Midway through the fourth quarter of Game 7, Indiana was up by three points when a jump ball was called between Jordan and the seven-foot Smits.
As the players gathered around the circle, Bird noticed Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller jockeying for position. He didn't like how Pippen was a shade in front of Miller.
"Reggie could get beat on that," he thought to himself.
Indiana's alignment was set up perfectly for Smits to tip behind his head - except that, as Bird realized in a moment of horror, his center never tipped that way.
The coach turned to his assistants to make sure he had a timeout. In that moment of hesitation, the ball was tossed. Bird hollered for time, but it was too late. Pippen stepped in front of Miller to intercept the tip, and the Bulls turned the possession into a Steve Kerr three-pointer. Indiana went on to lose the game and the series.
For the next three months, Bird brooded over his rookie mistake. He knew from his own playing days that chances at the Finals were fleeting, and it gnawed at him that he had cost his veterans a chance to get there.