Brad Miller is seven feet tall and solid as an oak door. He is 27
years old, single and fabulously wealthy, having signed a
seven-year, $68 million contract in July. Undrafted out of Purdue
five years ago, he is now an All-Star center playing for a
championship contender in Sacramento. Life is good.
So how has success changed him?
Well, like any self-respecting baller, he has a posse. In fact,
here come the fellas now, only they don't look much like your
typical NBA entourage. For one thing, they're decked out in
well-worn jeans, camo sweatshirts and cutoff T's that read
FRANK'S FOOTLONGS. For another, they're riding not in a stretch
Benz but on four-wheel ATVs, trailing a plume of dust down
Route 327 outside Kendallville, Ind., on this sunny September
day. And what's this? Two of the half-dozen "fellas" are
13-year-old Dylan Forbes and his nine-year-old sister, Danica,
her dirty blonde hair really quite dirty. And Danica is
giggling to boot. Doesn't Miller know posses don't giggle?
Even worse, his plan for the day includes no Cristal, zero clubs
and nary an opportunity to get one's freak on. "We're headed out
for a ride," says Miller astride his green 600 HP Honda ATV, the
one with a winch on the front. "Gonna go find us some deer." So
off they roar, a line of seven four-wheelers tearing through the
green and gold corn and soybean fields of northern Indiana. Every
so often, Miller dismounts and leads the way into the woods to
search for deer rubs and hunting perches. The whole crew squats
down to inspect hoofprints. People exclaim, "Well, damn, look at
the size of that one!" and everyone envisions where the bucks and
turkeys and pheasants might live.
Safe to say, this is not how Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and the
rest of Miller's new teammates spent their summer. Rather,
Miller, a self-described "good ol' country boy," is an anomaly in
a league where cornrows are worn, not planted. "To tell you the
truth," says Dewy Forbes, the Buddha-bellied father of Danica and
Dylan, who's known Miller for two decades, "I don't know how
Bradley fits into the NBA at all."
Even if teammates seldom share his passion for lippers of Skoal
and fine beverages like Keystone Light, the 261-pound Miller has
in fact fit in well. The very qualities that make him a throwback
player--his passing, pick setting, shooting from the high post
and physical defense--have made him both sought-after by G.M.'s
and valued by teammates. Yes, he is slow, unathletic and, by his
own admission, "unlikely to dunk on people," but he's become more
coveted each season, since he started as a scrappy reserve with
the Hornets, then became a steady role player for the Bulls and
finally emerged as an All-Star with his home state Pacers last
year, averaging 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds.
When Indiana didn't retain him because of luxury tax concerns,
Miller weighed offers from the Jazz and the Nuggets before
settling on Sacramento. (The Pacers then engineered a
sign-and-trade with the Kings and the Spurs, acquiring 6'11" Scot
Pollard.) "I'd liked him since his days at Purdue," says
Sacramento G.M. Geoff Petrie. "He's skilled, he's tough, and he's
a great fit because we like to have our big people away from the
basket and run the offense through them."
Because he is well-rounded and plays a fundamentally sound game,
Miller has been called a "European-style" big man. "European?" he
says with a smile. "Before there was European there was Indiana
[basketball]." Indeed, Miller's skills can be traced to the
tenets of small-town Hoosierball. His marksmanship from the foul
line (81.8% last season) evolved from the form that won him free
throw shooting contests at the Elks club. He developed his court
vision in the share-and-share-alike flex offense at East Noble
High, where as a 5'11" freshman he sometimes ran the attack. As
for those brick-wall screens Miller sets, well, he flat-out
enjoys those. "When I got traded to Indiana, I got excited," he
says, grinning nostalgically. "I just wanted to run around
looking to set picks for Reggie [Miller]."
That last comment tells you why his teammates love him. Pacers
forward Jermaine O'Neal practically threw a party when Indiana
acquired Miller midway through the 2001-02 season. After being
swarmed like a plate of chicken wings at a media hospitality room
every time he touched the ball for two seasons, O'Neal could
finally go one-on-one because teams didn't want to double off the
sharp-shooting Miller. Defensively, Miller doesn't back down from
anyone, as evidenced by his tete-a-Shaq with the Lakers' center
in January 2002, when one of the largest haymakers in history
grazed his left ear. "Brad loves contact, and I loved that," says
Chicago coach Bill Cartwright. "He didn't care about how he
looked. He was flailing around, falling down, bashing into guys."
If anything, Miller's teammates appear to appreciate his
unslickness--Pacers forward Ron Artest calls him "one of those
guys who everybody liked." The media gravitate toward him as
well. After a game Miller can be found at his locker, a black
chunk of dip sticking to a front tooth, calling 'em like he sees
'em in a soft voice. When the NBA asked Brad if he would go to
New York City to appear on Wheel of Fortune, he accepted right
away. "It's my grandmother's favorite show," he explains. "She's
gonna get a real kick out of that one."
To understand why Miller is so unimpressed with his own
impressiveness, you need only pay a visit to Kendallville (pop.
9,616), where just about everybody's got a retriever in the back
of his pickup, and the guys at the Shady Nook bar don't look
twice when they see an All-Star center walk in the door, because
it's just Brad and they've probably sold him some turkey feed.
