The scam went down like this. A skinny kid named Reggie would be tossing up jumpers at the John Adams Elementary School and other playgrounds in Riverside, California. His older sister, Cheryl, would be at the other end of the court, tossing up bricks. Sometimes, she would wind up and heave the ball over the backboard and into the chain link fence.
Reggie would approach a couple of kids and the convo normally went down like this -
“You guys want to play two-on-two? I’m waiting for my man to show up. Or I can just play you with my sister down there.”
The marks would turn their heads, watch brick after brick get tossed up and chuckle as the girl would run around the court without dribbling.
Or she’d come tumbling out of the bushes looking like the clumsiest person ever, which was the part of the routine that she hated the most. “I hate coming out of the bushes,” she’d angrily growl at her baby bro in between hustles. “Why can’t you come out of the bushes?”
So after challenging cats to a little two-on-two, Reggie would then proceed to toss the bait. “Ya’ll wanna play for $10.00?”
Looking at the bony kid and his sister while sensing some quick, easy cash, the marks would inevitably bite, and then proceed to get WAXED!
“We knew we’d be going out for hamburgers and ice cream within the hour,” Reggie told the LA Times’ Tracy Dodd in 1986. “We cleaned up for a while, but then the word got out.”
Cheryl and Reggie grew up in a household dominated by sports. Their father, Saul, was a 6′5″ former All-State forward from Memphis who played ball at Lemoyne-Owen College. Their older brother Darrell had been offered a football scholarship to USC and played Major League Baseball. Baby sis Tammy went on to play volleyball at Cal-State-Fullerton. Throughout the California sports community, they weren’t known as “The Miller’s.” The clan was simply referred to as “Game”.
And “Game’s” family legacy was unquestionably defined by hoops.
Quick question – Who is the only player to ever be named a four-time Parade All-American? It wasn’t Kareem or Magic, Jordan or Bird, Carmelo or LeBron, Wilt or Jerry West. That honor belongs solely to Cheryl Miller.
In the event that you’re younger than the mid to late 30’s, you probably know that, yeah, the TNT sideline reporter once played ball. You also probably know that she’s Reggie’s older sister. But, like my man Mars Blackmon once asked – “Do you know, do you know, do you really, really know?”
Straight up, no chaser, Cheryl Miller was not simply incredible. That word does no justice to her game. With all due respect to Lynette Woodard, Lisa Leslie, Carol Blazejowski, Ann Myers, Lusia Harris and the youngster on the come-up, Diana Taurasi, Cheryl was the best ever. Bottom Line!
As a one-woman force of nature, she was the equivalent to Magic AND Larry Bird. In the same way that adding those two players to the NBA construct elevated the men’s game to unimaginable levels, Cheryl’s presence and accomplishments not only put the lady’s game in the spotlight, it fostered acceptance and awe from the American sporting community.
Unfortunately, she came before the technological revolution where prep phenoms become youtube sensations. In 1981, she was the first girl’s player (college, overseas pro, international competition, olympics, whatever) to ever throw down a dunk in a game: AS A HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR!
“When I dunk, it’s like I’m on Cloud 15,” she told Sports Illustrated’s Roger Jackson in late November of ‘82.
She did it twice, once in a game against Norte Vista High when she dropped 77. She did it to ‘em again the next year when she put up 105. These are single game, individual scoring totals people!
Little brother Reggie once came home after dropping 40 in a high school game, Kool-Aid smile and all. He was bragging around the crib until his father said, “Go ask you’re sister what she did today.” When Cheryl told him she’d blazed for 105, he could do nothing but shake his head.
Here’s what you need to understand – there was nothing that Cheryl Miller could not do. She was 6′2″ and played with a flair, hangtime and boogie that the women’s game had never seen before. She was a great defender, shot blocker, scorer, creator and finisher.
The backyard games on the court that their father built were not for the weak as their older brothers showed no mercy. But Reggie had a tough mountain to climb, just to be able to step foot on the asphalt.
He was born with hip deformities that caused severely splayed feet and had to wear braces on each leg. His parents were told that he might be able to walk normally one day, but he wouldn’t be able to run. Participating in athletics was out of the question.
Reggie would sit by the kitchen window and watch Cheryl playing against their older brothers, yearning to step on the court. Once he proved the doctors wrong, pulling a Forrest Gump and shedding his leg braces while sprinting around at the age of five, he had to be dragged away from the game.
Cheryl’s committment to dominating the sport was inspired by her younger brother’s work ethic.
