Dre and I sharing a smile at a recent Sixers media day
The player who intrigued me the most throughout the league this past season was Andre Miller. I was so impressed with his approach, work ethic and respect for the game. He willed the Sixers to wins they normally would have lost in the wake of the Iverson trade. I spoke with Andre sometime around Mother’s Day for a feature entitled Forgot About Dre, in the current issue of SLAM. Dude was very difficult to catch up with, but when we finally connected, he let me in a little and gave real rap.
I gained a lot of respect for former Utah coach Rick Majerus after doing this interview. He took a chance on Miller when most college coaches wouldn’t. Andre rewarded him with a great four years there.
I appreciated that Andre did this so close to the Sixers playoff exit at the hands of the Pistons. He and the squad give us Sixers fans something to look forward to for the first time in years.
I wanted to get the real regarding the reticent alchemy of one of the games most underrated players and who better than Andre’s Mom, Andrea Robinson-Haralson:
Michael Tillery: Why did Andre have to stay in Utah over the summer when he attended school there?
Andrea Robinson-Haralson: He had to stay there because I wanted him to go to summer school. He went to summer school 4 years.
MT: Why is he so quiet?
AR-H: He got it from my Mom and my Mom got it from her Dad. He didn’t get it from me, he got it from his great grandfather.
MT: Is Andre a practicing Mormon?
AR-H: No, he’s not.
MT: How did Coach Majerus persuade you to enroll Andre in Utah?
AR-H: When I got a chance to meet him, he really sold us on the academic program. They had a lot of availability for tutoring. I wanted him to have a change from Los Angeles and also I wanted him to go away for school, but not too far. Coach Majerus really, really sold himself on his academic program because that’s what he’s about. It was only an hour and a half flight.
MT: So, do you think he made the right decision as opposed to going somewhere like Syracuse?
AR-H. You know what? That was a very good decision. He and I talked about it. We were in agreement that Utah would be the very best place for him to attend. By no means do we regret him going to the University of Utah. I’m very, very happy with the outcome of his five years at Utah.
There was a lot of people concerned about your education–and him as a person–than just him as a basketball player.
MT: Anything you could share that was funny about Andre–nothing embarrassing?
AR-H: When he went to Utah it was different. When he first went there it was funny because he was a little homesick. As time went on, he made a great adjustment. He and Mike Doleac became very good friends and then you had Keith (Van Horn) and all the other teammates. It was funny to me how homesick he really was.
MT: I’ve covered the Sixers for most of the season and he is one of the most fascinating players because of his dedication to film study.
AR-H: Yeah, I read a story recently on the Web site about Andre being able to turn from his locker and check out the film before and after games. He’s always been like that. Whenever he would come home from college and they would replay the games, if he lost we would view the game over. Sometimes, I would fall asleep but if it was a game that he won, it would be interesting to see what all happened and everything.
MT: He’s the only player I’ve seen who consistently does that.
AR-H: I guess he got it from Coach Majerus. He’s a teacher of the game. He can out teach anybody out there. Coming from a coach like Majerus, you can’t help but pay attention.
MT: I also wanted to say Happy Mother’s Day to you and my condolences on the passing of your son and husband.
Editor’s note: Dre’s Mom is remarried
AR-H: Oh, thank you!
MT: How did he cope with your son’s death at such a young age?
AR-H: You know what? He did a lot better than I did. Mike, it was very hard and stuff. I had to balance things out. I had to balance my time. It wasn’t easy. When Duane got sick Andre was six years old. It was a situation where I had to prioritize and balance what I had to do for my sick son and what I had to do for Andre. It wasn’t easy at all but someway, somehow–by the grace of God–we got through it.
As far as how did he handle it? I was so out of it I couldn’t tell you. He did good–as well as can be expected. He was very quiet, meek and humble.
Andre is just a very humble person. Very humble. He gets a little verbal on the court, though.
I gotta give props to Andre’s Mom for getting him on the phone. She was very helpful in a time that had to be a little disappointing for Dre and the Sixers. The brothas are scatter zoom as soon as the season ends and I wouldn’t have gotten this done without her help.
