Miller High Life

[h2]Reggie and Cheryl Miller Just May Be the Best Sibling Athletes Ever[/h2]

Quick question – Who is the only player to ever be named a four-time Parade All-American? It wasn’t Kareem or Magic, Jordan or Bird, Carmelo or LeBron, Wilt or Jerry West, Tim Duncan or Derrick Rose. That honor belongs solely to Cheryl Miller.

In the seminal Air Jordan sneaker commercials of the mid ‘80s, the Spike Lee character Mars Blackmon often asked, “Do you know? Do you know? Do you really, really know?”

And I often find myself wanting to ask the star players being interviewed by network sideline reporter Cheryl Miller, during halftime and post-game segments of TNT basketball telecasts, if they have any idea who they’re talking to.

Because I’m wondering if they know, if they really, really know.

I’m wondering if they know that she was a skilled, determined and athletic marvel who could play in the post and on the perimeter at the highest level, that she was the Big O, LeBron James and Kevin Durant of the women’s game. I’m wondering if they know that she was the female Michael Jordan in that her peers could not ascend to her level. I’m wondering if they know that the main reason her brother Reggie became a Hall of Fame offensive assassin was because of his relationship to her.

And I’m wondering if they know that if she was to show up today, in her prime, dudes like Adam Morrison, matched up against her one on one, would get dropped faster than it takes Ron Artest to momentarily lose his mind.

Honestly, I’m often tickled by the sneaky suspicion that while listening to the endless cliché spewing during her quick interviews, in the back of her mind, she’s looking at many of today’s pro players and thinking, “Scrub, I would’ve busted your hind parts back in the day!”

Do you know? Do you know? Do you really, really know? If not, let’s go back in time a little bit.

The scam went down like this. A skinny kid named Reggie would be tossing up jumpers at the John Adams Elementary School and other playgrounds in Riverside, California. His older sister, Cheryl, would be at the other end of the court, tossing up bricks. Sometimes, she would wind up and repeatedly heave the ball over the backboard and into the chain link fence.

Reggie would approach a couple of kids and the conversation normally went like this –

“You guys want to play two-on-two? I’m waiting for my man to show up. Or I can just play you with my sister down there.”

The marks would turn their heads and watch brick after brick getting tossed up.

So after challenging some random players to a little two-on-two, Reggie would then proceed to toss the bait. “Ummm, you guys wanna play for $10?”

Looking at the bony kid and his sister while sensing some quick, easy cash, the other players would inevitably bite, and then proceed to get beaten down like the Charlotte Bobcats!

“We knew we’d be going out for hamburgers and ice cream within the hour,” Reggie told the Los Angeles Times’ Tracy Dodd in 1986. “We cleaned up for a while, but then the word got out.”


Cheryl and Reggie Miller in their college days

Cheryl and Reggie grew up in a household dominated by sports. Their father, Saul, was a 6-foot-5 former All-State forward from Memphis who played ball at Lemoyne-Owen College. Their older brother Darrell had been offered a football scholarship to USC and played Major League Baseball. Baby sister Tammy went on to play volleyball at Cal-State-Fullerton.

With all due respect to Lynette Woodard, Lisa Leslie, Carol Blazejowski, Ann Myers, Lusia Harris, Dawn Staley and the current bumper crop of young ladies like Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore and Candace Parker, Cheryl was the best ever. Bottom Line!

As a one-woman force of nature, she was the equivalent to Magic AND Larry Bird. In the same way that adding those two players to the NBA construct elevated the men’s game to unimaginable levels in the 1980’s, Cheryl’s presence, talent and accomplishments not only put the lady’s game in the spotlight, it fostered acceptance and awe from the American sporting community.

Unfortunately, she came before the technological revolution where prep phenoms become internet and social media sensations. In 1981, she was the first female player (college, overseas pro, international competition, Olympics, whatever) to ever throw down a dunk in a game: AS A HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR! Imagine the ensuing hoopla had she done that today.

“When I dunk, it’s like I’m on Cloud 15,” she told Sports Illustrated’s Roger Jackson in late November of 1982.

She did it twice against Norte Vista High, once when she dropped 77 points and again the next year, when she scored 105. These are single game, individual scoring totals, people!

Little brother Reggie once came home sporting a Kool-Aid smile after scoring 40 in a high school game. He was arrogantly bragging until his father said, “Go ask your sister what she did today.”

When Cheryl told him she’d blazed for 105, he could do nothing but shake his head.

Here’s what you need to understand – there was nothing that Cheryl Miller could not do. She was 6′2″ and played with flair, hang time and a boogie that the women’s game had never seen before. She was a great defender, shot blocker, scorer, creator and finisher.

