On March 19, Andre Miller will become the only 40-year-old in the NBA, and the 23rd pro in history to play to at least that age. But don’t expect a party.
“The last time I had fun for my birthday was college and when I turned 30. My mom threw me a party that year,” Miller told the NBPA. “I just enjoy playing basketball, I enjoy just competing.”
Miller is Mr. Business—arrive, play and leave, the overall mindset he’s had since he was the eighth pick in the 1999 NBA draft, after suiting up all four years at the University of Utah. With his straight-shooter approach, and health—he only missed six games from 1999 to 2013—Miller has joined an elite class through his 17 years in the league.
The 6’3″ point guard is one of only eight players to have at least 16,000 points and 8,000 assists, from playing with the Cavaliers, Clippers, Nuggets, 76ers, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Kings, Timberwolves and now the Spurs. Six of the players above him are Hall of Famers (John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Isiah Thomas and Gary Payton) and two more (Jason Kidd and Steve Nash) are future locks for Springfield. Miller may be right in line.
With no fanfare, All-Stars or titles, Miller has a vision of finally basking in the spotlight with his first championship as a member of the Spurs. This week, the NBPA spoke in depth with Miller who reflected on turning 40, his hoops legacy, staying incredibly healthy, this season’s adjustment from Minnesota to San Antonio and much more. His conversation with the NBPA is presented below in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.
How am I celebrating my 40th birthday? I’m just going to chill with my wife.
I’ve always been the guy that’s kind of stayed to myself. College is more team oriented; you’re doing stuff away from basketball. The only thing that I regret as far as my NBA career was probably just doing more team activities, because I always looked at it as a business and as a job. These grown men have families and kids to go to, so I just kind of stayed to myself. When there are opportunities to hang out with guys I do, but for the most part I just do my own thing.
My interest has always been family. I’ve been away from my family for years and haven’t had the time. It’s always here and there and rushing around, and doing this and that. When I retire, I want to be back to family and just living a regular lifestyle.
I’ll also have time to reflect on what I’ve been through—including my brother, Duane, who passed away in 1988 after viral encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain—and the things and the people that have influenced my life. I’ll thank them—my teachers in high school, college and all the way through. I also like to be around kids and helping kids when the opportunity is there. But I haven’t thought about coaching or any of that after I retire.
I’m just day to day. I’m enjoying the experience, I’m just enjoying basketball because I know eventually it will stop sooner than later. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
Laying the Foundation
I look at basketball as something that I grew up around—my friends, family, my mom, everybody was around and enjoyed basketball. So it was always a dream to want to be a basketball player; also because I saw how times were pretty tough for my mom. Some of the guys that I grew up with had a lot more talent than I had—it was just how circumstances played out. It’s not that I’m just playing for myself, but I represent family and friends and people that had the same interest and the passion for basketball as me.
I was a big Lakers fan. Growing up in L.A. and watching the Lakers and Clippers, and just NBA basketball, that was pretty much the outlet for kids growing up, all kids everywhere. Magic Johnson was a person that I just watched how he carried himself, how he enjoyed playing basketball and made people around him better. Off the court, his mind took him a long way, so that’s carried over into business—just the way he treated people throughout his life and he’s been able to affect a lot of people’s lives.
When I entered the NBA, my goal was just to come in and be a part of a team every year, to stay healthy and not get injured, and to be able to contribute every year on a team. It was just to come in with a competitive mindset and be involved. That was my goal—just to be involved. That’s it.
I think that the thing that stands out most about my rookie year is probably just coming in and being around guys that I’ve watched when I was younger: Shawn Kemp, Bimbo Coles, Mark Bryant, Brevin Knight, Clarence Weatherspoon. I had some good guys around me and some grown men where I could just monitor their work habits and how they carried themselves as pros. I developed friendships with them along the way, so I enjoyed that experience.
They kind of let me be who I am and we just worked hard together. There wasn’t a lot of talking back then; it was just like you’ve got to go out and prove yourself and earn the respect of your teammates. I pretty much kept my mouth closed and kept it moving, and just took it one day at a time. I still keep in contact with Trajan Langdon, who’s now the assistant GM of the Nets. I also keep in contact with Earl Boykins. He’s in Colorado working with kids and coaching at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock, Colo.
As far as coaching influences, I think the thing that got me through the NBA was my coach in college, Rick Majerus. Anything and everything that I went through in the NBA I was prepared for by Rick. And just my regular upbringing playing basketball and keeping it simple was something that helped me adjust. So when I got to the NBA, whatever a coach wanted, I was able to adjust to what was going on. I was able to pick up on things fast.
I think if you keep basketball simple, there’s not that much that has changed in the game. Guys are shooting a lot more three-pointers, but basketball is simple; you’ve got to be able to put the ball in the basket and make the simple play, the simple pass. If you complicate it, the tougher it is.
