We’re all familiar with the old sports adage, “you gotta beat the best to be the best”. Well, if you are the most highly recruited high school basketball player of your generation, and never stopped breaking records during your career, AND this all started with you beating up on your Future-NBA-Hall-of-Famer younger brother in 1-on-1...does that make you the best? Cheryl Miller’s career certainly speaks for itself, and if you listen closely enough, you might just hear it whispering a four letter word used for the likes of Marta, Williams, and McLaughlin: “GOAT.”
Miller’s dominance began as a high schooler. She was the first high schooler (male or female) to be named a Parade All-American four times all while being selected as the national high school player of the year two years in a row in 1981 and 1982. This could have been because she averaged almost 33 points per game over her 90 game career, along with 1,353 rebounds, an average of 15 per game. To top it all off, she scored 105 POINTS in a game during her senior year. Her team had 115 points in total. She scored one hundred and five of them. This came the same night that her brother, future NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, scored his-then career high in a high school game, with 40 points. He’s noted that he just “couldn’t win” in the same house as Cheryl.
After finishing high school, Miller continued her career in Los Angeles, with the USC Trojans. She was, again, a four time All-American, and scored 3,018 career points, enough for 10th on the all-time NCAA leaderboards. Miller also earned three Naismith player of the year awards, including one in her senior year after winning her second consecutive NCAA title and NCAA Tournament MVP award. In her senior season, Miller was also named Sports Illustrated’s best college basketball player across Men’s and Women’s teams. After graduating in 1986, Miller’s #31 jersey was retired by USC only two years later, making her the first ever basketball player from USC to have their jersey retired.
Cheryl didn’t limit her dominance to just collegians during her time at USC, however. She represented the USA internationally several times, including winning an Olympic gold medal in 1984. During her international career, she faced the Soviet women’s team several times in important games, constituting a late-Cold War rivalry between the two nations. It was evenly matched as well, with the Soviets claiming a 1983 FIBA World Championship title at the expense of the Americans. However, Miller and Team USA would exact revenge on several occasions, including at the inaugural 1986 Goodwill games in Moscow, as well as the 1986 World Championships.
After college, Miller was drafted by multiple pro basketball leagues, including a men’s league. Unfortunately, knee injuries cut her playing career short, and she began her coaching and broadcasting careers soon after. However, the lack of a clear professional path for women’s basketball after college also hindered her experience. As much as players like Miller paved the way for the modern women’s game, they also suffered from the lack of access at the time. By 1993, Miller was named the head coach of USC women’s basketball, and led them to two NCAA tournament appearances.
Miller would go on to coach the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury for several seasons, which culminated in an unsuccessful run to the WNBA finals in the 1998 season. Miller also worked several reporting and analysis beats for TV networks. Most prominently, she worked with Turner sports in the late 90’s for their NBA productions. In 1996, she became the first female analyst to call a national NBA game on television
This was around the time she began collecting hall of fame honors. In 1995, Miller was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She followed that with being part of the inaugural class of inductees to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999. Even today, Miller is immortalized in the NCAA’s Cheryl Miller award, which annually celebrates the best small forward in women’s D1 college basketball.
In a career full of firsts, many regard Cheryl Miller as the greatest woman to ever play the game. She dominated at every level she played at, and was one of the shining examples of excellence for all of the players who would come after her. Miller surely stands among a very select few in the story of basketball, and deservedly so. It’s fairly safe to say that while she was busy moving her teams forward, she was moving the game forward as well.