The backyard games on the court that their father built were not for the weak, as their older brothers showed no mercy. But Reggie had a tough mountain to climb, just to be able to step foot on the court.

He was born with hip deformities that caused severely splayed feet and had to wear braces on each leg. His parents were told that he might be able to walk normally one day, but wouldn’t be able to run. Participating in athletics was, supposedly, out of the question.

Reggie would sit by the kitchen window and watch Cheryl playing against their older brothers, yearning to step on the court. Once he proved the doctors wrong, pulling a Forrest Gump and shedding his leg braces while sprinting around at the age of five, he had to be dragged away from the game.

Cheryl’s commitment to dominating the sport was inspired by her younger brother’s work ethic.

“Reggie had the work ethic from the word go,” Cheryl told my man Scoop Jackson a few summers ago. “He would be out there in the back practicing and practicing, knocking down threes, and I’m upstairs watching cartoons. My Dad used to stay on my case: ‘Look at your brother! Look at him!’”

It was those backyard games that provided the foundation of Reggie and Cheryl’s future domination.

“I knew at an early age that if I could take the knocks and beat-downs from my oldest brother Saul Jr. and my other brother Darrell, who played football and baseball…both of them were big guys, and I knew if I could get smashed into the garage and get up without whimpering, playing against women would be a picnic,” Cheryl told Scoop.

Their one-on-one battles also formulated the unique shooting techniques that Reggie carried around in his arsenal. He was forced to put a high arc on his shot to keep big sis from blocking it.

After her first college game, Sports Illustrated ran a feature story about her titled, SHE MAY WELL BE THE BEST EVER. At USC, Cheryl and the Lady Trojans won back-to-back National Championships during her freshman and sophomore years in 1982 and 1983. She was the tournament’s MVP both times. She was a four-time All-American, won the prestigious Naismith award as the country’s best player three times, and copped gold medals at the 1983 Pan-Am Games, 1984 Olympics and 1986 Goodwill Games.

Without the WNBA, which wouldn’t become a reality until more than a decade later, the world was robbed of her genius once she graduated from USC.

At UCLA, Reggie became the first sophomore to lead the Bruins in scoring since Bill Walton did it in 1972. While some unfairly portrayed him as a gunner, he was right behind his point guard – the phenomenal Philly product Pooh Richardson – in leading his team in assists. The rail-thin shooting guard with deceptive strength could also get physical and grab rebounds.

But Reggie’s most feared weapon was his scoring acumen. Against the defending champion Louisville Cardinals in 1987, he scorched for 33 in the second half alone. And while some NBA scouts were misdiagnosing him as selfish, his coach and teammates knew the real deal.

“What makes me a selfish player?” Reggie asked Dodd of the L.A. Times. “Because I shoot the ball? I’m supposed to shoot the ball. That’s how you score points. Those points go on the scoreboard for the whole team. . . . I have more assists than a lot of players who have averaged 25 points a game.”

“I don’t think he takes enough shots,” his UCLA coach, the legendary player Walt Hazzard, said when Miller was still in college.

While many thought the Indiana Pacers erred in snatching the skinny scorer with the 11th pick in the 1987 NBA draft, he quickly proved the doubters wrong by breaking Larry Bird’s rookie record for three-pointers in a season. By his third year, he’d attained upper-echelon status by averaging 25 points per game.

His constant movement on the offensive end, as he weaved his man through a minefield of picks, was a nightmare for even elite defenders. And before I go any further, I must be forthright and admit that, as a lifelong New York Knicks fan, the sentences that follow were extremely painful to write.

If you had to choose a brief glance at his remarkable 18-year career to define his essence, you’d have to start at game five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks during the 1993-1994 season, when Reggie spontaneously combusted for 25 points in the fourth quarter and led the Pacers to a 93-86 come-from-behind victory.


Reggie going off in the Garden

The next year, in the conference semifinals, he put on a display that any Knick fan will have a hard time forgetting. With 18.7 seconds left in Game 1, the Pacers were down by six. In a span of 8.9 seconds, I repeat, EIGHT POINT NINE SECONDS, Reggie scored eight points, giving Indiana an improbable 107-105 win.

“He’s the kind of guy, when you play against him, you want to smack him,” Patrick Ewing later said. “We’ve had our battles, we’ve had our wars. But I have the utmost respect for him.”

Some have to travel far and wide to get that elevating, competitive experience. For Reggie and Cheryl, they simply had to roll out of bed and hit the backyard. From Riverside, California to the highest levels of the sport, it was always the Miller High Life whenever one of them stepped on the court.

(Photo Credit: Indy Star)


Alejandro Danois, Bounce Magazine’s Senior Editor and a Contributing Writer with Sporting News, is also a freelance sports and entertainment writer whose work has been published by the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Dime Magazine, among others.

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