Oliver Miller and Charles Barkley might have been the widest frontcourt in NBA history. The Big O and the Round Mound of Rebound both struggled with weight issues during their NBA careers. While one of them was blessed with Hall of Fame talent and charisma, the other one couldn’t get out of his own way. This is the sad legacy of Oliver Miller.
College Career and Draft
Before being drafted with the 22nd overall pick by the Phoenix Suns in 1992, Miller had been a standout player in four years at the University of Arkansas. Despite standing a mere 6 foot 9 inches, Miller was regarded as one of the best centers in the NCAA, including a dominant 22 point, 14 rebound, 6 assist, 6 block effort against the #1 (and eventual) UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. There’s video of the complete game here on YouTube. It’s a microcosm of all that was tantalizing and troubling about the Oliver Miller Experience: deft touch around the rim, soft hands, toughness… as well as fatigue, late-game laziness and a dash or two of eye-rolling. (Bonus video goodness: damn that UNLV team was good!)
Heading into the 1992-1993 season, Phoenix had gone all in on their quest for an NBA championship: trading Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry for Charles Barkley. By including Lang in the trade, Phoenix was left with only one center (Mark West) on the roster. With top center prospects Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning off the board with the first 2 picks, Miller was a natural target for the Suns at 22. And thanks to his weight struggles, he was still there when Phoenix’s pick came around.
Here’s the thing about Miller’s weight: it moved. A lot. In college, it was quoted as anything from 275 to 300 pounds. But he reported to the draft combine at 318. But by the time he got to Phoenix, it was reportedly down to 304. And once he entered the NBA… well, we’ll get there soon enough. Suffice to say, Miller’s weight issues were hardly an unknown when he came to Phoenix, and that never changed.
The Perfect Opportunity
Miller could not have had a better opportunity in Phoenix. The back-up center role was his to lose. He played in 56 regular season games and all 24 of the Suns’ playoff games averaging about 20 minutes per game. How many rookies get to play an integral role on an NBA Finals team?
Miller continued making the most of that opportunity at the start of his second season with the Suns. He saw his role expand considerably. His minutes per games jumped from 19 to 25 and he even tallied 30 starts. He put up serious numbers all season long including a career-high 32 point effort against the Philadelphia 76ers and a triple-double against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Second Half Fizzle & Off-Court Issues
The second half of the season was a different story. After scoring in double figures in 20 of his first 36 games, Miller was only able to get over 10 points in the final 33 games. Rumors about his weight ballooning circulated. In the playoffs, Miller was a virtual no-show barely mustering 3 points and 4 rebounds per game as the Suns were eliminated by the Houston Rockets in a series that would effectively end Phoenix’s early 90s title run. That anemic playoff showing might not have been enough to end Miller’s career in Phoenix, but what came next did.
In the weeks following the Suns elimination from the playoffs, rape allegations against Oliver Miller surfaced. It was alleged that on the night the Phoenix Suns returned from their final game in Houston, several Suns went partying at a nightclub in Scottsdale. At an after party Miller allegedly forced a woman to have sex against her will. No charges were filed, but that was enough for Jerry Colangelo. With Miller in restricted free agency, the Phoenix Suns declined to match an offer sheet from the Detroit Pistons. Miller was outraged, blasting Colangelo in the press. Colangelo for his part had this to say:
“When I talked about Oliver, I talked about personal accountability. When you make a mistake, you admit a mistake. The problem with Oliver is, he was never accountable.”
Whether he was discussing the rape allegations or Miller’s weight, it was never made clear. What was clear was that Miller was done as a Phoenix Sun… for a few years at least.
Later Career: Diminishing Returns
Miller went on to have a couple successful seasons with the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, but his weight struggles got the best of him. He eventually topped out at 375 pounds and he saw his minutes diminish as he bounced from team to team. He would play for 6 teams in his final 8 seasons in the NBA including a 1 year stint with the Suns in 1999-2000. He played 3 years overseas before a brief comeback attempt with the Minnesota Timberwolves ended his career in 2004.
Miller found himself in the news again in 2011 when he was convicted of pistol-whipping man in Maryland. He was sentenced to a year in prison and 4 years probation. As of 2013, he was selling cars at Superstition Springs Chrysler Jeep Dodge in the Phoenix area, citing his desire to be around old friend and good influence Mark West. Here’s hoping success finds him the third time around in Phoenix.