Oliver MillerThe Ultimate Raptors Rankings are the Raptorblog editors’ attempt to rank the top 30 Toronto Raptors of all time. These rankings are obviously somewhat arbitrary and endlessly debatable, but they’re based on each player’s contribution, performance and longevity as a Raptor, and on how beloved they are by Raptors fans. We’ll count down a new Raptor every Wednesday on this blog.

Oliver Miller’s Raptors résumé:

  • Eighth in franchise history in assist percentage (an estimate of the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on on the floor), minimum 4,000 minutes
  • Indisputably the worst that any player has looked in a particular NBA jersey in the past 15 years — I mean, just look at that picture

Everyone knows that Damon Stoudamire was the “star” of the Raptors during their inaugural 1995-96 season, but who was their second-best player? You could make a solid case for Oliver Miller, who played the second-most minutes (after Stoudamire) on the Raptors that season while leading the team in rebounds and blocks.

Before we get to Miller, the player, let’s address the elephant in the room — so to speak — and discuss his weight problem. At six-foot-eight, The Big O was short for an NBA center, but he made up for that with a long wingspan and his massive bulk which made him immovable in the post. At the 1992 NBA draft camp, he weighed in at 318 pounds and 22 percent body fat. (Miller reportedly claimed the scale was “broken”.) He was advised to lose weight but most accounts have him weighing upwards of 350 pounds for much of his NBA career.

When sportswriter LZ Granderson saw a shirtless Miller in 1995 when he was a Piston, Granderson thought he looked like “a shiny mudslide with legs” and he told his editor, “I can’t believe that dude is a professional athlete. I would be surprised if he’s on the team next year.” Sure enough, the Pistons left him unprotected for the 1995 expansion draft and the Raptors snatched him up with the 27th and final pick.

Without question, Miller’s best NBA season was his first go-round with the Raptors — his single-season career highs in all the major stats occurred in ’95-96. In 76 games, he averaged 12.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks. If that seems like a fairly unusual stat line, that’s because it is — since the 1995-96 season, there have only been 27 player seasons with per-game averages of at least 1.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks. That stat line speaks to the completeness of Miller’s game, in his prime. He was surprisingly agile in the rare instances that he kept his weight under control, he had phenomenal hands and a soft touch around the basket, he was a terrific passer, and he was a fairly effective help defender.

Fresh off this breakout season, Miller turned down a reported $5.4 million contract offer from the Raptors so he could test the free agent market. The move backfired, and he had to settle for an NBA-minimum $247,000 deal with the Dallas Mavericks for the 1996-97 season. For some reason, he thought the Raptors fans might show some animosity towards him when he returned to Toronto in a Mavs uniform: “I’m kind of scared about how the fans are going to accept me back. But who cares? They’re just fans.”

Ironically, Miller was waived by the Mavs on Feb. 7, 1997 and quickly snapped up by the Raptors six days later. Big O remained with the Raptors through the entire 1997-98 season, but he wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in his first stint, averaging just 6.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals in 25.4 minutes. Some of his skills may have faded, but his smooth passing ability remained. As former Suns teammate Danny Ainge once remarked, “He’s a center with a point guard mentality, and that’s pretty rare.”

Miller bounced around a variety of teams over the remainder of his basketball career. He signed with Iraklio BC in Greece for the 1988-89 season, followed by a brief four-game tryout with the Sacramento Kings in February. In a Phoenix game during that stretch, the Suns Gorilla mascot stuffed a tube into his costume to make himself look fat, put on an old Miller jersey from his Suns days, pretended to gorge himself on popcorn and then fell to the floor, rendered immobile.

Deeply hurt by this spectacle of mockery, Miller went on an eating binge which led to the Kings renouncing his rights after the season. Improbably, he signed a minimum contract with the Suns for the 1999-2000 season, after which he subsequently spent his remaining nomadic basketball years on teams including the Harlem Globetrotters, Pruszkow in Poland, a 48-game run with the Timberwolves in 2003-04, and then a variety of domestic and international squads.

In April 2011, Miller allegedly pistol-whipped a man at a Maryland cookout — reminding everyone why you never try to take the big piece of chicken while The Big O is around. Even sadder than this recent occurrence is the tens of millions of dollars he probably cost himself because he was unable to control his weight. As Charles Barkley once remarked, “O could be an All-Star if he learned two words: ‘I’m full.’ ”

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