While most are tuning into The Last Dance to see Michael Jordan's last act of triumph over the NBA, few remember it was nearly a story of failure.
"It was nothing against them, but we believed that we were the better basketball team. We believed we had every answer for the problems they presented. That’s not a slight or disrespect, we had ultimate respect for them—Michael’s greatness, Scottie’s greatness, Dennis Rodman’s greatness, their greatness as a team, Phil Jackson’s greatness as a coach—but we thought it was our time. Having our best player in Reggie Miller, a Hall of Famer and superstar, being able to pretty much fight to a standstill against the great Michael Jordan. That’s not saying he’s better than him, but we believed he could fight him to a standstill and we could handle the rest.
"... We respected Chicago, but we did not fear them. That’s because we had success against them. Even in their 72-win season, when the Bulls only lost 10 games, we beat them twice. We had tremendous confidence and belief that we could beat them."
The 1997-98 Pacers were one of only two teams (1991-92 Knicks) to take the championship Bulls to a full seven games. Coached by Larry Bird and featuring Hall of Famers Reggie Miller and Chris Mullin, among others, Indiana had the veteran smarts and depth to push a Bulls team that was fraying in its so-called last dance.
"A rivalry is, you're on equal footing. I was never on equal footing with M.J., OK," Miller told Dan Patrick, per the Indianapolis Star. "But I loved the battle. A lot of players would bow down to him, and I knew that was not going to be me. It was not in my nature to do that."
The core of that team eventually made the 2000 NBA Finals, where it ran into the first of three straight Lakers championship-winning teams.
Those Pacers lost their best shot at a title in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign, getting upset by the No. 8 seed Knicks in the conference finals.