It was probably 2005 the first time I was called “Brad Miller” during a basketball game, which is actually a compliment if you think about it, since 2005 Brad Miller was really good. This was the first time I’d really had a beard, which my then-girlfriend hated, one of the many reasons we broke up. I was tall for a normal person, a decent passer for a center-ish guy, I took a lot of top of the key threes and wore a headband. It made a lot of sense. I was certainly familiar with Brad before then — first from a Cuonzo Martin-led Purdue team that my uncle loved, then from his first stint with the Bulls when Shaquille O’Neal almost killed him — but this was the first time I really had a definable game that could be favorably compared to an NBA All-Star.
Around this time, blogs were happening. You guys know about blogs, right? Sure you do. Right after I graduated from college, I got a boring desk job and really went in on the internetosphere. Round about the same time, Brad Miller, for reasons that have not yet been clearly explained, got his hair braided for an exhibition game against the SuperSonics. Now, you are not going to believe the next few words you are going to read, but they are absolutely true — I had cornrows my senior year of high school. There are pictures at my mom’s house that prove this, but I can’t get them right now, so just trust me on this. Big white dude who can’t run or jump wearing a headband and cornrows? That’s me. I’m hooked. Brad Miller fan for life.
You probably don’t think of Brad Miller as an internet superstar. He’s not going to dunk on anybody or send a shot in to the fifth row. His highlights are going to be subtle things, like the world’s slowest pump fake leading to a foul and some free throws. But that’s when the magic happens. Brad pulls the slow pump fake, gets fouled, goes to the line and winks at the guy who fouled him, the guy who already feels like an idiot because they fell for Brad Miller’s one move. That’s great stuff, hilarious stuff — the kind of things that make him seem like a normal dude who plays professional basketball because he happens to be seven feet tall.
And that’s the allure for me. Even though he’s obviously one of the most skilled people on the planet, he really just seems like any ordinary guy. He gets outran by Chris Kaman. He’s nearly in tears when he botches the ending of a game three times in the final 30 seconds. He has an award-winning outdoors show. He shows up to introductory press conferences in camouflage shorts and wears camouflage ankle tape during games. He celebrates clutch threes like he’s from Compton even though he grew up in an Indiana town with a population under 10,000. (That clip is also the top non-Jordan basketball moment in my life. Shout outs to Graydon Gordian, Eamonn Brennan and Ryan Corazza for going through that relevant life experience with me.) There’s not much better than a guy who is totally and completely himself, even if it means he’s the NBA’s only redneck gangsta.
Now he’s retiring at season’s end, literally to work on his outdoors show, which is the most Brad Miller way to leave. He hasn’t done much the past two seasons, thanks to a microfracture surgery that probably affected him less than any other player in the history of knees. Robbing someone of their athleticism when they’re already broke doesn’t change much. He’s just old now and he wants to go hunting. Helping mentor Kevin Love is cool and all, but taking your millions of dollars and using it to produce a television show of you and your friends doing something you love? That’s awesome. I’ll miss him being in the league so much, but I can’t blame him at all for going in to chill mode.
One last story before I wrap this thing up in tearful flurry of appreciation. It’s December 29, 2009 and the Denver Nuggets are playing in Chicago. Kirk Hinrich fouls Chauncey Billups with less than a second remaining, sending an 89 percent career free throw shooter to the game to break a 89-89 tie, so I turn to my wife, mom and sister and say something along the lines of “He never misses free throws, we can go.” So we start heading for the doors as Chauncey knocks down the first free throw like you’d expect. Then, somewhat surprisingly, he missed the second. He said it was on purpose, but I don’t know. Whatever the case, the Bulls have 0.3 seconds to make something amazing happen, so I convince the ladies that we should stay. It’s just 0.3 seconds after all.
That’s when this happens.
For maybe two minutes, this was the greatest moment of my life. My favorite player making an unthinkable buzzer-beater and I’m there? Come on. That’s perfect. I’m texting everyone — my dad, my buddy Nick, Kelly Dwyer. Anyone I know who’s a Bulls fan got a “BRAD MILLER GAME-WINNER AND I’M THERE” text that night. I’m delirious, just loving this moment so much.
As you know, the shot didn’t count, news broken to me by a very apologetic Dwyer before the refs made a ruling. Didn’t matter. Still an incredible thing to happen in front of your face, nearly toppling witnessing Dennis Rodman’s only career triple-double when I was 12.
If I could, I’d find a way to say this shot was like Brad Miller’s career, that he did everything he could but came up a tad bit short in the end. But that’s not really true because no one thinks of Brad Miller like that. He’s just a dude. He doesn’t need a narrative. He came in to the league undrafted after having played half of a season in Italy during the 1998 lockout, then went on to play 14 seasons and made two All-Star appearances, played on the transitional 2006 Team USA that everyone forgets about and proved that a complete lack of athleticism doesn’t mean you can’t play in the NBA. That’s a solid career, to say the least.
People ask me if it’s a joke that I love Brad Miller as much as I do. It’s not. He’s the chillest bro in the NBA and I really can’t think of a better compliment. See you in the great outdoors, Duck.