I’ve always told myself, “I can be able to adjust to any system, whether it’s fast or slow.” So I’ve always prided myself on that. I had a good teacher in high school, Mike Kearney, and a good coach in Rick Majerus in college. If it’s a fast-break team, I can get up and down the court and run with the best of them. And if it’s a team that likes to play methodical and move the ball around, that’s something that I can do also.
That’s all basketball is—change of speeds. If you talk to my peers, they’ll tell you that guys like me or Paul Pierce or other guys that play kind of at a change-of-pace tempo, we’re deceptively quicker than a lot of people would think. I think on TV, it sends a different message than when you’re actually out there playing against somebody. I had the balance enough to be able to adjust to different circumstances.
It’s helped that I’ve stayed healthy. For me, it was just always learning when to get your right amount of rest, when to take a break. And in the summer I didn’t burn myself out. I just did everything natural, didn’t over work my body and I let my body tell me when it was time to rest. I was never into eat this to stay healthy. I just looked at basketball as something simple—if you want to be out on the court, you’re going to put the time in, you’re going to enjoy it and have a good time. Probably like the last few years, guys are watching their calories and all that. I just rest, get up and go play basketball. There’s nothing that I’ve done special; I just keep it simple.
Longevity and Legacy
Entering this season, I went to the Timberwolves number one because of Flip Saunders. I also went there to play and to prove to myself and other people that I can play with younger guys. And I went there to lead by example and help mentor the young guys, and actually help on how to play basketball the right way. Of course, winning is a priority, but at the same time you want to be able to contribute and help guys in the right way.
I feel that I got a little bit disrespected just as far as being the older guy and being treated like a kid. Some people said, “You can’t contribute or you can’t help the team anymore.” There are ways to help the young guys get better not by just talking to them, but also leading by example on the court in practice and in game situations.
As the season went on, I told myself, “If I was to go out this year, I wanted to be on a team that had a nice little playoff run and played some good basketball.” So I joined the Spurs. There’s only going to be one champion every year. I wish it could’ve happened earlier in my career, but I’ve been on some good teams and had a lot of good teammates. So I’ve just enjoyed the experience and taking it one day at a time.
Being with the Spurs has been a cool experience. I think the toughest transition is they have a legacy over here, they have a lot of history with the championships. I’ve been playing against these guys my entire career: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. It’s just a different feel coming to be a part of the organization. But I definitely have a lot of respect for them. They’ve treated me with respect and just let me come in and blend in.
The Spurs’ culture is business. You’ve got a job to do, everybody comes to work wanting to get something done and wanting to get better. Everybody wants to get something accomplished. And it’s just like a business atmosphere—grown men that enjoy doing what they’re doing and take it seriously. There’s not a lot of talking. It’s just a lot of old people jokes, old man jokes and stuff like that.
They’ve earned the respect of their peers and people around the league, and nobody is getting up on them because of their age and they haven’t been disrespected of what they can bring to a basketball team. So it says a lot about their character, and any time you can accomplish what they’ve accomplished, you get even more respect.
When I think about my impact on the game, a lot of people get caught up on stars being able to score the ball. That’s what people look at on TV as a star in this league. My definition of a high-level player in the NBA, or so-called star, is a player that can make your teammates better, make your team better—just a leader. All those things play a factor as far as being a good teammate when you think of basketball, and you think of basketball as a team sport.
A star is somebody that’s going to get people better, get guys involved, guys in the right spots, know how to manage egos, how to deal with different people on and off the court. I think that’s my definition of a star. I can score the ball, but I can also do other things. And the more versatile you are, the more opportunities you get to go out and play the game.
I haven’t really thought about the Hall of Fame. I like to watch and see guys get honored for it. There are so many people that came through this NBA that I’ve followed or copied their game—just certain people not that I looked up to, but people that I kind of followed and admired. And it’s always been good to see guys get respected by going to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think it’s the end all, but it’s definitely something that a lot of guys think about when their career is over. I pretty much don’t play that into mind. I just look at it as I want to be thought of as a player that came in and helped guys get better, was a good teammate and I knew how to play basketball the right way.
I had a goal coming in to play 15-plus years and be involved and be able to contribute for 15-plus years, and also to play to 40 years old. There’s nothing else that I really want to accomplish, except for winning a championship. I just want to be a good person, a good teammate, set a good example for my kids and do things the right way.
Finally, I wanted to send a special thanks to the people who have influenced my life and supported me: the House of Prayer community and family; my Inglewood Christian School family; my Verbum Dei High School family; my Nickerson Garden and Belhaven family; my Dillingham, Lindsey and Walton family; the Furnace family; and all my family and friends. And to the coolest, funniest, hard working, giving mother, Andrea Robinson. Thank you.