 2-point shots. It's safe to say the shooting guard gave the young Reggie Miller a dose of his own medicine. In an interview with Dan Patrick, the former Pacers star talked about how Petrovic got under his skin.
"To this day I tell people he was my hardest cover, and I hated him. Drove me absolutely mad with his antics, because he was so good at scoring the basketball right in my face and talking junk right in my ear."
Miller added that a player must hit back at the trash talker either by scoring or sending a message that he wouldn't be pushed around, but he couldn't do anything to Petrovic. And that's probably what made it more frustrating. So the player, who Miller looked up to and labeled as the greatest shooter he's ever played against, ate his defense for breakfast.
Learning from the best
Drazen schooled Miller, but he wasn't the only mentor he had in trash-talking. Also notorious for playing mind games, Larry Bird taught Reggie a thing or two about trash-talking as an opponent and later as a coach in Indiana.
Miller would channel his inner Drazen Petrovic against the New York Knicks, where he was labeled as public enemy number 1 on their home court. It was like passing the torch from Larry Bird to Drazen Petrovic to Reggie Miller. One thing about the art of trash-talking is that it evolves over time. The type of trash-talking popular in the 90s during Miller's time would probably merit a technical foul today.
Being strong mentally is a trait all players must have if they want to get to the next level. It's no secret that some of the most lethal trash talkers in the history of the NBA were also highly successful. The mind needs to be trained to withstand insults, criticisms, and provocations because, after all, basketball's kill-or-be-killed nature separates real men from boys.