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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Pro Basketball's First Family?

There are, no doubt, several good candidates for this non-existent title. The Van Gundy brothers, Jeff and Stan, are both NBA head coaches. Another candidate is the Miller family. Only two of the five siblings have been connected with professional basketball in important ways, but those two are significant.

Cheryl Miller is a basketball hall of famer. She received that honor in 1995. She had been an outstanding high school, college, and Olympic player and gold medal winner, and a winning college coach, by that time. Since then, she became a Women's NBA coach, and a broadcaster. She was the first woman to call a men's professional basketball game for a television broadcast. I am not sure, but I believe that she was the first woman to call a televised game in any men's professional team sport, and also, that she has been, so far, the only one to do it. She has been called the "greatest female basketball player of all time."

Her brother, Reggie, is retiring from the Indiana Pacers after this season. Miller is 12th in career NBA scoring, 6th in career minutes played, and 7th in career games played. This would be striking enough, but perhaps even more striking is the fact that Miller has played his entire career, beginning with the 1987-88 season, with the same team.

In 2005, that is rare. Most professional athletes change franchises several times. The Pacers, and Miller, were able to adjust to Reggie Miller's reduced scoring role in the last few seasons, with Miller setting an example of genuine professionalism, coming off the bench when asked to, working hard for his team, even though others had become the stars. I am sure that he has an ego--most people do--but he subordinated his own glorification for the good of the team. Many highly paid athletes haven't even tried to do this--it's a foreign concept. For example, there are rumors that Chris Webber doesn't want to play with Allen Iverson, claiming that Iverson doesn't allow him the chance to score enough.

On May 19th, Reggie Miller played his last game. The Pacers lost to the Detroit Pistons, who go on to face Shaquille O'Neal, Dwyane Wade, Stan Van Gundy and the rest of the Miami Heat in the NBA playoffs. Miller was high scorer for his team in his last game. His coach took him out with a few seconds to go. The crowd, including his opponents, gave Miller a standing ovation, which resumed after the game ended, and clearly would have lasted long after Miller walked down the tunnel to the locker room. A referee, his teammates, and most or all of the Pistons personally acknowledged his achievements. The Detroit coach called a time out to allow for extended applause. This was especially remarkable, as these two teams got into a fight that turned into a mini-riot in November. One of the Pacers, Ron Artest, was suspended for the season. There was no sign of any remaining rancor between the teams on the 19th. Pro athletes can be good sports!

Professional athletes, like other entertainers, are role models, whether they want to be or not, and whether they are good ones or not (Some professional entertainers are not good models). Reggie and Cheryl Miller have set examples of excellence in sport, working hard to take long-term advantage of their tremendous talent. I do not know if either of them are believers. I hope so.

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