Essay: Belated Thoughts On Mike Miller
In almost every basic circumstance, only the most disturbed type of person can obsessively hate someone they’ve never met who has no record of harming anyone or anything, and no reputation of malicious intent in any facet of his/her life.
I say almost every basic circumstance because the world of sport is exempt, floating in a surreal universe alongside other forms of public entertainment. Fans “hating” players is natural. When it comes to this particular non-communicative correspondence, sometimes vitriol exists with no justifiable meaning; it’s perfectly normal to spend time at a bar speaking negatively about any random sports figure or celebrity with no explanation needed, and statements that would be seen as completely ridiculous in almost any other context are barely met with a flinch.
Over the past two years, no player has appeared more often in my fanatical cross hairs than the always-coiffed Mike Miller. As with anybody else who regularly watches the NBA, there are plenty of players out there who I’m not particularly fond of, but over these past two years so much about Miller has stood out—each reason sillier than the next.
From the absurd five-year, $29 million contract he signed in 2010—coming off a season in which Miller started in 50 meaningless games for the Wizards, and 47 for Minnesota the year before that, the signing was rash, especially after Kyle Korver, an equally gifted marksman who was also on the market signed a three-year, $15 million deal with Chicago—to the way he made this entire postseason run appear as one big, meaningless Willis Reed rendition, Miller spent the past two seasons rarely extending himself beyond his individual responsibility to help his team win in any way other than that of which was expected of him, and it made everything about him irk me more than it probably should have.
My dislike for Miller went deeper than his existence as the priciest leech stuck to the bottom of Miami’s all-powerful cruise line. His basic presence on the team just seemed so out of place; everything about him was so “uncool” and unemotional and blasé.
There are other role players similar to Miller on Miami’s roster, but the South Dakota native was different. Unlike Shane Battier (who in his first year with the team may have been the ultimate difference between losing in six games and winning in five) and James Jones (who despite being one of the best three-point shooters in the world never captured Erik Spoelstra’s trust, therefore rendering him a shoddy target) Miller was the guy most noticeably getting dragged through a dirt trail and smiling the whole time, trusting that the jersey’s he clung to were traveling up towards a peak and not down into a valley.
While his All-World teammates used the basketball on opposing defenses like a confident babysitter dangles car keys in front of a howling infant, Miller spent the last two years sitting at the three-point line, launching wide open three-pointer after wide open three-pointer. (In last year’s playoffs, Miller didn’t make a single three that was unassisted.)
If he missed a few, meh. Losses are never pinned on guys like Mike Miller. No matter how many shots go long, this class of player Miller now finds himself slotted in—veterans with low expectations, eroded roles, and rapidly diminishing skills—are forever shielded from facing the proverbial music. (Miller shot 29.7% from behind the arc in last year’s playoffs.)
On the other hand, if he swishes a few, he’s an embattled hero who overcame unspeakable odds helping his team to victory. These were the two open roads for Mike Miller to travel on: Glory Avenue and Nonobservance Boulevard.
And then something happened. Early in the Finals’ pivotal Game 3, just as things were rounding into focus, Miller participated in a two minute sequence that was unlike any I’d seen since he was tasked with being LeBron James’ Steve Kerr/John Paxson. In these moments he gave all he had, the bloated contract and mental image of him lifelessly slogging up and down the court were wiped clean from my mind. A newfound appreciation for Mike Miller struck me like lightning.
Not to say plays like these two haven’t happened since he joined the Heat, because they obviously have, but I assure you that none meant more.
In the biggest game of his life, Mike Miller traveled down the candy coated trail of celebrity. In 23 minutes, he connected on seven of eight attempted three-pointers, finishing with 23 points (three more than Dwyane Wade, and four more than Russell Westbrook, who played 20 more minutes). He was at the podium after the game, expressing gratitude (“I’m just glad they didn’t take me back to the barn and put me down”) and smiling wider in one night than he had in the previous two years combined.
When ESPN jumped the gun a couple weeks ago by reporting that Miller was planning to retire after the Finals, everyone except Miller himself—who reacted by sending an all-caps, one word, three exclamation points text message to a reporter—either yawned, fell asleep, or drowned in a pool of overwhelming disinterest.
Still, after the Finals had ended, as he sat alone at the podium as perhaps the most improbable player who’s appeared there since the press conference was invented, Miller spoke about the advancing finality of his career with poise, grace, and honesty. I thought back to the tip-in/block sequence and found myself struggling to decide where I stand on this newly crowned NBA champion: Did he “ride coattails”, or was his presence throughout the past two years more important than anyone could’ve guessed? Or, did he simply make a bunch of threes in the season’s final 48 minutes?
The answer to this question doesn’t matter. It could be one of the options, a combination of two, or a mixture of all three. But there’s one thing I’m almost certain of: Right now Mike Miller could not possibly care any less.