MT: Andre, what drives you?
Andre Miller: I’m a competitive person. It’s just automatic, I guess. I feel the need to be involved. I don’t like to sit on the side and watch stuff happen. I want to be a part of something.
MT: What has the NBA experience been like for you personally?
AM: It’s been cool. I’ve been consistent. I’ve been involved on every team I’ve been on. It’s been a fun experience but it’s going by fast.
MT: Why is it important for a point guard to have a certain sense of versatility?
AM: A point guard has got to know how to do everything. He has to know how to pass. He gotta know how to make shots. He gotta know how to find the open man that’s hot. He gotta know how to play defense. He gotta know how to guard different types of players. If he’s put in an awkward situation, he’s gotta know everybody’s role. That’s a tough job because sometimes people don’t really know what’s going on when they’re out there on the court. You have a big responsibility being a point guard.
MT: Speaking with your Mom yesterday…she seems like a very special person. She really wanted to help me get this done with you. I totally understand the season is over and you didn’t really want to do this only because of that reason.
Is there a part of her in you that helped you get to the NBA?
AM: Once I got to the NBA she kinda backed off. My Mom has been active in sports and doing things in the community pretty much all my life. Whether it’s been me, my God brothers or family, she’s always a force to be involved. When I got to the NBA she had to sit in the stands. My Mom has always been the one to run up and down the court.
MT: When you were younger and your brother Duane died–which obviously had to be a hard time for everybody involved–how did you, at a young age, help your Mom through the pain even though you obviously were in pain yourself?
AM: Everybody in the family understood what was going on. My role in all of that was just being there. My Mom became a little bit more protective as far as the things that I did–running around the streets. That’s kind of deep, I guess. There was so much stuff going on around that time. I had to grow up early.
MT: What did you learn the most about Whites when you were at Utah?
AM: It was a culture shock going out there. I’d never went to school with a White kid until I got to college. It was also a fun experience. I made some friends that are White. We all had fun and I wouldn’t change that experience for nothing.
MT: Did it make you a more well rounded person?
AM: Yeah, it did. It opened my eyes. It was crazy going from the environment that I was in to a totally different environment. I understood why things happen.
MT: The first time I walked into the Sixers locker room you were into your film study. As far as I’m concerned, it’s something that’s unique. Guys glance over while they’re getting dressed or whatever, but you are studying pre- and post-game. Did you get the knack of film study from Rick Majerus?
AM: Man…we watched all kinds of film when I was in college. It was just something I wanted to become familiar with when the game starts and sometimes when they put it on afterwards. I want to see what mistakes were made. In the NBA, you really don’t watch that much film. You are always on the move. You watch a little bit, but far less than college.
MT: What did you learn the most from Rick Majerus? Specifically, how he related to a Black kid from Los Angeles.
AM: I learned how to be an all around basketball player. I always had the knack street-wise. Just how to become a natural point guard and make good decisions. It was special being involved with somebody like that. I had one of the best coaches on any level in Rick Majerus as far as teaching how to play basketball.
It’s easy to pick up a ball, dribble and put the ball in the basket, but you have to be able to think the game and know how to teach the game. I picked up all that.
MT: I saw you majored in criminology and sociology. What are you trying to be Sherlock Holmes or something?
AM: I don’t know man. I really don’t know what I want to do. I have to start preparing for it.
MT: You are a great inspiration for a lot of kids who can’t get it right academically. As far as I know, you are the only prop 48 kid who graduated in four years. Just to clear this up also, it wasn’t that you were a bad student, you just had problems taking tests.
AM: I just couldn’t pass the test and at that time I had to sit out that first year as a result.
MT: So Long Beach State and San Diego State were the only two who offered you scholarships?
AM: Well, they pretty much jumped on the bandwagon after I made my decision in Oregon to go to Utah.
MT: So, Utah was the only school to come after you?
AM: Yeah. Utah came after me early. The assistant coach actually went to my high school. He was the one that recruited me.
