Brad Miller was always a favorite of mine. And tonight, he retired.
What drew me to Brad Miller was that he always did his own thing. He was listed at 7′ tall, yet he averaged double figures in rebounding only once in his career. He much preferred to hang outside the paint, shooting that midrange jumper of his, passing the ball with a grace rarely seen in a big man. He knew what he was good at, and turned those skills into a very productive 14 year career. Not too bad for a kid who went undrafted.
Most of us are familiar with Miller through his time at Purdue. He matriculated to West Lafayette by way of East Noble High School and Maine Central Institute (where he spent his Senior year of High School; recognize the name? That’s where Donnie Hale spent his post-graduate year). He started off his collegiate career a little slowly, perhaps not meeting his full potential during his Freshman and Sophomore years. But his talent was unmistakable; there was obviously something there, and it was up to Keady to pull it out of him.
“Sometimes players don’t understand how much coach Keady has done for them, both in terms of basketball and off the court. I have appreciated what he did for me.” – Brad Miller
Maybe it was just the passage of time, the natural physical and emotional maturation process that takes places as one transitions from boy to man during those four years in college. Maybe it was there all along, and it just took becoming a focal point to shine a light on it. But whatever it was, Miller’s Junior year was his break-out year. He averaged over 14 points and 8 rebounds a game, and became the only Purdue center in its history to lead the team in assists. His senior year was even more impressive, as he increased his averages to over 17 points and nearly 9 rebounds a game. He may have preferred to play away from the basket, but he was in no way soft. His toughness and the inherent fight in his game embodied the Gene Keady aesthetic.
Miller went to Italy during the strike-shorted season in 1998 before signing with Charlotte as an undrafted free agent. The NBA isn’t exactly a safe place for undrafted free agents. There’s no practice squad like in the NFL. You either produce or you’re out. Have fun with your second career. But Brad proved his worthiness.
Brad played for six different NBA teams, including the local Pacers for the 2001-02 and 2002-03 season. His best years were with the Sacramento Kings. His skills were perfectly suited for their wide-open offense, and he flourished. He was a two-time All Star with the Kings (2003-04, and 2004-05). But when those exciting Kings teams fell apart, it became clear that Miller’s career had already peaked as well.
But he still had something to give. He was a strong locker-room presence, and he added the 3-point shot to his game. His basketball IQ coupled with his excellent passing made him a tough matchup, even as his body began to fail him.
In the 2010-11 season, playing for Houston, Miller injured his knee – requiring him to have microfracture surgery. Microfracture surgery is hard to come back from, especially if you’ve been in the league for over a decade and your body has sustained the repeated beatings associated with being an NBA center. In the off-season he was reunited with his longtime coach Rick Aledman (his coach in Sacramento and Houston) in Minnesota. But Miller struggled to return to form after surgery and he made it clear in March that this season would be the last.
Which brings us to Thursday night. Most NBA players’ careers end long before the player realizes it. They spend a year riding the pine at the end of their careers and next thing they know, they aren’t being asked back for training camp the following year. Brad Miller recognized that his body had failed him, and that it was time to call it quits. And there he was, playing for the Timberwolves, down big to Denver, playing his last minutes as a professional basketball player. Trailing the play he catches a pass from a triple-teamed teammate. Open behind the 3-point line he fires and connects. His final basket in the pros. As he backpedaled back on defense you could see tears already forming in his eyes.
A couple minutes later he is taken out for the last time. As he hugged his coaches and his teammates and the crowd gives one final acknowledgment of a job well done for 14 years, he could contain his emotions no more. His tears were of sadness, no doubt, but he has so much to be proud of. He did himself, his family, and the Purdue community proud.
Brad Miller was one tough son-of-a-bitch as a basketball player. I loved watching him play, and although I haven’t been afforded the opportunity to do so over these last few years, I’m still sad that I won’t see him in uniform again. I wish him the best of luck in whatever life brings him next. Congratulations Brad, you made us all very, very proud.