BASKETBALL

Portland Trailblazer Mike Miller makes the most of life

A long, proud career in the NBA and a burgeoning entrepreneurial talent were almost beyond the grasp of the court veteran's early imagination

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 August, 2015, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 August, 2015, 9:56pm

Mike Miller likes to say that self belief can take a man a long way and proof today is that it's taken him all the way to the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton.

The world outside is literally at Miller's feet as he casts his gaze over Hong Kong and he takes a moment to reflect on the journey that has brought him here, high above the other side of the world from Mitchell, South Dakota (population 15,500), a place where dreams of playing in the NBA will always, almost always, remain just that. Dreams.

"If you had told me, back then, that one day I would be here, I'd have said you were crazy. Plain crazy," says Miller. "But if you put yourself up into a position to succeed, sometimes it happens."

And that's exactly what Miller did. He took fate into his own hands, riding a sweet, pure shooting touch and fierce work ethic to win, first, a playing scholarship with the University of Florida, where he helped lead the Gators to the 2000 NCAA Championship game.

Miller declared for the NBA draft soon after Florida lost that game to Michigan State, and has since forged a remarkable career in the NBA, from being drafted fifth by the Orlando Magic, to winning Rookie of the Year in 2001, Sixth Man of the Year with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2006 and then two NBA titles with Miami in 2012 and 2013.

If you had told me, back then, that one day I would be here, I'd have said you were crazy. Plain crazy
Mike Miller

In all, the 35-year-old has tallied no fewer than 15 seasons as a swingman and three-point pistol in the toughest league there is - that's as many as Michael Jordan played - and this off-season has seen him picked up by Portland after featuring for the Cleveland Cavaliers in their 4-2 NBA finals loss to the Golden State Warriors.

"I feel like I've got a good couple of years left and, obviously, I'm going to make the most of it," says Miller.

"The fact that I've been in the league for 15 years is a blessing in itself. I know that once I get out, there'll be nothing that can emulate the competitiveness, the highs and the lows of playing in the NBA. So while I'm still out there playing I'm going to make the most of it. I am going to continue to hustle."

Both on and off court, it seems, as Miller was in town last week with the great Shaquille O'Neal in tow as he scouted strategic partners for the Let It Fly Energy (L.I.F.E) line of energy drinks he started in 2011 and has recently brought to these parts.

During the press conference launch of the product, Miller successfully dodges an inquiry about this year's finals, when eyebrows were raised in some parts as Cavs coach David Blatt chose to restrict Miller's playing time throughout the series, despite Cleveland going in undermanned due to injuries to stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.

It's left to O'Neal to set the perfect screen - "I think the coach made a mistake by not having him more in the game. Period," offers O'Neal.

And later Miller says the first thing you learn when you enter the NBA is that the team comes first. No matter what.

"You're going to have hard times, you're going to lose, but I was always about working hard, being part of the team. Caring for others," says Miller.

"It's the same in business and the brands I am building. It's that championship culture where everyone is pulling together."

He says he first really started to believe in his own ability as his high school days drew to an end, and the shots for Mitchell High just kept falling.

"South Dakota hasn't really had a lot of success in this regard but playing was something I had aspired to and I always believed I could do," he says.

"I had a lot of faith in my own ability and I think that is really important. Self belief can get you a long way. But you have to work hard, too."

Miller agrees that the NBA he entered in 2001 was in many ways far removed from what we see today, in terms of the style of play and of scoring - not a bad thing considering the shape of the players he was thrown in against as a rookie.

"It was always more physical, more demanding early," says Miller. "I got into the league at 19, 20 years old and I was playing against Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley. It was just a physical game.

"The league has changed in that it wants more scoring. My first game was 88-84. Now they love games that are 110-103. It's a more up and down, a fast-paced game. More excitement, more scoring. Less physicality, but still physical."

As he moves into the twilight of his career, Miller says there are moments he will always cherish as an individual - a franchise-high 45 points in a game for Memphis in 2007, those seven threes for Miami in game five of their championship run against Oklahoma in 2011-12, more than 1,000 games totalled during the course of his pro career.

"Everything I look at is about how you perform on the big stages," says Miller. "They are the moments that matter and the moments that you never forget.

"That's why we play the game - to test yourself against the best. That's really what you play for ."