“Reggie had the work ethic from the word go,” Cheryl told Slam’s Scoop Jackson this summer. “He would be out there in the back practicing and practicing. Knockin’ down threes, and I’m upstairs watching cartoons. My Dad used to stay on my case: ‘Look at your brother! Look at him!’”
It was those backyard games that provided the foundation of Reggie and Cheryl’s future domination.
“I knew at an early age that if I could take the knocks and beat-downs from my oldest brother Saul Jr. and my other brother Darrell, who played football and baseball…both of them were big guys, and I knew if I could get smashed into the garage and get up without whimpering, playing against women would be a picnic,” Cheryl told Scoop.
Their one-on-one battles also formulated the unique shooting techniques that Reggie carried around in his arsenal. He was forced to put a high arc on his shot to keep big sis from blocking it.
After her first college game, Sports Illustrated ran a feature story about her titled, “SHE MAY WELL BE THE BEST EVER.” At USC, Cheryl and the Lady Trojans won the National Championship during her freshman and sophomore years in ‘82 and ‘83. She was the tournament’s MVP in both of those years. She was a four-time All-American, won the prestigious Naismith award as the country’s best player three times and won a gold medal at the ‘83 Pan-Am Games, ‘84 Olympics and ‘86 Goodwill Games.
Without the WNBA, which wouldn’t become a reality until more than a decade later, the world was robbed of her genuis once she graduated from USC. If you’re still questioning how nice she was, she was drafted by the USBL, a men’s pro league.
Cheryl soon embarked on a successful career as a coach and television analyst. I still wonder, when she’s on the sideline interviewing a player with no sense of the game’s history, if they really know who it is they’re talking to.
At UCLA, Reggie became the first sophomore to lead the Bruins in scoring since Bill Walton did it in ‘72. While some unfairly portrayed him as a gunner, he was right behind his point guard – the phenomenal Philly product Pooh Richardson – in leading his team with assists. The rail-thin shooting guard with deceptive strength could also get physical and grab boards.
But don’t get it twisted, Reggie’s most feared weapon was that semi-automatic Jimmy. Against the defending champion Louisville Cardinals in ‘87, he scorched for 33 in the second half alone. And while some NBA scouts bugged out on themselves by calling him selfish, his coach and teammates knew the real deal.
“What makes me a selfish player?” Reggie asked Dodd of the LA Times. “Because I shoot the ball? I’m supposed to shoot the ball. That’s how you score points. Those points go on the scoreboard for the whole team. . . . I have more assists than a lot players who have averaged 25 points a game.”
“I don’t think he takes enough shots,” his UCLA coach and once legendary player Walt Hazzard said.
As a pro, Reggie wasted no time in announcing his presence. While many thought the Indiana Pacers erred in snatching the skinny scorer with the 11th pick in the ‘87 NBA draft, he quickly proved the doubters wrong by breaking Larry Bird’s rookie record for three-pointers in a season. By his third year, he’d attained upper-echelon status by averaging 25 points per game.
His constant movement on the offensive end, as he weaved the dude guarding him through a minefield of picks, was a nightmare for even the best defenders. If you had to choose a brief glance at his remarkable 18-year career to define his essence, you’d have to start at game five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the NY Knicks in ‘93-’94.
He scorched for 25 in the 4th quarter and led the Pacers to a 93-86 come-from-behind victory. That performance cemented his status as an undeniable superstar, as well as Public Enemy #1 in the Garden.
The next year, in the conference semi’s, he put on a display that any Knick fan will have a hard time forgetting. With 18.7 seconds left in Game 1, the Pacers were down by six. In a span of 8.9 seconds, Reggie scored eight points, giving Indiana a 107-105 win.
“He’s the kind of guy, when you play against him, you want to smack him,” Patrick Ewing later said. “We’ve had our battles, we’ve had our wars. But I have the utmost respect for him.”
Without a doubt, Reggie was one of the game’s supreme clutch performers. And although many fans loved to hate him, you had no choice but to give him his props. Taken together, it’s difficult to find another pair of siblings that accomplished what Cheryl and Reggie did.
Some have to travel far and wide to get that elevating asphalt experience. For Reggie and Cheryl, they simply had to roll out of bed and hit the backyard, where a clan of Miller’s put them through the fire that would forge their eventual greatness. From their home base to the Riverside playgrounds to the highest levels of the sport, it was always Miller Time whenever one of them stepped on the court.
THE PLAYGROUND IS NOT THE PROBLEM. IT IS THE SOLUTION!