MT: The team came together this season. Was that a byproduct of winning, Mo Cheeks or both?
AM: I think it was a combination of both. You gotta give Maurice Cheeks credit. He was working with a lot of young guys. He was in a really tough position. He didn’t know what was going to happen in his coaching career. It’s tough to work with young guys that came out of college early or straight out of high school. They have to learn how to adjust. I just think what made it easier for me and a little bit easier for Mo Cheeks was that guys were willing to learn and get better. That’s not typical in the NBA. You gotta deal with a lot of egos. A lot of attitudes.
There wasn’t one guy who came to practice and decides that he don’t feel like practicing today. The group as a whole had good practice habits and pretty much took criticism well.
MT: It seemed like a little before the All Star break, and definitely after, that you seemed to really take off. Was it more about everybody not knowing what was going on? This player getting moved here and rumors of you going back to Denver, Cleveland and everywhere else. Like you said, Mo wasn’t even secure in his position. It seemed like the team as a whole was playing with a sense of urgency.
AM: I think the team knew before we went to the All Star break–when we went on a five or six game winning streak–because we had a couple of talks that if we had a good end of the month in February and if we could get to eighth or better in March that we would be in the playoffs. Cats just buckled down and concentrated on basketball. March was our best month so it was hard work on everybody’s part.
MT: Was this season a unique situation for you as a basketball player?
AM: Yeah, it was because what made it real was that nobody expected anything out of this team. The fans didn’t know and I don’t know if the coaching staff knew. They saw that we were developing an opportunity to get up and down the court and people started to notice that.
MT: I told you this earlier in the season that I’m a life-long Sixers fan. When the Iverson trade happened and you came on board, I think most fans hoped that the team tanked a little bit in hopes of securing that lottery number one pick.
Folks in the interim began to notice what kind of player you were. Does Cheeks ever say–or for that matter– does anyone ever say to you about the similarities between the two of you?
AM: Um…a few people see it like that, but the crazy thing is that I’ve been in this league nine going on ten years now. I was doing the same things I’m doing in Philadelphia that I did in Denver, LA and Cleveland. I never got any recognition for it.
Cheeks was pretty much the same player, but he played with Hall of Fame players. Dr. J, Moses Malone, Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney. When it was all said and done, he was considered a great player and eventually a Hall of Famer.
In my position, I’ve pretty much done the same things throughout my career, but I haven’t played on the greatest teams like that. I played three Playoff wins with Denver and I’ve helped make those kids better. I helped a lot of teams get better. I helped Carmelo Anthony get better as well as a lot of the other players. I was under the radar–which, as you know–I don’t like all of the attention. You want people to respect that.
I think that people mistake me for saying I’m on my period in public. I’m a little bit different. I have to mix up being a player as well as a coach. It felt like sometimes I was a coach instead of a player at times. Putting guys in the right spot. I give those guys a lot of credit for getting better, but I think I played a major role in the younger guys getting better.
MT: What type of relationship do you two have? Does he ever come over to your locker and tell you he appreciates you? Are there any conversations that you have in the locker room?
AM: No, not really. We just go out and do our jobs. It’s not like there is me and him going off talking in the corner for 30 minutes about what we are going to do as a team. It’s nothing like that. It’s like me and the other players on the team. He does look to me at certain times for direction but for the most part that’s why he has a veteran coaching staff in Bibby (Henry), Lynam (Jimmy) and the other guys.
MT: Do you have a certain incentive to help make Louis Williams a better player?
AM: Well, I think he made me better, also. I didn’t talk too much to him. He became observant and wanted to get better. He observed me more than me getting into his ear and saying some things. A lot of guys observe and that’s what I did coming into the league.
MT: Because of your personality (being so quiet), do guys have a hard time figuring you out in terms of you being a point guard and a leader?
AM: No, not really. When it comes to basketball, you have to be able to communicate. Anybody will tell you that when it comes to basketball I’m not the quietest guy. I’m out there barking. If I’m not communicating it makes my job harder.
