When a player comes into the league no one ever really knows how his career is going to play out. When Brad Miller entered the league in 1998, he probably didn't see his career spanning 14 years, but here he is. Or rather, there he was, on the Minnesota Timberwolves court last night, hitting a three-pointer and then walking off of the floor for the last time.
Collapsing into a crush of hugs from his teammates on the bench, Miller was unable to contain his emotion. There were tears, a towel to cover the tears and more love from his teammates as he sat down and surveyed the scene.
After 14 years as a professional athlete, the beloved big man will hang up his shoes and move onto the next chapter. He will leave with many memories, while leaving us with the memory of a career that could have been halted had Shaquille O'Neal connected with Miller's head when he threw a sloppy punch on a cold Chicago winter night in January of 2002.
In the wake of Metta World Peace's suspension for an elbow that caught James Harden in the head, seeing Miller retire brings up that moment and serves as a reminder of what can happen when an athlete loses control.
Miller was never a superstar, and in recent years he's been known more for his headband, tattoos, love of outdoor activities and a friendship with Joakim Noah than he has for the things he's done on the court. Still, he's been able to stick around for 14 years because he did things the right way.
He was the kind of guy that a coach wants to coach. No nonsense, no complaining, just a player who knows his sweet spots, understands his limitations and also understands the game. Tell him to set a screen, and a hard screen will be set. If a teammate cut to the basket, Miller wouldn't hesitate to deliver a pass to him. Whether a young player needed guidance or a teammate needed someone to reel him in, Miller played whatever part was necessary.
Why did he last so much longer than so many other more talented players? This quote from Miller via ESPN.com says it all:
“I’ve been playing for 30 years, so when it’s time, it’s time,” he said after finishing his 868thgame. “My body ain’t worth a [expletive] anymore, but I still have my heart.”
Play for the right reasons, play with heart and passion and a respect for the game and all of those who have come before you and will continue to play after you and a career can turn out to be so much more than anyone ever expected it to be.
While we thought of O'Neal's missed punch last night, let's think about Miller's heart today.