Miller, Cheryl 1964—
Cheryl Miller 1964—
Basketball player, coach, announcer
During her playing career, Cheryl Miller was arguably the best woman basketball player of all time. A four-time All-American, Miller led her University of Southern California (USC) team to successive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in 1983 and 1984. She went on to anchor the U.S. Olympic team that captured the 1984 gold medal in women’s basketball. A charismatic and outspoken figure, Miller has parlayed her triumphs on the court into a successful broadcasting career as a television basketball announcer for ABC-TV. Miller launched her coaching career in 1993, when she accepted the women’s head coaching position at her alma mater. In 1995 Miller was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in recognition of her contribution to the game.
Miller was born and raised in Riverside, California, the third of five children. Her father, Saul Miller, was a stern taskmaster who instilled a competitive spirit in all of his children. A jazz saxophonist turned military man turned computer professional, the senior Miller demanded top performances from his kids in sports and in the classroom. Saul, Jr., the eldest son of Saul and his wife, Carrie, followed in his father’s footsteps and became a sax player in the Air Force jazz band. Second son Darrell played baseball for five years with the California Angels. Cheryl and younger brother Reggie became basketball stars. Tammy, the youngest, was a successful college volleyball player.
For Cheryl, pickup games on the family’s backyard court provided much tougher competition than she generally faced from her peers. Playing against her brothers, all excellent athletes, Miller developed basketball skills at an early age that exceeded by far those of other girls in the neighborhood. By the time she was in high school, Miller had grown to six feet two inches, towering over most of her opponents in both stature and talent. In her four years at Riverside Polytechnic High, she scored a total of 3,405 points for an overall average of nearly 37 points a game. In one 1982 game, Miller scored 105 points, a California high school record. She also performed what are thought to be the first two dunks by a woman in organized competition. The Riverside team rode Miller’s coattails to four consecutive state titles during her high school career, compiling a four-year record of 132 wins and only four losses.
Born in 1964 in Riverside, CA; daughter of Saul (a computer systems analyst) and Carrie (a nurse; maiden name Turner) Miller; Education: University of Southern California, B.A., 1985.
Basketball player, University of Southern California (USC), 1982–86; U.S. Olympic Team member, 1984; USC, assistant coach, women’s basketball, 1987–91; ABC television network, basketball announcer, 1987—; USC, head coach, women’s basketball, 1993—.
Awards: High School All-American, 1979–82; Collegiate All-American, 1983–86; Naismith Award for best player in women’s college basketball, 1984–86; Gold Medal, 1984 Olympics; named National Player of the Year by Sports Illustrated, 1985; elected to Basketball Hall of Fame, 1995.
Addresses : Office—Women’s Basketball, University of Southern California, University Park, Los Angeles, CA 90089–0602
Of all her siblings, Miller has always been closest to brother Reggie, now starring for the Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). In a 1982 interview in People magazine, she described a hustle that she and Reggie pulled regularly on neighborhood courts. While Cheryl hid nearby, Reggie would challenge a pair of boys to play against him and his sister. Not knowing Cheryl, they would usually accept the offer eagerly. She would then come out from hiding and proceed to dominate the game. Reggie has always maintained that it was his childhood one-on-one games against his sister that enabled him to develop his trademark rainbow jump shot; he claims that trying to shoot over Cheryl while growing up has made shooting over NBA seven-footers seem like child’s play.
Miller’s high school feats made her the most heavily recruited female athlete of all time. Out of over 250 scholarship offers, she chose to attend USC, which already had a strong team. Miller was nearly as dominant at USC as she was at Riverside. Joining a squad that included such talented players as the McGee twins, Pam and Paula, Miller led USC to back-to-back NCAA titles, picking up Final Four Most Valuable Player honors after both tournaments. She also developed a reputation as a show-off and trash-talker. By the time her college career had ended, Miller had broken the NCAA women’s career records for scoring, free throws, and steals, and was named All-American each of her four years at USC. Miller’s charm helped USC break a variety of attendance records as well, as women’s basketball attained a level of popularity it had never before approached.
While she was setting a new standard for women’s collegiate basketball in the United States, Miller was also tearing up courts in international competition. In 1983 she played for teams representing the U.S. in the Pan Am Games and the World University Games, where her 37 points in the finals helped the U.S. team bring home the championship.
Miller’s popularity reached its peak in 1984 when she was the standout player for the U.S. Olympic team, considered by many to be the finest collection of women basketball players ever assembled. Her gold medal performance at the Olympics was so compelling that for a short time afterward, Miller may have been the most famous basketball player in the world—of either gender. In 1985 Sports Illustrated named her National Player of the Year. Miller became an international celebrity, gracing magazine covers in Asia, meeting heads of state, and making television appearances varying from interviews with newswoman Barbara Walters to guest spots on the television drama Cagney and Lacey.
During her college career, Miller averaged 23 points and 11.9 rebounds a game. When she was done, she held almost every important USC school record. While statistics of that magnitude would have meant a multi-million-dollar NBA contract for a man, for a woman they meant virtually nothing. The sport remained as much a dead end for the person who had brought women’s basketball into the spotlight as it was for the most mediocre players.
After graduating from USC with a degree in communications, Miller was offered jobs playing basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition team, and in a European women’s league. Neither of those opportunities appealed to her, however, since neither represented a serious competitive challenge. Miller missed the chance to repeat her Olympic glory in 1988 when an injury forced her off the U.S. squad. Although she remained a darling of the sports media, it eventually became clear that her competitive playing days were over. The articulate and outspoken Miller then turned to broadcasting, landing a job with ABC-TV as a college basketball commentator. She also served as a part-time assistant coach at USC for a few years in the late 1980s.
In 1993 Miller was hired by USC as head coach of women’s basketball. In accepting the job, she placed herself squarely in the middle of a boiling controversy. Miller’s predecessor, Marianne Stanley, had been extremely successful. When her contract expired, Stanley had insisted that she be paid a salary comparable to that of men’s coach George Raveling. The university balked at her demand, and her contract was not renewed. Stanley then filed an $8 million sex discrimination suit against USC and its athletic director. Miller became something of a pariah among other women’s basketball coaches when she replaced Stanley. Several of them publicly criticized her for accepting the job, and many neglected the common courtesy of sending scouting videotapes of their teams to USC. Many of these hostile coaches remembered Miller’s showboating style as a player, which may have contributed to their animosity.
In spite of the intense pressure, Miller’s first year in the head coaching ranks was fairly successful. She led the Women of Troy to the Mideast regional finals in the NCAA tournament in the spring of 1994. In February of 1995 Miller was one of seven individuals voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. On hearing of her election, Miller was uncharacteristically modest. “I wasn’t the greatest athlete and I couldn’t jump out of the gym and I wasn’t an extraordinary ballhandler,” Miller was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Times. “I was just someone who loved the game so very much and had a passion for sport and life.” The second half of that statement, at least, rings true.
Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1994, p. C1; February 7, 1995, p. C1.
Los Angeles Times Magazine, October 6, 1991, p. 18.
People, May 10, 1982, p. 89.
Sports Illustrated, November 29, 1982, p. 90; November 20, 1985, p. 124; December 6, 1993, p. 48; April 11, 1994, p. 17.
Women’s Sports and Fitness, February 1986, p. 22.
—Robert R. Jacobson