MT: How hard was it to lose the way you did against Cleveland? You showed a lot of emotion afterwards. I don’t think the ball you kicked ever came down.
AM: I don’t like to give my opinions on how I think the league is, but at the time, before we went out on the court the last five or six games, I told the guys that we want to position ourselves to where we can make a run at the Playoffs.
I thought if we won three out of our last five games then the six seed is better than being a seven seed. I felt the game was taken away from us.
If that was in Cleveland then I could understand that but we were the home team and there was already a lot of emotion going on during the game. All of the sudden, they bring us out of the locker room and give a guy two free throws that decided the game. I don’t think that should be the way the game should be decided. I was pretty upset because we had that game in hand. Like I said, I can’t control how the refs call the game or how the league is, but I felt the game was taken away from us. There weren’t even any arguments over it. We had to move on to the next game and that’s it. In that moment, those were my thoughts. That’s not the first time I did that.
MT: Going into the Detroit series what were some of your feelings? What can the team learn for next season about being so close and then having it ripped from you?
AM: It’s tough. It’s kind of hard to explain. If you would have told me that we would have stolen a game in Detroit and then we had the opportunity with 24 minutes to go of going up 3-1? I actually thought we were going to get swept. That team is a veteran team. That team has been together for five years or better. I really didn’t expect us to win a game. It says a lot about what those guys did, the type of work they put in and the coaching staff that prepared them. After a while, experience played a factor and that’s why they were able to get their act together and win the series.
MT: Regarding Andre Iguodala, was it a matter of him struggling or was it all about the defense Detroit employed?
AM: He struggled a little bit. You are not going to have a great game every game. You have to give Detroit some credit because of their defense. They played him the right way. Tayshaun is a tough guy to score the ball on.
MT: A kid coming from any ‘hood in the world and going through some of the things that you went through early on, but might not have the support base or heart and soul to get to where you are now, what advice would you give him? I’m sure there are kids like that all over the place.
AM: Well, today’s kids are way different. You have to be more sensitive to kids needs now. Kids require a lot of attention. You can’t be too rough on yourself but you have to continue to work hard.
Basketball, like life, isn’t guaranteed. Don’t get down on yourself. You got to have a plan A, B, C and D. Everyone says it starts in the home, but some kids don’t have that home base. I grew up with a single Mom so if you are in the same situation, you have to put yourself in a position and surround yourself with positive people. That’s something I learned at an early age.
My closest friends actually had both parents in the household. It was nothing for me if I got bored or tired of hanging out with my cousins in the streets to go over a friend’s house and be around their family. They accepted me for that.
MT: What do you want to give back to the game of basketball?
AM: I’m an old fashioned type of basketball player. One thing I don’t like as I get older is that people take the game for granted. They don’t respect the game. Anybody can go out there and put a ball in a basket or dribble a ball between their legs, be fancy and show off.
There is a right way to play basketball.
People look at basketball the wrong way. Some parents look at basketball the wrong way. They feel like if their kids can score the ball that their kid is going to be the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
What I want to give back to the game is how to play the right way.
Everybody can’t be Kobe or LeBron. Be able to make simple plays and communicate. Be able to not be an individual. You have to play as a team.
If you play it the right way, everybody is gonna get the attention. There is always going to be somebody who gets more exposure because of their talent. Just as they notice that star they notice the little things that makes the team get better. People see that eventually.
MT: Should you have been an All Star this year?
AM: Yeah, I should have been an All Star.
MT: The reason why I ask is the above points are great–especially the point of you showing people how to play the right way. I don’t think a lot of people outside of Philadelphia actually know how good a player Andre Miller truly is. You getting that February shine would go a long way in your aforementioned ambition. How do you show everyone how to play and get the exposure you deserve but on the same hand maintain the reticence in your personality?