Miller and his older sister, Renee, were raised in the heart of
town by their mother, Rosie, and a grandmother after their father
left when Brad was in kindergarten. (In the last few years his
father has contacted him several times and seen him play, but
Miller says, "I'm not ready to deal with that yet.")
Home was a 700-square-foot matchbox next to a foundry that spewed
a steady cloud of dust, which always found its way into the
halls, driving his mother crazy. At eight Miller was introduced
to Dewy Forbes, a heavy-equipment operator, through the Big
Brothers program. "He's kind of like my dad," says Miller of
Forbes, who was honored as Noble County's Big Brother of the Year
in 1990. "He traveled a lot of miles to watch my games; he taught
me how to shoot a gun. He's always cared."
Nowadays, the members of the extended Miller family all live
around the aptly named Big Long Lake north of Kendallville. Brad
bought Rosie a four-bedroom place blessedly free of dust; Forbes
is just down the road; and Brad has a modest lakeside house
(selling price: $92,000) on part of the 200-plus acres of land he
has purchased over the last few years. He has his own corn and
soybean fields, just like the ones on his grandma's property in
Waterloo, where he learned to drive in seventh grade, rumbling
over the dried stalks in a Mustang and then picking them off the
radiator when he was done. He speaks excitedly of how he's
"stimulating" the dove and turkey populations on his land and how
he will be "trenching" near his dock to lure spawning bluegills.
Near the house, he is constructing a barn with a half-court hoop
and putting in a kennel underneath the deck so that all his
relatives and friends can "bring their dogs and not have to worry
about them running around like crazy," he says. This is where the
guys he considers to be brothers gather in the summer, drinking
beer, barbecuing (often a whole hog) and telling stories about
high school and fishing and hunting and anything, anything but
basketball. "I understand that this is a game and that it's only
for a limited amount of time, that people pay you a ridiculous
amount of money to do something you should want to do for free,"
Miller says as he sits on his deck, looking across the lake.
"Those guys are what keep me grounded. You can't leave your
friends to play basketball for 12 years and expect them to be
waiting for you."
Though Miller gets along with just about everybody in the league,
he considers only a handful of players to be good friends, among
them Indiana forward Jeff Foster, Hornets guard David Wesley and
Warriors forward Brian Cardinal. As for the path that many stars
pursue--basking in their celebrity and taking advantage of the
perks it offers--he has no interest in it. "You see some crazy
stuff," he says, choosing not to elaborate. "Being in the league
has opened my mind." So on the road Miller prefers watching
movies to hitting the clubs, and when he does go out, he dreads
Although he may not party with his peers, Miller relishes doing
so with his friends, Kendallville-style. Case in point: the Drunk
Olympics, a daylong contest of wills and livers that Miller
considers nearly as important as any playoff game. Held every
summer for the last seven years at his best friend Steve's
parents' house outside Kendallville, the games begin with a
shotgun blast at 7 a.m., at which point everybody furiously chugs
a beer. Eight teams of two, drawn from a hat the night before,
then compete in a taxing day of competition, starting with
nine-hole golf and continuing through half-court hoops (in which
Miller's not allowed in the paint), grass volleyball, a
three-legged sack race and, finally, the tricky around-the-lake
canoe sprint. Any disputes are settled by chug-offs. "In seven
years of the Olympics," Brad says very seriously and with obvious
pride, "I have never finished worse than second."
No doubt inebriated canoeing is not part of the Kings'
recommended off-season training regimen--which Miller did
participate in, flying home to Indiana on the weekends. But he
says that he doesn't "get too rowdy" during the season, when he
focuses on basketball. Miller is projected as a reserve behind
Divac, though coach Rick Adelman says he will team them in what
will be the All-Lumbering frontcourt at the beginning of the
season while Webber recovers from surgery on his left knee.
Miller will also add intensity to a team that has, rightly or
wrongly, been labeled soft. After the first few days of training
camp, Divac was already describing Miller by using the word tough
three times in two sentences, and guard Bobby Jackson was nodding
approvingly while describing him as "very physical."
Though he has fit in well so far on the Kings, adjusting to his
new home hasn't been as easy. When Miller visited Sacramento to
check out houses this summer with his girlfriend, Abby, he had
such a hard time with the blanketing Central Valley heat that he
threw up in one of his prospective residences. "It was from going
back and forth from AC in the car to 100 degrees outside," he
explains. Even though Sacramento is considered the most
Midwestern of California metropolises, Miller may be the first
person to be excited by its nickname: Cowtown. And he's already
looking forward to December, when all the boys are coming out for
New Year's. Even Dewy Forbes, who's flown only a few times in his
life and sure as hell doesn't want to again, says that maybe
he'll pay a visit.
"If Bradley's got to go all the way out there, well then, I guess
I'll go," says Forbes as he looks across the green fields outside
Kendallville. "But believe me, the second he can come back here,
he will. This is where he belongs."
MILLER has been called a EUROPEAN-STYLE big man, but "before
there was European," he says, "there was Indiana [basketball]."
After a game Miller can be found at his locker, a black chunk of
dip sticking to a front tooth, CALLING 'EM LIKE HE SEES 'EM.