This game was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had as a sports writer
By Michael Tillery
Studying 120 right now. Call me back at the God hour…
What do you take from the intro of Wu Tang Clan’s The Projects?
In Philly basketball terms, I see a reticent alchemist icing his knees and dissecting with diamond eyes game film frame by frame until he finds that one weakness that could be the difference between a win or a loss. While the other players are noddin’ their heads to the beat, his eyes are fixated on the screen. He checks the defense for that small stop on a dime space to splash the line drive 15-foot jumper just over the outstretched arm of the big rotating over for help. This is where film study passed down by Rick Majerus has paid off.
Andre Miller is all about the legacy of basketball continuum. After the Sixers Game 6 season ending loss to Detroit, I mentioned my dream of writing his story. Andre reluctantly spoke–focused but respectful eyes never leaving the TV screen adjacent to his locker–”Everything has been said about me.”
Most of the stories read:
Kid gets out of rough neighborhood, coach takes chance on Prop 48 student, Mom is biggest supporter.
The player known for his hardcore silence is not going to let you in unless you speak the game. He will then open up just enough to give a sound description of his love for the rock.
I took it as a challenge; these NBA cats are difficult to get at after the season’s last beat is played and Electric Relaxation begins. First step – Mom.
Andrea Robinson-Haralson eased my mind at least three times; Andre will speak. On the phone, I asked Andre’s mom to clear up a few things about her enigmatic son–namely his silence:
“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.”
“No, he’s not a practicing Mormon. I guess you heard that because he played at Utah, but not everybody there is Mormon.”
Is it crazy for a Black kid from South Central to enroll at a predominately White college in Utah? Turns out Rick Majerus’ assistant coach, Donny Daniels, had something in common with Andre – Verbum Dei, a Catholic high school in the Watts section of L.A., where Miller was an honor roll student, California Player of the Year (basketball) and a standout quarterback.
“When I got a chance to meet him, he (Majerus) really sold us on the academic program. They had a lot of availability for tutoring. I wanted him [Andre] to have a change from Los Angeles and also I wanted him to go away from school, but not too far . . .There was a lot of people concerned about your education–and him as a person–than just him as a basketball player.”
A few days later, when Andre finally hit me up, I didn’t know what to expect; he is so reserved in the locker room. Andre was cool and I found out quickly how much the game means to him.
During the season he averaged 17 points, 7 dimes, and 4 rips; 15 and 3 in the 1st round series loss to the Pistons. Game four, where they led 2-1 with a 10 point halftime lead, haunts Andre. . . From the minute Rasheed Wallace picked up a pre-halftime tech, the series changed face. Detroit shot out of the locker room with an 11-0 run, smacked the young Sixers with a ten man Pistons hand and closed up shop in Philly.
“It’s tough. It’s kind of hard to explain. If you would have told me that we would have stole 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. It says a lot about what those guys did, the type of work they put in and the coaching staff that prepared them. After while experience played a factor and that’s why they were able to get their act together and win the series.”
For those who don’t know his game, Miller is without question one of the best point guards in the Lig. with a relatively unknown ability to score at will. His up and under go-to move along the baseline is unique among guards.
In many games this season Andre had 10 points and 7 dimes at the end of the first quarter. Those ten points usually were scored on five straight possessions. Then, true to his game, he subtly falls back into the flow and executes Cheeks’ plan.
Andre is the intro. When he’s over, the Sixers beat begins to knock–with bass.
By the time the hook plays the Sixers are out on the break and Dre is throwing a bounce pass to Igodala for one of those popcorn all over the fan in front of you throw downs that even gets Mo Cheeks excited enough to give a fist pump. I noticed in these moments that Cheeks and Miller have similar personalities on and off the court.
“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 doing in Philadelphia that I did in Denver, LA and Cleveland. I never got any recognition for it. I should have made the All Star team this year. There’s been a few years where I thought I should have made the All Star team.”
“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 Fame. 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 in three playoff appearances with Denver and 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. On the floor I have to mix up being a player as well as a coach. 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 (on this team).
It wasn’t just death in the ‘hood, for death hit close as well. His younger brother died in 1988 at age 11 from viral encephalitis. Duane, Miller’s first son, carries his brother’s name.
“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 that I had to grow up early.”
Andre respects death, the reality of life and basketball.
“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.
Feature from SLAM 120. Here’s the full interview.