AM: You have role players, you have stars and you have the blue collar worker. The way this league is…it promotes stars. That’s how the league makes their money. I think a star in this league is a guy that can make all his teammates better, that’s willing to communicate and is willing to make plays in the clutch. A leader and a star is also a guy that when things aren’t going right is able to step up and say these are the things we can do right as a team. A star is also someone who can admit when they aren’t playing to their potential and accept criticism.
There’s been a few years where I thought I should have made the All Star team but as I said earlier, the way the league is promoted those stars are going to get that recognition. The fans vote, so of course the fans are going to vote for the stars.
MT: Who is Andre Miller? I’m asking because there might be that impressionable kid reading this and subsequently is inspired. What would be a couple of words to describe who you are?
AM: I’m a person with a lot of heart. I gotta lot of heart. I’m competitive and I don’t back down. I don’t back down from anybody. I don’t care how big or how small you are. I just go hard. I come from probably the roughest neighborhood you can imagine in any state. It was instilled early. It started with my Mom–how tough she was to deal with the odds she dealt with growing up and it carried over to me. It carried over. Don’t give me all the credit. Give my Mom the credit. Give my Godparents the credit. Give the friends and family that pushed me as a person and a player the credit.
MT: What should we expect out of the Sixers in 2009?
AM: I have no idea. I don’t know what’s going to happen. We had a good year. It could have easily went the other way. Hopefully, everybody gets better throughout the summer.
No telling what management is going to do but we have to be prepared for whatever happens.
MT: Your post-up game is amazing. Even when you have a double team coming and you are seemingly closed off, you somehow go to that up and under and get that jumper off the glass or find an open man. You also have a penchant for getting to the cup among the big fellas and still get offensive rebounds. How do you make up for size? Your post-up moves are reminiscent of big men.
AM: That’s what I’ve been doing for a long time. I grew up in the Magic era. I just observed people growing up when this was a match-up game–taking advantage of the defender and mismatches. I would watch Magic backing down smaller defenders and make plays for other people. It was something that was natural. I never really went in the gym and practiced post moves. Now I think I’ve practiced on post moves more since I’ve been in the NBA than I ever have. It’s something I’ve always been able to do.
MT: When you were at Utah you seemed to get a lot of offensive rebounds. Was that something Rick Majerus implemented into his system because of you or was that already his style?
AM: Once they saw that I could do those things he coached around it. If I went in to rebound, then the other guard was getting back on defense. He coached around the things that I could do best. That’s what a good coach is…the ones who can understand what players can do what, what players play well in a certain situation and what players play well together on the court. Majerus was a big part of that.
MT: Do players ever get settled or is it always in the back of your mind that you can get moved from here to there?
AM: Management is always finding ways to get better. As far as the NBA, you never know what’s going to happen unless you are a franchise player and you know that your job is secure in one city. There is really no security on any team unless you are that man.
MT: Is Menace II Society one of your favorite movies?
AM: It’s alright.
MT: What was it like watching that movie knowing that’s where you are from?
AM: It was real! That’s the thing…it felt real.
MT: I’m calling Jason Smith out here. He said after the season ending loss to Detroit that he wished you spoke to him more. Is that something players should work on themselves instead of criticizing you?
AM: I don’t really care about criticism. I try to look at the whole picture. We can always talk about getting better as a team, but the team is only going to go as far as the individuals make it go. If you do what it takes individually to help the team then everything is going to fall into place. I’m never the guy to point the finger and say this guy needs to do this or that to get better. That person should know what they need to do.
MT: Do you have a foundation or are you working with kids in some capacity?
AM: No, not really. I ain’t gonna say it’s overrated, but I do my little things back home as far as giving out shoes, shirts and bags. Little things you know, but it’s something I take advantage of. It’s not about just being a basketball player. At the same time, I have to have a life in the off season. I can’t be worried about making everybody else happy when I got my own things to worry about.
MT: Do you ever see yourself as being a coach?
AM: Yeah, sometimes and no, sometimes. It takes a lot of energy. I wanna figure out something else to do eventually besides being a coach. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
MT: Who wins the NBA Championship this year?
AM: I don’t even know. If Chauncey’s healthy I think Detroit will win it.